Schenectady County

Stone stacker finds zen in nature’s balance

Justin Zaremski crouches by the creek bed, picks up a rock and turns it over in his hand, studying i
Justin Zaremski of Schenectady creates a standing rock formation in French’s Hollow in Guilderland. Zaremski took up the hobby after seeing a video about it on the Internet.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Justin Zaremski of Schenectady creates a standing rock formation in French’s Hollow in Guilderland. Zaremski took up the hobby after seeing a video about it on the Internet.

Justin Zaremski crouches by the creek bed, picks up a rock and turns it over in his hand, studying its angles with careful deliberation.

Then he places the rock, which is slightly bigger than a bird’s egg, on top of a larger stone that resembles a Midwestern state; this rock rests atop a smaller stone, which sits on a stone tripod. The pile, which juts upward like a misshapen finger, seems to defy gravity.

“It doesn’t seem like it will work, and then it does,” Zaremski says. After balancing a sixth stone on top of the pile, he sits there for a minute and then proclaims, with an air of satisfaction, “This one might be done,” before getting up and moving on to another spot, where he begins building another sculpture.

Balancing rocks is Zaremski’s hobby.

It isn’t always easy because it requires placing rocks in precarious positions and at unusual angles. Not long after Zaremski completed one of his pieces, the breeze picked up and the topmost stone fell to the ground with a clatter. This didn’t seem to concern Zaremski, who was already working on a new sculpture.

During the summer Zaremski went out several times a week to balance rocks on top of each other. Last weekend he stopped by French’s Hollow, a popular picnic spot in Guilderland, and balanced pieces of shale near the waters of the Normanskill. Most of these structures — considered by some to be a form of natural sculpture — were three or four feet high, but the ones Zaremski built over the summer were even bigger and more elaborate.

Zaremski is under no illusion that his sculptures are permanent and said that the ephemeral nature of balancing is actually one of its charms.

“They can fall apart,” he said. “I’ll finish three or four, and I’ll hear one come tumbling down behind me. That’s one of the neat things about it. It’s part of the meditation, or the ritual of it. Because you’ve spent a lot of time trying to get it just right, it reminds you that nothing is forever. It’s part of letting go.”

Zaremski said rock balancing has a spiritual quality and that having to block everything out to concentrate on balancing the rocks helps clear his mind.

“I’ve gone out to balance rocks after work, when my stress levels have been really high, but after 45 minutes or an hour I’ve walked away completely calm or relaxed,” he said.

“I get a sense of accomplish-ment from doing it,” said Zaremski, 31, who lives in Schenectady and builds utility systems for generators at Environment One in Niskayuna.

Other people balance rocks too, and the Internet is full of photographs of their impossible-looking creations.

Zaremski learned about the practice several years ago while surfing the Web and later saw some people balancing rocks at a Phish concert in Limestone, Maine. He learned about Bill Dan, a well-known rock balancer based in San Francisco. More recently he learned about British artist Andy Goldsworthy, who makes art out of natural materials, such as sticks and icicles, and has dabbled in rock balancing.

Zaremski already had artistic inclinations — he likes photography and plays the guitar — and balancing rocks came naturally. “I was already sitting on top of the medium,” he said.

He began documenting his creations, which also became part of the process. “I would look around for a nice backdrop,” he said. He’ll spend anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour building a piece. “You come to a point where you have to ask yourself: ‘Have I done enough, or do I need to do more?’ ” he said.

Zaremski chuckled when his work was described as art. Initially, he didn’t think of it that way. But now he does. “It’s definitely art,” he said. “You can look at it from a ton of different angles.”

People are drawn to rock balancing, Zaremski said.

While on vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine, he quickly attracted a crowd while balancing rocks on the beach; some of the people began building their own sculptures. “There were at least a dozen people doing it,” he said. “People were saying, ‘Look what you started.’ ”

It reminded him of the Phish concert, where people were invited to balance rocks. “They were trying to draw people out of their comfort zone, to experience just being in the moment,” he said.

The sculptures at Bar Harbor didn’t last very long, either. Eventually the tide came in and washed them away.

Categories: Schenectady County

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