Stacking Stones for Inner Peace



No doubt you’ve seen those stacks of rocks when out and about. More and more people are stacking stones when out in nature, and people are asking why. I have heard of the practice being done to create harmony in a garden. Hikers in the wilderness use these stacks to alert other travelers of trails. Some create cairns as a memorial to a loved one. Mostly I have heard of the practice as being something Zen, to create inner peace.

Pictures of these creations always draw me in, but I had never before tried to do it. Then this summer, I had a very emotional trip back home. So much good happened on that trip, but it is always very difficult for me to go there. My mother is deep into Alzheimer’s disease and my father has been gone for just over five years now. This last trip, I went to the cemetery to pay my respects to my daddy and to my grandmother, who had passed away a mere eight months before him. And then I had the horrible pain of having to leave my mother. I live far enough away, now, where I don’t always know when I will be able to return. I know our remaining time together is short, so I milk all the time that I have with her.

I returned home late on a Sunday night and had to get up Monday morning to work a two-hour shift at one of my part-time jobs. Getting back into the swing of things after being gone for almost two weeks is never an easy thing. Though I’d had my spiritual cleansing of a weekend of Pearl Jam shows in Chicago, and a full afternoon to bask in the beauty that is the Toledo Art Museum, I still felt like something was lacking. Summer was almost over, and it had been so hot, I hadn’t done as much hiking as I usually like to do.

I quickly decided to head east. Chimney Bluffs State Park is one of the most beautiful places you will ever go. The massive spires of clay constantly change, and yet stay the same as the elements slowly erode them.

Peeking through the trees at Chimney Bluffs from the trail.
Peeking through the trees at Chimney Bluffs from the trail.

With the right light, the orange color provides a stunning contrast to the blue of Lake Ontario.

The clay spires of Chimney Bluffs from the woods trail.
The clay spires of Chimney Bluffs from the woods trail.

They are just as majestic and awe-inspiring from the beach.

Looking up at Chimney Bluffs
Looking up at Chimney Bluffs

And speaking of the beach, it is a treasure trove of rocks and stone and other natural debris that has washed ashore or fallen from above.

Rocks and driftwood on the Chimney Bluffs beach

I have always been drawn to rocks and stones. I blame that on my father, who always used them in his landscaping. But I also cannot help but feel some kind of connection to them. Every time I go hiking, I usually find a rock or a stone to carry with me as a sort of talisman on my journey. There’s no shortage of options.

The rocky beach of Chimney Bluffs
The rocky beach of Chimney Bluffs

On this trip, I kept finding rocks to carry with me, but I still wasn’t quite feeling that sense of connection and peace that I usually get. The day was perfect, not overly hot like the rest of the summer had been, and the lake was a perfect blend of blues.

And then I stumbled upon this formation.

Talk about stone-faced!
Talk about stone-faced!

I chuckled to myself and kept on walking, but then suddenly felt the need to make my own creation. I was drawn to a dozen different stones on the ground and felt compelled to try stacking stones on one of the boulders. Instant peace. Apparently it was radiating peace, because I had barely finished when someone stopped and asked if she could photograph my creation. Of course I said yes. And then I sat watching the blue waves of the lake as the backdrop to my creation. A total zen moment.

My stacked stones
Stacking stones brought me such inner peace

You can also see video of the waves crashing behind it, as well as many other traveling adventures here.

Is stacking stones for everyone? No.

Did stacking stones cure what ailed me? Not permanently, but it has helped me to continue on my personal journey of finding peace and happiness in my life.

Should I try stacking stones? That’s up to you. If you are in a place where you can find stones and feel compelled to give it a try, then do so. If you have to force it, it isn’t going to work. You have to open up your heart and mind to feeling the balance. It’s going to take some careful balancing to get them to properly stack, as well as patience to find the right ones, but it is worth it in the end.

What are your experiences with stacking stones? What do you do to find your inner peace?

Dad’s Japanese Maple Tree

I love the Japanese maple tree. The richness of the bold red leaves provide such a great contrast in a perennial garden. They seem to be relatively hardy in partial sun and the shapes of the leaves are mesmerizing.

Japanese maple leaves close up

Back in 2004, when I was in the midst of my first growing season in what was then my new house, I dug up a small section of the yard by hand. Positioned on the side of the house between two little sidewalks going up to the front and side doors, it was really a pain for my sister to mow. (We lived together at the time, and I am allergic to the freshly cut grass.) So, she had less to mow, and I got to play with a brand new canvas of dirt.

During Clean Up Week at the end of that school year, I managed to fall off of my platform sandals and severely injure my ankle. When my parents came out the following week for a preplanned trip, I was still hobbling around on crutches. They had brought with them a ton of river stones that I had unearthed in the yard at my previous home in Ohio, and I was anxious to get them into the garden. I also wanted to get this new garden started. My father had been an avid gardener, so I trusted him to guide me in this new endeavor.

We made quite a pathetic pair as we hobbled around the local nurseries, I on my crutches and he with his cane as he favored a bum hip. Even more comical was the sight of me scooting on my butt around this patch of dirt, as we laid out the new plants and pavers that were going in. I loved the arrangement we designed together, but even more endearing was spending this quality bonding time with my father.

Over the years, the tree grew a little and provided the perfect accent to the bed. It was a variety that was designed to stay small and was often complimented by my neighbors.

In 2011, my father passed away. My world, which was already fragile for other reasons I will likely share in other stories, crumbled. I didn’t know how to process it and neglected the garden more than I should have.

In 2012, the tree didn’t bud. I kept waiting and waiting for something to happen, but it didn’t. I was devastated. Here was this piece of my father that was supposed to still be alive, and it was dead. But I couldn’t bring myself to dig it up. I only cut it back a bit and hoped.

Move forward to 2013. Again, the tree didn’t do anything. I ran into “The Tree Guy” at one of the local farmers markets, from whom I had purchased a threadleaf Japanese maple tree, and asked him about it. He was apologetic, but said sometimes they just don’t make it. I still couldn’t dig it up. The thought of doing it made me ill and a voice in my head kept telling me to leave it alone.

2014 rolled around and I knew I needed to get out to clean up that big bed. Everything was overgrown and weed trees were starting to take root. I also figured it was time to remove the dead Japanese maple tree and consider purchasing a new one to put in its place.

I discovered a miracle.

There at the bottom of the dead tree were tiny new branches starting to grow. I remember shrieking and crying and taking pictures to send to my best friend. “Dad’s tree is back! He came back!” It seemed very fragile, so I was careful to keep other plants from encroaching upon its space. I checked on it almost daily. By the end of the season, it had filled out nicely, almost like a little bush, and its glorious autumnal change was spectacular.

Dad's Japanese maple in the fall

Last year, it was still holding its own and I gave thanks every time I looked at it. A part of my dad was still here and living in my garden. Now this year, it has again filled out and thriving. Something about the wonky winter and spring that we had is making the Japanese maple tree thrive in our area this year. I still like to tell myself that Dad has a bit of a hand in it.

Dad's Japanese maple

Dad’s fifth anniversary was just this past week. For some reason, this year it hit me harder than the past few years. A lot of factors probably went into that, but I have heard that can be pretty normal for those multiples of five. I did spend some time reminiscing and mourning over those few days. The day after the anniversary, I declared that this bed was going to officially be the memorial garden to my father, and I spent several hours cleaning it out. I am proud of how it looks. I am still in love with this Japanese maple tree. It just meshes well with everything around it.

clematis japanese maple tree

I love you, Dad. I miss you every day. But your legacy will live on.

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