Nature's characters

Rocks, to the Chinese, are "yang" motifs. Strong and assertive, they thrust upwards from the earth in positive posture. I look around my garden, and think about the different personalities of various rocks, as I observe them thrusting upwards.

There is the rock I call "the barrister." About two feet high, and narrowly conical in shape, its upper part and rear are magnets for the falling snow in wintertime, so that it takes on a whitened "wig" and looks for all the world like an English judge, as I have observed them in the courtrooms. Because this rock ("the barrister") is totally vertical in its outline, it is, in its philosophic implications, completely "yang" -- completely strong and declarative.

On the other hand, there is the rock I call "the philosopher's seat." It is down by the pool; I often like to sit on it, and think over the meaning of the garden elements. "The philosopher's seat" is flat on top to make for easy sitting. And although it thrusts upwards from the earth in ample good proportions, the flatness of the top seems to introduce a quality of "yin," or easy plateau nature.

Other rock structures in the garden, as I look around them, seem to bear out the duality suggested by "the barrister" and "the philosopher's seat." They are either of unrelieved and active verticality, or they are flattened on the top, suggesting "yin" admixture.

I sometimes think how rocks are little mountains, and how, as a leitmotif, they echo the strong statement of the mountains. And in the rocks, as in the mountains, we come across the duality of both sheer loft and tabletop.

Sometimes in connection with the rocks, I think of the great contemporary Chinese-American artist, C. C. Wang, whose mammoth collection of rocks is on permanent display, in glass cases, in his New York home. One time I asked him what attracted him so much to the rocks, and he answered, "They are nature's sculpture." I think his reference was to the yin and yang motifs, which characterize all of nature.

Rocks have also been very important, historically, in China. I often think of the importance of the rock in Chinese Buddhistic sculpture -- and of how, from the fifth century, the great temples of Yungkang and Lungmen were carved out of rock formations. Rocks came to be the medium through which historic Chinese sculptors conveyed their philosophic and religious tenets.

Are not rocks, as seen from the Chinese point of view, another instance of our involvement with all nature? Do "the barristers" not parallel our drives and aspirations; the "philosophers' seats," our periods of comparative quiet and serenity?

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