Saturday, April 12, 2008


Gravity is the source of lightness - Tao Te Ching
Every day, I pass Datleyastai (“where they fell”). At this spot, two Uktena tangled as though in combat, rose from the river, and fell back into the water. Uktena, in case you’ve not seen one lately, is a monstrous snake, as big around as a tree trunk, with horns on its head, a bright, blazing crest like a diamond on its forehead, and scales glittering like sparks of fire. Whoever is seen by the Uktena is so dazed by the bright light that he runs toward the snake instead of trying to escape.

Several times a week, I see the old fish weir that has been on the Tuckasegee for centuries, rocks piled in a V formation to aid in catching fish.

Smack dab between these two locations, someone has been stacking stones in the river (pictured below) for the past year or two. More than that I do not know, except to say the stacks survive longer than I might have expected.

The ancient practice of stacking rocks, on the earth and around water, invokes mystery. Peter Waksman discovered an array of stacked stones in Acton, Massachusetts, and concluded his research with as many questions as answers.

The work of master rock stacker Jim Needham is a therapeutic discipline, a path to enlightenment. His profound assessment is that "One of the most important things to remember is that this is all silly." And judging by the striking examples from the Pacific coast on this site stackers seem to defy gravity.

For the artist Robert Genn stone stacking is a form of expression:

Years ago, I started placing small "obos" in remote places. An obos is a Japanese term for a pile of rocks, often only three, one on top of another. The obos merely says, "I was here." Being an unusual configuration, it is obviously from the hand of man. Further, if it is knocked down or desecrated, it is easily rebuilt. There can be one at the bottom of the garden or in a private corner of a public park. I've seen obos among potted bonsai in a sparse apartment high above Park Avenue's clatter.

On one of our west coast islands, I built a few obos on a rocky foreshore just above the tide. Returning twenty years later, I found them still intact and dressed in moss, as if spirited there by some ancient coastal cult.

Obos is a destination, a sanctuary, a shrine and a focal point that reminds us that we work with our hands. We are builders and what we build is sacred. Obos may appear inconsequential and be unnoticed by casual passersby. It's a private tribute to something higher, something we might be striving for but find difficult to attain. Approach obos with a relaxed, curious mind. It can help with answers to questions not consciously asked. Obos gives pause, a contemplative thought or a new direction, a respite from clutter, a rededication to our struggle and an affirmation of the value of our personal effort. Obos is the carrier of a golden secret. Obos is like art itself. Obos is a joy to build.

To me, rock stacking suggests a tipsy dance between the anonymous and the public, between the permanent and the fragile, between observance of the so-called laws of nature and transcendence of those laws, between sense and nonsense.

In this land of Uktena, setting one stone atop another to discover and explore the point of balance would be well worth it.

Again the Tao Te Ching:

The Way is shaped by use.

But then the shape is lost.

Do not hold fast to shapes

But let sensation flow into the world

As a river courses down to the sea.

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