Tuesday, May 19, 2015

JUST A STONE’S THROW – Where Kids, Nature and Physics Coalesce

When’s the last time you skipped a stone?

It’s such an iconic image of youth, such a quintessential point of connection between a kid—or an adult’s inner kid—and Nature. It doesn’t matter if you live near that sweet swimmin’-hole pond from a Norman Rockwell illustration or down the street from a drainage canal you wouldn’t set foot in.

Rich or poor, from the sticks or the city, anywhere from Abilene to Zanzibar, any able-bodied person can do it. If there was a pond in Eden, I suspect Adam and Eve did it. All it takes is a stretch of still water and a few reasonably flat stones.

Do you remember who taught you how to do skip stones? Selecting the perfect stone*; the proper grip and body position; a nice, low release point; the finger roll and follow-through. Perhaps, like me, you were in awe of your coach’s skill, her effortless tosses hopping four…five…ten times before sliding, then settling into the water.

The first few times you try it, you may as well be tossing a brick. Soon you get a skip or two, but then…kerplunk. Eventually you get it, and you remember for the rest of your days how very satisfying it was—your first multi-skipper.

     …and, finally, the two elements’ graceful 
     surrender to each other, the water reclaiming 
     the thing it’s spent a thousand years shaping.

There’s something so utterly serene about skipping stones. First, it puts you outdoors, next the water. Most people feel free, calm, happy when they’re near the water.

And the activity itself is so enchanting and sensual as to border on the transcendental: the interplay between solid and liquid, hard and soft, rounded and flat; the sense of flight as the stone’s weight is denied by water’s little slaps from below; the tiptoeing ripple footprints, often tracing a graceful arc; the dwindling rhythm of ever-shorter hops; and, finally, the two elements’ graceful surrender to each other—to gravity—the water reclaiming the thing it’s spent a thousand years shaping.

Have we lost touch with such primal Nature play, such a simple union with the elements? Have our notions of time and place and priorities been so transfigured by the omnipresent allure of instant-information and virtual-recreation technology that we’re forgetting how fundamentally healthy, educational, and peaceful—not to mention how fun—a direct interaction with Nature is, with no man-made device timing it, simplifying it, interpreting it for us?

Whether it’s skipping stones, digging a hole or building a fairy house of sticks and leaves, it’s the innate, elegant simplicity of pure Nature play that teaches human beings—of any age—not just priceless lessons in physics, coordination, spatial awareness, creativity and esthetics, but a deep sense of place.

               You’ve returned to the essential 
               elements of your birthright

For there, next to that pond, or river…or drainage canal, you interact with Nature in the same way the stone and the water do. You arrive light-spirited, spinning ‘round to take it all in. In your excitement, you run; then, perhaps something you see or hear slows you to a jog, then a stroll. At last you are still, and it all surrounds you, absorbs you...and you surrender to it, sinking into its soothing embrace.

The subtle footprints you left along the gravely shore soon vanish, but deep inside, the impressions last for a lifetime. For you’ve returned to the essential elements of your birthright—a small piece of the earth itself, and the clear, life-sustaining liquid that once quenched and warmed and supported you; that cleansed you, buoyed you; that together, in time, will once again absorb you.

                  ---------------------  More On Skipping  ---------------------
I have no claim to any special skipping techniques. But sometimes, after finding my rhythm and laying down a few ten-skippers, I raise the bar for myself and any competitors with some added challenges. I've been known to brag that I can skip any rock at least once, as long as it's small enough to throw. And I back up my claim… okay... maybe a third of the time.

What are some of the tricks and style elements you’ve brought to the sport of stone skipping? Do you have a favorite beach or shore for doing it? Favorite memories? We’d love it if you’d share them in a comment here.

And please, if you're ever stuck for something to do with kids / grandkids, head for the nearest rocky shore and pass on the art, the ancient tradition, of skipping stones. But for you, it may be lost.




jean said...

I love your journeys back into childhood, Jeff, and the images and stories of how intertwined with the natural world our young lives were. Hopefully there is some way that today's children are having similar experiences even with all of the texting and e-gaming and TV. We were out interacting with nature ALL of the time and loving it!

Jeffrey Willius said...

I know, Jean. I often feel like I'm preaching to the choir, since I suspect the vast majority of those drawn to my site already identify with my take on life & Nature & being in the moment.
One good way to spread the message to those who arent in the choir is through the Children and Nature Network (http://www.childrenandnature.org/), a great organization working at many levels to improve access for all to Nature and raise awareness of the benefits.

pepe said...


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