September 1, 2016 | by mark b.

Everywhere I have been over the world I have seen where people have stacked rocks. People have stacked rocks for memorial landmarks, as trail markers, for meditation, and just for fun.   From Canada to New Zealand I have seen what I used to call Who Doos or Hoo Doos.  Some are very elaborate, most of them are quite simple.

Then I saw a story in the Denver Post about Michael Grab. When Grab goes into his studio to work, often the only sound is the rush of water. He wears the same uniform everyday – chest waders and waterproof boots – no matter what the weather. For the last seven years Grab has made rock balancing his full time job and has traveled all over the world balancing rocks. Some installations take minutes, others take hours. None are held together by anything more than gravity and a great deal of patience.

If you search for “gravity glue images” or “stone cairn images” on the net, you will find some very interesting pictures. I was originally convinced that there was a lot of photoshop involved.   But I have seen too many wonderful little ephemeral sculptures in the desert, in the mountains, and in my back yard.

As mentioned in High Country News article, some decry the “art” as inappropriate for the natural world. Some people argue that when you move a stone you are changing the environment from something that it wasn’t to something manmade.  Moving rocks increases erosion by exposing the soil underneath and disturbing the natural habitat. Some people also argue that building a cairn is similar to leaving graffiti and just simple reminders that people aren’t as “alone” in the wilderness as they believe to be.
But for me, I find it quite relaxing on a quiet summer day camping in the mountains, to stack a few rocks around my campfire ring. I don’t know if I would call it an art form and I don’t know if I would put Michael Grab in the same category as Andy Goldsworthy. I do know that all the rocks in my yard eventually succumb to Newton’s laws.

I had a wonderful friend in college (a PHD of Raku, no less) whose definition of art was summed up: “If it changes you, it’s art; if it don’t, it ain’t.” I suggest you stack a few stones in your yard, or down by the river, or on top of a 14-er and decide for yourself if it is art. As Michael Grab would say, “Make your formation look as impossible as possible.”

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