- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - It’s not a Zen or ch’i thing, Ed Cote insisted.

Not art. Not therapy. Not even especially a skill, he will tell you.

He said this as he hoisted a 40-pound rock, tipped it lengthwise, and nestled a pointy end into a dimple on a partially buried bolder.

When he let go, the rock almost appeared to be hovering in place, like an elephant doing a single-toed handstand.

Then he looked around his feet for another rock, determined to add yet another layer to an already-improbable balance.

“I’m not looking at what’s possible. I start by thinking what’s impossible, and work backward,” Cote laughed. “Then I’m like, ‘Holy crap, I can’t believe that stood up.’?”

Spend a little time with the 55-year-old and you’ll find there is, after all, a profound experience associated with rock stacking: It’s a form of human communication.

It’s the reason he took his hobby from his South Akron front yard to public parks, festivals, art walks and community gardens. He loves to share his passion, loves to see the surprise on faces of strangers, loves to encourage skeptics to give it a try.

So if you spot him squatting over a pile of rubble in the creek bed of some local park, don’t be afraid to ask for a lesson.

Some teenage boys at Brecksville Reservation did that this spring, and Cote was tickled when they returned the next day with their “girlfriends” and proceeded to spend three hours stacking on the rocky shores of Chippewa Creek.

Cote pointed with pride at some 2-foot-high columns of flat, squared rocks- a style clearly not his own.

“Very impressive,” he nodded approvingly. “They caught on really fast and turned it into their own thing.”

Brecksville is one of his favorite spots. He’ll go there after a full day of work- he washes dishes at an Akron restaurant after losing his job as a medical courier when the company went out of business last fall -and spend three hours playing near the ford on Chippewa Creek Drive.

It’s not unusual for small crowds to gather around him on weekends.

“People thank me for stacking in their park, and that’s the ultimate compliment,” he said.

Recently, a motorist who spotted Cote stopped his car, jumped out and shook Cote’s hand before speeding off. The man said very little but didn’t need to. The rocks did the talking, creating a quick connection between the two men and leaving behind a warm memory.

Cote (pronounced co-TAY) started stacking rocks before he knew it was a “thing,” he said.

He’d collected some pieces from the razing of Leggett Elementary School six years ago to decorate his front yard and found himself “feeling creative.”

It wasn’t until after he created some stacks that his wife Googled it and found a whole community of rock stackers who took their hobby very seriously. He even joined a group of them in Flagstaff, Arizona, for their “Back West Celebration of Stone Balancing.”

But it’s not serious business for Cote.

Sometimes when people ask if his stacks are “glued,” he’ll kick them over to prove they’re not.

“People look at me like I just set the Mona Lisa on fire,” he chuckled. “It’s just a pile of rocks.”

Cote also stacks rock beneath the Everett Road Covered Bridge in Peninsula, and occasionally finds a worthy spot in one of the Summit County Metro Parks. If he’s not interrupting hikers or picnickers, he’ll pull a radio out of his backpack. Good chance he’ll be barefoot.

“If it’s nice and sunny out, I’m out playing somewhere,” he said.

Cote has been asked to give more formal lessons in rock stacking, and may soon join the lineup of classes offered by the Peninsula Art Academy.

“If you can physically pick up a rock, you can do it,” he said.

But people still need convincing.

On a recent day in Brecksville, walking companions Candice Vlcek and Amy Diamond of Parma made sure their hour-long trek through the park took them past the rock stacks they’d spotted earlier.

To their delight, the rock stacker himself had made an appearance. They watched as Cote added to half a dozen creations he’d made the previous day.

“That’s amazing,” Vlcek said.

“It’s defying gravity,” Diamond said, pointing to one precarious perch. “I can’t wrap my mind around how that’s staying there.”

Cote smiled and offered his standard reply: “It’s just a pile of rocks.”

But as the women finished their visit and headed to their car, it was clear the rocks had yet again done their job.

“That’s why I do it. I just love the interaction,” he said.

___

Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, https://www.ohio.com


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