the lost man chronicles
57. orbicular echoes

Skipping stones. A woman once told me that watching a man skip stones turned her on, not in a lascivious manner, but in one which still created that special attraction between genders. She explained that as frivolous a talent it is, the agility to skip stones is a manly skill.

Occasionally, every few weeks or so, I will take a jog down to the local creek and practice, just in case I were ever to need to prove my worth. Of course, I'm being a bit facetious, but periodically, just as I did today, I do run down to the little river and skim solid matter over free-flowing liquid.

It is not only a wonderful way to relax (i.e. to do nothing or anything which seeks to accomplish something), but there is also a magical fascination which aquaplaning evokes, one which hereto I did not understand.

For a moment ago I realized how beautiful of an act it really is. It seriously is a many splendored experience.

First of all, the activity requires one to scavenge amongst the bank rife with thousands of stones, pebbles that are not only both aerodynamic and hydroplanic, but which are in essence more refined than all the others, aesthetically well-rounded and honed to the task. Weathered smooth to the touch, you hesitate for a palpable second to throw it, your fingers arguing that they are simply a pleasure to hold.

Having released them, the realm of experience only gets better. For as these rough gems then flow across the water, you might notice that their slippery plane is a slightly rippling mirror reflecting shimmering specks of various shades of green and white light emanating from the looming trees.

The very physical act itself is quite satisfying as there is a kinesthetic pleasure resulting from being able to wield the elements so well.

Habitually, one counts the number of times it bounces off the water, often thinking he can surpass the record with his next Olympian throw.

There are usually three ways of judging your ability. First, the standard—which is to count the number of times that the rock jumps across the creek bed before it sinks. Second, to roughly measure the distance, irregardless of the number of skips, which your projectile travels. And third, the finesse with which the stone skims the water—does it follow a straight line, does it have a slight elliptical curve, or does it swerve erratically? Any combination of these criteria will further allow you to distinguish the deftness of your hurdles.

Yet, the most pleasing part of this vernal pastime is one which I have perhaps taken for granted for roughly the last 30 years. The effect the skipping stone has upon the water as it glides nonchalantly across is incredibly graceful. With a good toss, in a straight line, you can produce a beautiful sequence of ever-expanding and increasingly smaller rings—the multiplicity of these annular ripples is an awesome sight.

Initially, I took it for granted that the first circle created was always the largest, with each subsequent one being slightly smaller. But I had to wonder and inquire as to why that was. Was it an illusion, were all the circles inexactly the same size, or was it simply my eyes and their sequential purview that made the cumuliform ripples seem to be different sizes? The more stones I threw to test this theory, the more I came to doubt its probability.

For they really did appear to be sequentially smaller with each skip. I hypothesized that perhaps the impact of the stone decreased with each leap. Although I really did not have a way to measure the force exerted each time I was inclined to believe that this was only half the truth, for I had the feeling that there had to be another part of the answer.

Finally, I pondered the mystery long enough that I believe I gleaned the answers. A sprinkle of reasoning broke through and it was then I knew, or at least I thought I knew, I was closer to understanding. Because I realized that there were a few other reasons for the different ring sizes in addition to the impact.

First, since I was observing the phenomena askance, the first circle not only was bigger, it also looked bigger from a sideways glance because it was closer. And as with all perspectives, whenever we look into the distance, the results are based on a law of diminishing returns—so that the farther you look out, the less accurately you see. Secondly, the waves from the preceding circle were always likely to impact and obstruct the expansion of all subsequent circles. It followed that the first circle was always going to be the strongest and would reach across the water longer and further before running into any of its brethren.

I did develop a test which roughly tested the latter by throwing two rocks of roughly equal weight, texture, shape and size simultaneously with different hands. The circles which came from each appeared to be very close to equal, and met in the middle at the same time and with the same radius from their respective centers. This demonstrated to me that it was possible for circles to be the same, and that therefore the circles of the skipping stone were indeed actually significantly (and did not just appear to be) different in some way.

It was then that I noticed the wonder of the plummeting rock—the euphonic plunk!; the beauty of the main circle and the hundreds of others surrounding it caused by the initial splash and the drips of water rising and falling; and the theoretical thoughts pondering the possibility of predictable patterns of chaos inspired by this phenomena as a whole.

Alas, this was when I decided it was time to stop admiring and inspecting and dissecting nature, and go home to be at peace with all the artificial surroundings that I rarely bother to examine as long as they function and serve their allotted purpose to accommodate my leisure and provincial apathy.

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