RIVER RAVE: Rock piles have different meanings

Rock pile near 42 Street Island at Main Section of James River Park SystemAre you one of those types that goes to the James for a day of relaxation on the river and passes the time by making piles with the millions of smooth river rocks you can find in the Falls of the James?

Rock pile with iron spikes added along Pipeline Rapids WalkwayWhat gives? I’ve heard that there is a rock for each person in your group that visited the river that day. For others, the rock piles and formations have religious or symbolic meaning. Most probably think it’s just cool to do, while others may consider the piles a nuisance.  What’s the point? What do you think about rock piles at the river?

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4 responses to “RIVER RAVE: Rock piles have different meanings

  1. Rock pile away. It beats those who feel the need to paint on the rocks or make beer can piles.

  2. Our small rock stacks have sometimes gone up as balancing acts in honor of Tibet, fairies, or picnics. They celebrate that ‘we all made it down to the river’ or occur just for the joy of skill itself. Other times they comprise a ‘rock collection’ or ‘rare minerals’. When we try to find them again after wandering off to play, it is possible to walk right past them without noticing because ‘they are magic rocks that turn invisible’. Like sandcastles that clatter, stones stacked gingerly on the edge of river-level boulders announce rising water, or at least tell when a heavy splash has slapped a given set-up.

    Made with highly local materials, we expect the symbol to be ephemeral, knockable by a ‘possum or heron. Rock piles evoke the labor of Stonehenge, the engineering of VDoT, or the hopes of Ozymandias. When we read about Egypt they become a study in pyramid building with ramps. An aqueduct that is not tightly fitted can be passed off as a viaduct.

    Rock piles are measures: as-tall-as the baby sitting down or the dog’s knee standing up. The number of separate rock piles measures how much some humans cannot “leave well enough alone” so wherever they plop down they will half-mindedly examine & handle whatever is there, creating a visible pattern in the way the objects are set down.

    Rock art & architecture measure how brains evolved. We appreciate how far these developments have taken us, yet the same inclinations must manifest more mindfully for civilization to become a sustainable feature within nature, & most especially they must be sharply directed before the peopley urge to build something leads to another shopping center taking over what used to be the last fertile field for a hundred miles around.

    A balanced structure measures how much time it takes for something to come along & tear it down, an entropy clock. Fine work in lighter rocks can collapse even from the wind gusting along the river valley. Like political careers, empires & snowmen, the on-going disintegration of cairns exemplifies how anything organized is eventually, inevitably, broken down, raising a question of motivation. Are assemblages pulled apart just because the perpetrators impulsively destroy or because they fastidiously destroy, seeing even in the presence of temporarily stacked stone the wicked “unnatural” human compulsion for thinking & doing? The scattering can combine acting out of toddlers’ delight in whacking towers of wooden blocks & adolescents’ senseless smashing of pumpkins, along with wise elders’ insistence on natural park preservation. Which Myers-Briggs personality type equates simple temples of natural materials on the river to the broken window syndrome that attracts decay to downtown neighborhoods? Who thinks that a neat vertical of carefully turned rocks means “litter here”?

    Christo purportedly returns his unwrapped sites to their original condition, however, we cannot tell where to designate as the ‘original’ placement of small rocks in James River Park. All we know is that the original place was possibly somewhere in Laurasia, probably Laurentia.

    As un-mortared construction with pebbles, palm-sized rocks & the occasional two-handed heave (“do *not* drop that on your foot”), rock piles are among the lesser offensive outdoor toys. The challenge can be practiced over & over with the same batch in many gathering places. Start getting into anything that requires asking for help lifting & we must have written permission from the landowner. (That usually puts the particular proposal on hold long enough for the children to find an alternative rock or stick or to move on to another occupation.)

    Be on the lookout also for totem poles & ‘warnings’. If a sacred relic like a bone is covered with rounded mud it is a stupa. If a figurine of sticks & leaves is within, that would be a burial mound. If it has a doorway lintel it is a dolmen. If a rock with shiny glints or a perfectly smooth egg-shaped pebble is under the heap then what you have found is a buried treasure. Acorns, weeds, pebbles & James water are in a delicious recipe for mud pie, also served as a layer cake. All of these might be mistaken for each other unless there is a cross-section made of the 3D object; no computer program training necessary, a well-chosen stick will usually suffice. Ooh, & adding sticks into the mud & rocks makes it an oovo.

    To really go about a cairn:
    http://www.dswa.org.uk/UserFiles/File/cairn%20building.pdf
    A watcher waiting to tear it down will be thinking, “Make my day.”

  3. Pingback: Not every day you see a sailboat at Pony Pasture | James River News Hub

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