Wanderings through life, landscapes, and occasional loopiness. So pull up a log and have a bit of a sit-down ’round the virtual campfire.
Getting my rocks off
I have this weird compulsion.
I know what you’re thinking. But it’s not that. Not even close. No, the compulsion has to do with rocks. I love rocks. I love climbing them, collecting them, and getting hot stone massages. And I especially like throwing them into and at bodies of water.
Anytime I’m near a body of water–generally a river or a lake or a pond–I have to skip a stone across the surface. Okay, maybe compulsion’s too strong a word. I can walk away from a perfectly formed skipping stone. Usually. Most of the time, I have to pick it up and feel its weight in the palm of my hand and crook my finger against the rounded surface, noting the way it fits against my skin and determining its potential for distance and number of hops across the water. It’s a meditative thing. There’s just you, the stone, and the water. Nothing else enters my mind as I wind up and sidearm that pup over the surface. Stone-skipping is an utterly “in the present” thing to do and it somehow clears my brain clogs.
Stones are beautiful things. They’re perfect objects, no matter their shape, because they are utterly zen, completely intact within themselves. I’ve gotten to the point where I can skip a stone that’s flat on one side and rough or pointed on the other, but the best skipping stones are those that are flat on both sides, worn smooth by water and the elements, ovoid or round. There are lots of people out there like me, who admire a stone for its skipping capabilities. I know this because there are places that sell bags of skipping stones.
And no, I have never, ever resorted to buying a bag of rocks for my odd compulsion. I’m a purist. I find my own freakin’ rocks.
Skipping stones is as old as human bipeds. I’m not the only one who carries the species’ compulsion to pick up a rock and try to skim it over the surface of a body of water. Every culture has a word for the activity, and in some quarters, it’s considered an organized sport. The North American Stone Skipping Association was founded in 1989 and includes a list of trivia about trying to bounce your stones across water. Like, for example, Shakespeare included a stone-skipping reference in the original version of Henry V. I’ve also suspected that Washington was actually trying to SKIP that coin over the Potomac rather than just fling it to the other side. I mean, it was probably the perfect weight and shape for that. Here’s a site that touches on these deep and abiding mysteries.
Sometimes it’s not good skipping weather. If water’s choppy, you can’t really see how many times the stone hits the surface. On a smooth water day on a pond or lake, I’ve counted up to 17 touchdowns on one of my tosses. Kinda cool, but not the best. Not even close. World records are set all the time. In 1994, it was 38. In 2002, that record fell to a count of 40. But even that was broken in 2007: 51 skips. Whoa. Even the BBC covered this event, providing, in BBC fashion, a discussion about technique and the physics of stone and water surfaces (I so love the British!).
World record attempts on rock-skipping have to be videotaped so that you can play the film in slow motion to count the number of touches a rock makes with the water. This is serious business, after all, this skip-count thing.
Me? I just like the way a stone feels in my hand and the satisfaction that comes from watching a stone hop across the surface of a body of water after a great sidearm toss. And then I find another stone and do it again. And probably again.
Try it. If you’ve had a day that just isn’t sitting right with you and you need to clear your head and re-connect with something primal, something ancient and resonant, go to the closest body of water (excluding swimming pools) and toss a few stones and see how you feel. There’s something to it, something that reconnects you to the natural world, to the cosmos, that re-aligns your inner energy flows and puts you entirely in the moment. You, the water, the stone.
Seriously. There’ something to this rock stuff. So try it out. Join me in my compulsion and see if you don’t find yourself counting the number of times your rocks hit that water on their journeys and see if you can actually quell that “YESSSSS!” as you improve on your previous count. Go on. Get out there. And be your own rock star.