Standing Stones

Dana Point, California

"Sometimes the rare, the beautiful can only emerge or survive in isolation. In a similar manner, some degree of withdrawal serves to nurture man's creative powers. The artist and scientist bring out of the dark void, like the mysterious universe itself, the unique, the strange, the unexpected."
                                                                                                                                                        --Loren Eiseley

I stood on the rocky shore, my mind taking in the chaos that forms any coastline: the eroding bluffs, the crashing waves, the rivulets braiding their way across the sand as water found its endless way back to the sea. Suddenly, through binoculars, I saw the impossible: among the boulder piles at the base of the cliff, one tall narrow rock was standing vertically, balanced on another. I rushed to inspect it closer, and found myself surrounding by many such balanced rocks. I also found Mike Franke, in the process of making rocks stand.

"This is what I do when there's no surf," he said by way of explanation. As I watched him at work, the rational part of my mind boggled at his skill -- the stones, some weighing many tens of pounds, were perfectly balanced on tiny, nearly-invisible imperfections in their surfaces. I saw an artist immersed in the joy of creation; if there was any struggle, it was a struggle to reach a point of perfection. As we spoke, I expressed my gratitude for the unexpected joy this reworking of the natural elements had brought me; in the late afternoon light, with the eternal sea for a background, another part of my mind saw in the stones a deep and mysterious beauty. Like all art, they celebrate the miracle of existence while recognizing the sadness of its transience. And like all standing stones placed since culture's very beginning, they stir forgotten echoes of our ties to the land and sky. Eventually I noticed that the artist had slipped away; as the sun set and the light faded, I myself turned to leave -- and dared not look back.

I returned after a cycle or two of time and tide. As expected, I found not a single one of the stones left standing. Indeed, the shore had been so reworked by the power of the sea that I could hardly recognize what remained. Finally, among the seaweed I found the white, heart-shaped rock and on a whim tried to lift it back onto its pedestal. I could not; the moment had indeed passed and could never be regained.

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Revised: January 3, 2009
Copyright © 2009 Joe Orman (except Eiseley quote)
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