As a child growing up in a rather rural part of Bucks County, I was fortunate to live a short walk from a small creek called the Little Neshaminy. From age 3 onward, I spent much of my play time with my parents, siblings, and friends down at this creek wading by the rocks, catching crayfish and frogs, and exploring the surrounding forest. I couldn’t make these cliches up, I swear!
My favorite activity at the Little Neshaminy was skipping stones. As you can probably guess, as a 3 year old, I was really bad at it. I was so jealous that my father, brother, and sister could make the water ripple so smoothly, that I used to try to emulate them by picking up many small rocks and tossing them in one after the other; thereby making a similar series of splashes the rest of my family made. Except not really.
Over time I became much better. It became a social activity, both as a connection point I could make with friends I introduced to the river as well as an activity to do while discussing more heady subjects. To this day when I come to the bank of any body of water, I start to scan the rocks for ideal skipping stones: stones that are flat with a small grip for the index finger, not too heavy and not too light.
It’s a strange sensation to skip stones at this stage in my life. I usually am near a forest and it’s usually a beautiful sunny day. I am able to blot out the sounds and distractions as I search for rocks. I have a sense of excitement and anticipation that I’ll find an absolutely perfect example that will fit perfectly in my hand and have the correct weight. From experience, I also know to look for some of the better stones underneath the bed of the banks.
Once I have collected about 5 or 6 stones, I turn my focus back to the water. I look for an expanse of water with few visible currents so that my stone won’t be deflected irregularly. I also have to look for a span of water that is long enough to carry the stone should I get a good shot. In smaller bodies of water, often that means throwing upstream or downstream, which adds to the issue of currents. Just as my mind was focused on finding the stones, I now focus on the way the water runs and plot my trajectory.
I grip the stone in my right hand, feeling for a notch to grip with my index finger. Meanwhile, I find the point on the bank where my foot will plant as I release the stone, scanning for loose rocks that might trip me up. I begin my approach, shuffling forward to gain momentum while my right arm hinges outward and back. As I reach the release point, my body shifts to profile. My left foot plants, my arm falls back to its apex before snapping forward. My index finger presses forward on the notch to create the spin that will allow the stone to glide across the surface tension of the water. I watch with satisfaction as the stone skids forward and flicks the face of the creek, skipping one, two, three times or more.
I enjoy the transience of the experience; the function of the most perfect stone is to be thrown and then become irretrievable. Once it is expended, there are so many options left to try, each with their own qualities. I also like the the hypnotic nature of the search for first the stone, then the path. I feel like all of my senses close in to the function of those moments before expanding again and bringing me back to full awareness. And the unconscious nature of the experience is wonderful; the way I can be holding a conversation, telling a joke, or just turning inward while skipping stones is warm and real.
The sense of accomplishment when I am able to skip multiple times or reach the other bank is exhilarating. Even when I fail and the stone GAH-LOPs to the bottom, I am exhilarated by the process of learning and grateful for the immediate feedback. I savor the bite of the stone into the pad of my index finger, the strength of my body that allows me to throw, and even the impending ache from activating dormant muscles. I love the cycle of throwing and searching that drives me onward and the reward of the act in itself.
I’m past due the time in my blog when I throw in a twist or tie the first subject with a second. For today, though I think I’ll skip it and just satisfy myself with the visceral memory of the joy of a summer afternoon. Get out there and find the tactile joy in whatever it is you do. Happy skipping!