by Marc Piane

I looked over my shoulder as I walked away from the shelter. I felt the slight pull of nostalgia. That shelter had been a cozy place to sleep for the night. My furry friends had a nice place to live. My having been there changed both of our realities. I also knew that the trail began looping back along the crest of the mountain towards the end of the trip. While I knew I was still a couple days from that point I couldn’t help but think, albeit briefly, of my comfy bed, a hot shower, food that hadn’t been dehydrated, and finally being dry. Trips like these bring into stark focus the creature comforts we take for granted. I snapped to and tried to shake these feeling of nostalgia and expectation by I remembering an adage about mindfulness, “thinking about the past creates regret, thinking about the future creates anxiety and expectation.” I tried to come back to the now. Not easy with my monkey mind that was more like the primate house at the zoo.

As I headed up the trail I could tell that it was at a slight incline. I could feel it in my quadriceps. The morning air was cool and dew had collected on everything. It hadn’t gotten cold enough for frost, but definitely cold enough for water to condense on everything. The nice thing was this light dew had dampened the trail enough to keep the dust to a minimum, but not enough that it was actually muddy. This section of trail was more heavily traveled than the one in the valley so I expected to see someone else. So far I had been completely devoid of human contact for 2 days. This was a good feeling at first, but being a city boy it gets a little disconcerting quickly.

As I hiked along something caught my eye on the side of the trail, several perfectly balanced stacks of rocks. Rock balancing had become a trendy hobby of hikers as it was strictly between you, the rocks, and the laws of physics. No glue or wire, just gravity and friction. The first stack had either fallen down of was done by a novice stacker. The rocks were all about the same size, mostly round, and stacked in a pyramid shape. It was a sturdy structure, but not very daring or artistic. I slid my pack off of my back and leaned it against a tree. I moved to the second stack feeling like someone in an art gallery. There is a running debate amongst hikers of whether this art forms follows the hikers code, “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”  You can get as philosophical as you want, but in my opinion making stacks of rocks is neither taking nor leaving, let’s call it rearranging. I like to think of it as a stylized footprint.

I moved over to the second stack which was about 2 feet to the left of the first stack. This one was obviously done by someone with experience in stacking. Rather than a glorified pile, this stack was one rock for each level. The first was mostly similarly shaped rocks, but this one was all different. Some were big, some small, long and flat, oblong, rounded… pretty much the gambit. I looked carefully for a few minutes tracking every single rock and how it was balancing on the rock below it. Then it dawned on me, these balance points were not based on just the rock immediately below it, but rather a totality of the sum of all the balance points. I remembered something I was told once by a teacher, “A single stick will just fall down, but when it has another to lean on it can stand up.” I began to see these stacks as a metaphor for life. Every kind of balance, both physical and metaphorical. I laughed. “This is the reason I shouldn’t be alone in my head for too long. Goo oozes out of my ears.”

I moved on the the third stack and something immediately caught my eye. The person who had made this stack had etched initials on the rock in the middle of the stack. The rock was turned it such a way that I couldn’t quite make out what they were, maybe EA, but something was definitely there. As much as I wanted to investigate this further, I was afraid I was going to knock over the pile by accident. That was a high crime in my mind. I slowly backed off and surveyed the scene of the 3 small piles in total. Each unique and I imagined each was a reflection of the person that had stacked it. Pragmatic, meticulous, secretive.

I looked down the trail. It was so straight along the ridge that I could almost see the vanishing point. It looked like a piece of art. It also reminded me that I had quite a hike ahead of me. I walked over to my pack and hoisted it on my back, “lift with the legs.”  I took one look back at the piles and began heading down the trail.


One thought on “Balance

  1. You show that there is a Zen calmness to observing these piles of rocks, yet you also know there is a Zen calmness to being the stacker of these rocks. The observer and the stacker have the same, yet different, experience.


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