Another great post by Allen Milewski….
I’ve read Nuray’s description of old Gundogan and I agree that it is a lovely and untouched place and also ancient, being next to the site of the ancient Lelegian city of Madnassa– a people famous as stone workers 7000 years ago. Whether the Lelegians crafted a fantastical ancient “zoo” out of rocks –that may or may not be true. As Nuray described, you’ve got to use a hefty reserve of imagination to see animals. But, the thing Nuray failed to mention… the crucial thing about Gundogan … is that the rocks, the terrain, the mountains and hills seem so happy… so good with themselves. Whatever the Lelegians did, no matter how small a part they played, they clearly were in-tune with the rocks they worked with. So, let me tell you about rocks.
Most people would agree that, left to their own devices, rocks are solitary souls. Rocks do not interact much with other rocks, or with living things. They do not enjoy the commonplace chit-chat of coffeehouses. They generally do not form long-term friendships. They do not usually like to touch. Rocks are at their best when they are permitted to separate. Walk along some calm place and you will see rocks spacing themselves out comfortably in all directions. Of course, this depends on how many rocks there are in a given space, but they relish a good arm’s distance whenever possible.
But, there are circumstances when rocks will congregate together in such close proximity that you might believe that it is natural for them to do so… and, in fact, it is.
One of these circumstances is the recent craze called “rock balancing” where specially-skilled artists pile up rocks in visually fascinating ways- either stacking or counterbalancing one with the next on the stack. These constructions can reach many feet and are sort of the creative extension to cairn-building, a craft that has saved many a hiker otherwise lost on a trail when the tower of rocks intervenes to help them see the way. Rock balancing has produced some amazing sites. The rock balancing artists that have received the most press are in California and Colorado, of course, but my favorite is still Narragansett, Rhode Island, where the entire rocky beachfront has been converted to a Disneyland of fairy castles and kingdoms. It all started with Joseph DiPietro, a local artist, who was trying to impress a woman by making a stone monument.
I have done some rock balancing myself. Nothing fancy, mind you – just a few stones from here and there piled up three or four high. But I think they look nice and, more importantly, they have given me enough experience to speculate a little about rocks and their balancing. In particular, it seems pretty clear to me that it is the rocks themselves that have the most to say about how they get balanced. Try it yourself. Take two or three rocks and try to stack them somehow. You will find that you cannot just pile one on top of the other anyway you please. Instead, you have to first get to know the rocks. You need to know their feel, their “heft”, their centers of gravity, their wide and sharp edges and how all these things might go together into a group. When you do, it may occur to you that the whole concept of a “rock balancing artist” is a misnomer- suggesting as it does that it is the artist who plans and engineers a stack when, in fact, it is the rocks themselves that decide. The most the artist does is to work with the rocks long enough to understand this. In truth, I suspect that all good rock balancing artists know and admit this; it makes them no less artists since all art has this same element.
Not much is known about how this interaction between rock and rock-balancer takes place. For example, some would argue that each rock balancing is absolutely unique. Heriphutius, the famed, but a totally fictitious (made up by myself) early Greek mathematician claimed to have proven that given a particular set of rocks, R, there is exactly one interesting stacking that will stand up for any length of time under normal atmospheric conditions such as a breeze or a light rain. This proof was lost, unfortunately and more recently has come under real dispute from those claiming that several different stackings- up to five or even six- are sometimes possible.
I have no idea about the mathematics, but anecdotally side with Heriphutius based on the following experiment: Over the course of a typical four-hour Turkish dinner, including a table full of mezes, grilled fish, raki and lots of talk, three separate friends attempted to pile the two rocks shown here several times each. This was harder than the picture suggests because you cannot see that the top rock is as thin as the bottom one. Of course, there are several simple ways to stack them- piling one laid flat onto the other laid flat. I suppose there are four of these ways. But, the challenge was to do something more interesting- e.g. using edges in some way. When all was said and done, all three of us came up with exactly the same, identical pile – again shown here. One and only one solution was found after much time trying. Each of us gradually learned what the rock could do, or would do; and, we adjusted to it. One of the friends noted afterwards what a metaphor for life this is… “we are all interdependent, social and collective beings”, he exclaimed hopefully. Collective, yes, and maybe he is right, but what strikes me more is the slightly ominous idea that those rocks were collectively driving my behavior, coercing me into stacking them exactly the way they wanted to be stacked.
The next day, with this thought in mind, I found these larger rocks from diverse parts of a field, so as to avoid any potential relations between them, and stacked them the way I wanted them stacked. No getting to know them, no hefting to understand their centers. It was difficult; the rocks seemed to resist, sliding down each other repeatedly until I finally forced a precarious balancing that can be seen here. There was an intense air of unease in the stack, a tangible tension. These rocks were not happy to be together. We took a photo and walked away not more than 20 feet when the “balancing” tumbled down into a jumble of separated elements.
If it seems to you that my conclusions about sentient rocks are more than slightly insane, I ask you to consider the case of mountains. There are only a few ways to explain the existence of mountains. One is to say that some large force- call it nature – has coerced the rocks into these huge, organized configurations. The other explanation is that the rocks want it that way — as a sort of exception to the trait of individuality that I began with. Of course, there is no way to prove either argument beyond a doubt, but I side with the second argument- that rocks reside together in groupings of their own choosing – that mountains exist because the rocks want them to exist- that they are happy being together in the mountain.
And, that rock animals exist in Gundogan because the rocks wanted to pose as animals. They were happy that way. I am sure Gundogan is not the only place with happy rocks, but Gundogan exudes a feeling that reminds me of a well-balanced rock stack, not some forced version. The Lelegians understood their rocks and that synchrony resonates still.
Have a look at these formations and tell me that you don’t absorb a good feeling from them. This is a feeling that radiates out into the friendliness of the people, the healthiest food in the world, the fresh, high-oxygen air. This is a place of people who are as happy to be with other people as the rocks are to be in the mountains.
You can be this happy also, albeit for a shorter time, by visiting Gundogan. Try it, and while you are there, get to know some of its rocks.