Gaston & Catawba

In the river, creating little Stonehenges

Don Craig is a well-known Catawba Valley potter. One day a year, he and a couple dozen of his friends become rock stackers. Like big children, they stack river rocks, one on top of the other, making sculptures that resemble mini Stonehenge constructions.

Here at the old farm that Craig rents on the First Broad River in northern Rutherford County, they spent all day on Aug. 2 stacking rocks between sips of beer and conversation. After dark, Craig placed lighted candles on top of the sculptures.

Rock stacking – call it a hobby or an art form – is still a little-known practice, but one in which the best practitioners pull off amazing feats of gravity-defying by arranging rocks in designs that look as though they shouldn't stand for a second.

Craig heard about it through “hippie” friends. He started hosting his own rock-stacking parties when he moved to the farm in 1988.

Some who attend Craig's party can't exactly explain why they like rock stacking. Others consider it something deeper than playing.

“I just enjoy it, nothing else,” said Joe Hill of Claremont, who organizes Craig's party, calling it the Annual Stackathon. “My yard's full of 'em. I've got stacks that stay up years at a time and never fall down. I incorporate some into my landscaping. I guess I didn't have an artistic outlet, so I guess this is it.”

“I'm glad to see it captures people. I think it changes people,” Craig said as he watched fellow stackers populate water that's usually the domain of only crawdads, fish, snakes, herons – and rocks. “You stack up your troubles and, when it rains, it washes your troubles away.”

It takes at least three rocks to make a stack, Craig said. Other than that, there are no rules, and everybody has his own way of stacking.

Though it may sound simple, stacking takes focus so the rocks are balanced and stay put.

“The axis acts as your axis,” explained David Rudisill of Vale.

Despite best efforts, some stackers saw their creations fall and splash into the water. Phil Bowman of Taylorsville had multiple mishaps throughout the afternoon.

“What sign is it today, anyway?” he said in bemused frustration after one crash.

Of course, it didn't matter, only the experience. As Craig reflected, the stacks will survive in their creators' “mental snapshots” long after the party.

“Maybe I'm a little weird,” he said, “but I like it.”