rock balancing and rock trees
November 29, 2004 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Bill Dan likes to balance rocks. He is not alone - many others ply the art of rock balancing, simply for the pleasure of the act and hoping to surprise and delight future wanderers who chance upon them. As in many art forms, it's hard to compete with the mastery of nature's hand.
posted by madamjujujive (50 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
just looking at these makes me feel mellow. I'm so going to start doing this.
(A friend sent me a pic of someone doing this at a beach, I thought it was cool, then kind of forgot about it.... now I'm excited to start doing it myself.)
Awesome post, thanks!
posted by exlotuseater at 11:25 AM on November 29, 2004

These are beautiful.

As to doing this myself... I can only imagine that after trying for ten minutes to get rocks to balance I would end up swearing at them and throwing them as far as possible while screaming something senseless like "BALANCE THIS YOU STUPID ROCK!"

Yeah, I need to learn to relax.
posted by papercake at 11:34 AM on November 29, 2004

I was hiking near Whistler BC in September and came accross an large area beside a river where someone had spent a lot of time balancing rocks. There must have been hundreds of towers everywhere - quite a sight. I recall being quite freaked-out à la Blair Witch Project at the time... here's a pic:

posted by weezy at 11:54 AM on November 29, 2004

Why do rocks hate America?
posted by bardic at 12:11 PM on November 29, 2004

Freaky coincidence. I sometimes type random words and phrases into Google Images to discover visually interesting sites. Late last night I typed amazing physics, and on the fourth page, found, bookmarked, and emailed this page to a friend. Of course, if you Google balancing rocks, you’ll get piles more piles.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:20 PM on November 29, 2004

There's a stretch of beach here on the island where someone spends a lot of time balancing rocks. There are always various piles, and over the years I've seen whoever does it get progressively better at it. I should go get some pictures.
posted by rusty at 12:28 PM on November 29, 2004

weezy, those are cairns... which (while still kind of cool when seen in large numbers) are much more common than the balanced stones in the links. Cairns are usually simple stacks of stones used to mark a trail. Not to be picky, but it takes a LOT more skill to balance stones than to stack them!
posted by evoo at 12:30 PM on November 29, 2004

Here's my suspect.
posted by mic stand at 12:32 PM on November 29, 2004

Wow, that's some fascinating stuff, mjjj - at least that first guy you linked. After seeing some of the crazy-angled stuff he's done, the more straight-up ones are a little anticlimactic. But it's all cool. And on a related note we should tip our hats to Andy Goldsworthy.
posted by soyjoy at 12:32 PM on November 29, 2004

Rocks Are stupid.
Someone should ballance junk.

posted by Photar at 12:35 PM on November 29, 2004

Gah, now i'll have to try this next time i'm out for a beach walk
posted by klue at 12:37 PM on November 29, 2004

There's a guy who does this at the Spanish Art Village in Balboa Park, San Diego. So if you ever want to see these up close and personal, that woud be a good place to visit.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:40 PM on November 29, 2004

What an unbelievable waste of time. I mean... I suppose there is something zen about it (and, you know, it's not that I don't also waste time on stuff that others would see as valueless) but I just don't see the point.

Further, while some people might call those art, I would call them traps.
posted by Yellowbeard at 12:45 PM on November 29, 2004

I think the official 'I'm too cool to get this' rallying cry is supposed to be 'these people have too much time on their hands', Yellowbeard. Maybe you can try again next time somebody posts a link to something quirky that you don't appreciate.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:49 PM on November 29, 2004

Stupid Sexy Rocks....
posted by Debaser626 at 12:53 PM on November 29, 2004

evoo: I don't think those are cairns to mark a trail, unless they were built by someone who doesn't really quite grasp the point of trail-marking piles. Cairns typically appear at a much greater spacing, and are tall enough to not be easily knocked over or mistaken for anything other than purposeful trail markers, even in the dark.

If that picture is marking a trail, it's the most insane trail I've ever seen -- and this is coming from someone who spent a good ten hours one night last winter following what eventually turned out to be a moose trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. "Why does this trail keep circling back on itself?" we kept wondering...
posted by rusty at 12:54 PM on November 29, 2004

They're not balanced stones or cairns...they're Inukshuks:

"Inukshuk (singular), meaning "likeness of a person" in Inuktitut (the Inuit language) is a stone figure made by the Inuit. The plural is inuksuit. The Inuit make inuksuit in different forms and for different purposes: to show directions to travelers, to warn of impending danger, to mark a place of respect, or to act as helpers in the hunting of caribou."
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:09 PM on November 29, 2004

rusty, OK, you're right. Cairns are USUALLY used to mark a trail. But did you ever notice that cairns tend to pop up like mushrooms around each other? I guess people hiking by see the cairn and think it's some kind of art and try their hand at building one of their own. The picture weezy posted is obviously not a photo of trail marking cairns... maybe more of a collection of cairn-inspired rock balancing! I guess the point of my previous comment was that there's a big difference to the (rather simple) stacks in the photo and the amazing balancing in madamjujujive's links.
posted by evoo at 1:09 PM on November 29, 2004

I've done this before - turned it into a project for one of classes in college. It can be frustrating as hell getting the stones to balance but it's most satisfying when you finally get it to work. Though I don't think I'd have the patience to spend an hour balancing one rock.

I see it as an alternative to sandcastle building.
posted by squeak at 1:11 PM on November 29, 2004

here's another pic of the area (looking the other direction):

...cairns ...inukshuk ...I personally think they were probably a result of too many bong-hits and nothing else to do. Although I did see some suspicious-looking birds (rock-doves) in the area (mic stand)
posted by weezy at 1:17 PM on November 29, 2004

When I worked out near Traverse City, MI in the summer of 1999, I used to go to the beach on Lake Michigan near Beaver Creek. Someone from around there spent the summer painting smooth stones from the creek with Japanese characters in blue paint.

One could find them all up and down the beach, in the creek, back in the woods, stuck into hillsides. They were everywhere, but always inconspicuous. I still have a few I brought home with me. There is something beautiful about them.
posted by Captaintripps at 1:17 PM on November 29, 2004

My dad does this as an artist . He takes pictures and then pits them in shows around town. Its amazing how he balances them. These are ancient forms od worship I', told. It goes back to biblical times.
posted by crusiera at 1:21 PM on November 29, 2004

ok, you can all point and laugh because my dad stacks rocks as a hobby. I think It's cool.
posted by crusiera at 1:22 PM on November 29, 2004

This is very cool - thanks, mjjj!
posted by carter at 1:25 PM on November 29, 2004

Can someone remind me of the wierd, creepy movie set in Norway or something involving a brother and sister who fall into an incestuous relationship after their parents die? There are a number of scenes where the boy kind of freaks out as he goes through puberty, so the dad sends him outside to the meadow to basically stack rocks all day in an attempt to get all the sexual tension out of his system.

Snow-fire? Alpine-fire? Something like that. Not a good date movie.
posted by bardic at 1:52 PM on November 29, 2004

I did this about 20 years ago for a photo assignment. I was copying Andy Goldsworthy. I found that it was not difficult to do if you were patient and used a pinch of sand between the rocks to help stabilize them. Though my stacks never got very tall.
posted by booth at 1:53 PM on November 29, 2004

I used to see this all the time growing up in Hawai'i. Never was really sure whether it was a native rite or some stoned hippy. Nice to see the site includes Hawai'i. I always enjoyed the rock stacks, even if I was never sure what they were about.
posted by rooftop secrets at 1:54 PM on November 29, 2004

Native and local constructions might include trail guides, altars, coral markers of fishing spots, and memorial or dedication monuments along roadways.

Whoops. Answered my own question.

posted by rooftop secrets at 1:56 PM on November 29, 2004

I love the white stone stacks all over the big island! Thanks for the explanation, rooftop secrets (and nice link, mjj!)
posted by shoepal at 1:59 PM on November 29, 2004

Really incredible.
posted by xammerboy at 2:22 PM on November 29, 2004

this is really wonderful. when i lived in delaware, there was a valley near the u. of d. campus where quite regularly, there would be marvelously varied cairns and other surprises (like massive lean-tos and totem poles) right when you need it most. those were the days. i tried to imitate, but never had the patience. here in western nc, the best spot for rock-on-rock action is the dupont state forest near brevard. it's home to the tallest one i've seen so far.

the balancing acts from the first link blow me away in terms of gravity... how is what he's doing even possible? it's great! thank goodness there are people like that out in the world to knock our socks off when least expected.

oh, and as always, great post, madame.
posted by moonbird at 3:09 PM on November 29, 2004

I do this often with the rocks inside my head. Unfortunately, I'm the only one who can see them. And I can't move real fast, or they all fall down.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:28 PM on November 29, 2004 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Hawai'i, too! The rock stacks are called ahus, if I remember correctly.
posted by climalene at 4:20 PM on November 29, 2004

climalene: What island were you on? I spent the years of 3-18 on Maui.
posted by rooftop secrets at 4:30 PM on November 29, 2004

This one took a lot of work, then this chick comes along and pushes it over.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:18 PM on November 29, 2004

The rock stacks are called ahus, if I remember correctly.

But... but... I didn't want to be exposed to ahus.
posted by soyjoy at 6:06 PM on November 29, 2004

I compulsively do this all the time with stones when I'm outdoors, but more often with pens, books, and whatever's at hand. My Three Remotes Standing would make a monk weep.

I had no idea that people did this for art or worship, or with such breathtaking skill. I feel as if I've been under a...oh, nevermind. Now that I know about rock balancing, sleep paralysis, and what a kangaroo penis looks like, I'd say Metafilter has more than surpassed the "elucidating the Eternal Mysteries" quotient for this year.

Thanks, dear madamjujujive.
posted by melissa may at 6:15 PM on November 29, 2004

Rooftop Secrets: I was on the Big Island, right in the national park, from birth through age 10. Funny, I've never been to Maui.

posted by climalene at 6:54 PM on November 29, 2004

I've seen this guy (Bill Dan) while walking through Sausalito, CA. The pictures don't do the art justice. They are much more impressive in person, almost surreal.
posted by e40 at 7:06 PM on November 29, 2004

Shades of Terry Pratchett's Balancing Monks?

"Central to their faith is a belief that the Discworld will wobble if things aren't perfectly balanced, and the monks spend much of their time moving small weights around according to rituals in one of their holy books. ... The weights seldom exceed a pound or two and it is possible - although not necessarily wise - to assume the whole thing is ceremonial."
posted by Pinback at 7:44 PM on November 29, 2004

Aaaaack! My eyes!
posted by soyjoy at 9:01 PM on November 29, 2004

Stacked rocks in the Vancouver, B.C. area are probably attributable to Kent Avery.
posted by tomharpel at 9:21 PM on November 29, 2004

As soon as I saw this post I knew it would be about Bill Dan. I saw Bill Dan doing his stuff in San Fran once an was blown away. No question, it's pretty awesome. What you don't get to see from these links is the process is as amazing as the product. Because he moves fast. Relatively speaking. He just picks the rock up, looks at it for a sec, and the very carefully places it on the other one, very carefully takes his hands away and it stays! His movements are extremely solid and deliberate, as if he too were made of stone. That being said he rarely messed up while I was watching him and in about an hour he did eight to ten stacks.
posted by grandcrewno2 at 9:22 PM on November 29, 2004

Wow. The video kicks. Bill has magic.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:53 PM on November 29, 2004

The mother of all balanced rocks.
posted by sour cream at 11:53 PM on November 29, 2004

great links, all - and thanks for the photos, weezy. Nice to know we have some erstwhile and would-be rock balancers in our midst. (Crusiera, you sound lucky to have a Dad like that.)

There is something about the "random act of art" nature of it all that pleases me - the way so many people seem to place the rocks and leave them, like in Captaintripps story about someone painting and placing rocks. This just intrigues me. Plus there is something totemic and age-old about it that appeals to me. Thanks for the Inukshuk info, The Card Cheat - between those and the ahus, that's what I'm talking about - I will now be watching for more examples of rock balancing from ancient cultures.

BTW, welcome new members - looks like we have an eclectic and interesting crew, lots of keepers ;-)
posted by madamjujujive at 5:09 AM on November 30, 2004

What a great post/thread. I love little random things that people do in out of the way places for other people to come upon and discover. It just kind of makes being alive that much better.
posted by kavasa at 6:52 AM on November 30, 2004

Huh. I hate coming across cairns and crap when I'm out backpacking. I'm out there to escape people, so I hardly want to be reminded that they are there.

The only good cairn is one that is placed where there is no obvious route - and in thousands of kilometers of backcountry travel, I've only once come across a useful string of cairns.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:21 AM on November 30, 2004

fff: When you hit the top of a mountain at the last glimmers of daylight, it's awfully nice to have a big pile of rocks there that scream "Hey you idiot! Go *this* way! And what the hell are you doing here at this time of day?"

I am therefore wholly in favor of cairns. :-)
posted by rusty at 4:21 PM on December 1, 2004

I'm okay with cairns at the very top, 'cause they often contain a logbook, and logbooks are fun.

When I hit the top of the mountain at the last glimmers of daylight, I set up camp.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:25 PM on December 1, 2004

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