Finding Balance at the Water’s Edge

Photo by Sue Beth BalashThere’s definitely a chill in the night air now and the water temps are cool.  If you’re not going to be cooling off in the sparkling great lake waters this fall, why not create a little shoreline art in your favorite Michigan location. 

At the Lake Michigan beach in Charlevoix, that’s exactly what our “kids” decided to do.  Our three young adults were not content to just lie on the sand wishing the water wasn’t so cold.  Inspired by the British nature artist/photographer, Andy Goldsworthy, they ventured to the shore to connect with nature and find balance.

It’s called “rock stacking”.  It’s the same thing you did with wooden blocks in your living room several decades ago, but this time the building blocks are treasures found in the shallow waters around Michigan (a different sort of toy box).

Photo by Sue Beth BalashThe challenge is to first, find the perfect rocks, and then balance them one upon another until they form the artwork that only the waves can play with.  There is no deadline.  No panel of judges. No pressure to finish.  No formula or set of instructions except to simply, “find balance”.

Photo by Sue Beth BalashAs parents, we were in awe of the patient silence that it took our nineteen year old, an environmental science major, to stack the rocks.   We witnessed in utter amazement, his ability to focus on one lovely rock after another, turning it in his hands until he found the perfect surface to unite it with the others.

Photo by Sue Beth BalashLeaving the art behind when we left was all part of the fun.  We all wondered what the beach strolling people who came after us would think.  Would they ponder its ability to stay in balance even after waves tried to pull it down?  Would they wonder who had spent the time and artistic energy to present this to the shoreline?

On the shores of Lake Charlevoix, at Young State Park, our adult daughter was anticipating a perfect sunset.  So, while she waited, she chose some flat rocks to begin a new sculpture.   The flat rocks already exist at the shoreline of the State Park, so she waded on the rocks until she found the perfect base.  This rock stack involved double arms and a lot of heavy lifting, so her brothers came to help.

Photo by Sue Beth BalashPeople who had been watching the sunset turned their attention to the tower of balanced rocks rising out of the waves.  Although the sunset was gorgeous and the water began to sparkle, curious onlookers pondered the artwork these young adults were making from the nature around them.

Photo by Sue Beth BalashPhoto by Sue Beth BalashBy the time the sun set, this stack was nearly five feet tall.  It resembled a natural lighthouse as long as the sun kept its spot in the sky.  Neither of the artists needed to be anywhere or do anything but relax, play and balance.  A little solid red jade pebble was perfect as the cherry on the top!

Rock Balancing Art - Photo by Sue Beth Balash

Rock Balancing Art

Why not leave the office this Fall and venture to the shoreline where the rocks and waves are waiting to play.  Take some time to find balance among the peaceful serenity of the lakes.

Sue Beth is a 3rd grade teacher, children’s book author and freelance writer.  She lives in Commerce Township, MI with her husband and two sons.  She has lived in the “Mitten” her whole life.

  • Things to do in the U.P.

    Great write up! A few of us have been seeing more and more balanced rocks lately. @TraverseTravlr actually started a Twitter hashtag (#balancedrocks) for it!

    It was awesome to read the story of some of the people behind the art.


  • Brandy Lorenz Wheeler

    Great story. I love the lighthouse idea, perfect for sunsets on the lakes. We’ve noticed rock stacking has become quite a trend in Michigan.

    If you’d like to share your beach art photos on Twitter use the hashtag #balancedrocks

  • Erin Monigold

    I love finding balanced rocks! Great write-up on the new (?) trend. It seems like I’ve been finding them more and more on our shores. I’m looking forward to trying it myself!

  • Caryn Chachulski

    I’ve seen balanced rocks out west for over a decade now. Balancing rocks is a common practice to mark trails/trailheads, and donote something about them. Piles of rocks get called Cairns and are done for a lot of reasons. Looking forward to seeing some towers around the lakeshores!

  • J Kessler

    At the risk of being a doomsayer, creating a tall pile of rocks can be artistic. But remember, young kids play at beaches and many are not old enough to understand that knocking a tower of rocks over in play can cause injury. I think the rock towers have a place, just not where very young kids commonly play.

  • Dominique

    I’ve seen these piles of rocks for some time now, especially out on the lake in Leelanau State Park (I spent quite some time this past summer photographing the rock piles at the park and watching folks construct a few of the piles). We’ve been talking about #balancedrocks and linking to photos out on Twitter for a week or so now.

  • Sue Beth Balash

    Thanks for the comments! This was new to us this summer! I plan to look into Cairns and the reasons they are created! Thanks, Caryn. For J Kessler, thanks for you comments/concerns as well. All rock stacks created near where children were playing on the shore were made of small hand held rocks. Some look larger due to the zoom on my camera. (We were conscious of the safety factor as well.) The nearly-five-foot stack was just out beyond our campsite, away from where children play. :)

  • Lois Pariseau Gentry

    Sue and Family, What a beautiful way to share time together. Love the story Sue . Will there be a book to follow?

  • PlayDrMom

    Just posted on this on my own blog last week.

    LOVE that I had the chance to stack/balance rocks on both the shore of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan in the past couple weeks. PURE MICHIGAN!

  • Just 4 Fun

    i have seen this rock stacking all over the shores of Laake Michitgan .
    Our favorite is up on mackinac island, the north side of island. fun times

  • Just $ Fun

    I’m thinking that children that young are supervised? With that said, let them explore and learn!