A Sunday or so ago our best laid plans for a hike became a trip to Poulsbo – to the pet emergency clinic serving the peninsula. Frances finally got my attention and needed to be seen.
Driving south with little traffic, we wound through paintable scenes: forested low hills and valleys where cows lounge on green pastures near white clapboard farmhouses and red-sided barns. We passed fields separated by hedgerows or tall larch windbreaks and watched the arms of irrigation robots lazily spread water wide. On either side of the Hood Canal Bridge, the water was summer calm.
After the drive home I felt thankful for the vet, for antibiotics, for normal life, and with the patient resting comfortably, we began the day again with a walk on the beach.
Near the lighthouse we came upon a young man making towers of beach rocks of diminishing size, stone stacks. We often find these constructed piles of flattish rocks on our early morning walks, but I’d never seen someone making such sturdy structures.
Why do we like those stacks so much? They are the sign of the human hand in a controlled-only-by-nature beachscape – and they’re about balance. Precarious balance – establishing a point where good-size rocks will neither tilt nor wobble. Each added rock threatens the stable structure.
When I asked the builder if he was responsible for the stone stacks I sometimes see in town, he said, “No, I’m more the Andy Goldsworthy type of stoneworker, wanting to see what nature does to the things I build.”
The next morning nature had intervened. Most of the stacks were scattered, and tide in the night had strewn seaweed in a line on the beach. But one stack remained upright, with seaweed scraps stuck two stones up. A burst of sun revealed the stack’s fine balance.
That’s the title of a favorite book – Rohinton Mistry”s “A Fine Balance.” In the story, Mistry’s improbable combination of characters (who survive) balance hope and despair – the big things we juggle in finding equilibrium.
We walked along trying to list other things people balance in life: worry and obliviousness, solitude and company, work and leisure, independence and connection. Work and family – young people now seem to do that with an admirable consciousness.
Change – small and large – can upset the balance and require adjustment. So – in a minor way – the pleasures of a day at home instead of in the mountains: Frances enjoyed her dabs of yogurt, the two of us read or worked, anticipating leftovers and a good junky movie in the evening. A balanced day – a thankfully normal life.