Balancing Stones

text and photographys by Jessica Stammen

There is a precarious balance to summer.  On a beach of possibilities I sit, but not comfortably, not in Maine.

In Maine my body does not sink into the softness of sand, cradled and conformed.  Instead there is an endless landscape of stones worn smooth, peas and fists that pinch and poke. As I walk they wear on me.  I give in and decide that here is as good a place as any to stop and sit.  The stones tack at the tissue of my calves, hamstrings, glutes.  Gradually the points of pain dissolve.  Like during a deep massage my body releases, gives way, and begins to breath again.

Possibility.  It is this that pokes and prods, and finally supports me here – right here – right where I am.  I survey the landscape for the largest stone within reach.  There it is, out between my feet, distinctively pink and yellow ochre in an overwhelmingly grey landscape.  It will do.  Twisting a bit to my left I pick up another rock of considerable size, dark with delicate quartz veins, shaped like a mold of my hand that holds it.  For a few moments I play with its weight, situating it atop the large stone in a way that pleases my eye and yet respects gravity.  The waves did not arrange this partnership.  Perhaps the stone is a bit uncomfortable sitting there, like me.

My hands go out again and run along as much of the bubbled surface as is within reach.  There are so many possibilities. I pick one stone, then another.  I examine each. There are stones like molting animals; stones ringed like Saturn; stones that become islands in the bay when I hold them up to the horizon before me and squint my focus back and forth.  The whole universe is here on this beach where I build, stacking one stone on another.  I work with both intention and intuition.

I imagine a line like a spine, or like the strand of a necklace tugging at the unexpected upward alignment of my stone structure.  It is with the materials around me that I have made it beautiful, tall, and entirely fleeting.  The tide will come in shortly if the wind doesn’t get to it first.

This is summer in Maine.

People and places, ideas and efforts are strewn broadside all along a beach where time does not pass like sand in an hourglass – smooth, unnoticed, forgettable even.  Here time’s passing is evident, challenging.  I feel it both because of, and despite the beauty cast by a certain slant of northern light that has caught the eye of many a painter.  I, too, create.  I stack and build, build and stack, stringing together moments and days to proud and radiant heights.  I swim miles in the morning and sail with gusts in the afternoon.  The laughter of friends causes the dark of evening to glisten like the wet, black pebble that now crowns the stone tower between my feet.  Its watery surface is a note, a reminder.  In the end the waves will win and the twinkle of pebbles will tumble down and become the more base notes of muffled, submerged knocking.

It is a satisfying sound, this knocking.    I am myself a stone being smoothed and fit for better balance while possibilities are reset by the tide.  If and when two stones, once familiar, are washed ashore and lie next to each other again, it is a gift.