MAN SETS 'EM UP, PHYSICS DOES THE REST.
Samuel Smalley has a rocky approach to tranquillity.
``It's a form of meditation,'' Smalley says. ``When you're balancing a rock that big, you have to totally concentrate on it. All the other stuff going on in your life goes away.''
Smalley rolls up his sleeves and shows the scratches and scars that can happen when he doesn't concentrate.
``If that rock falls on you, you get hurt,'' he says. ``It's not risk-free.''
But when things go right, the results are amazing. People driving down Highway 101 in south Encinitas between restaurant row and South Cardiff State Beach have been known to hit their brakes and jump out of their cars with a camera to capture Smalley's work.
That's not a bad idea, considering that Smalley's work is not meant to last. Smalley balances large rocks in seemingly impossible formations on other rocks, and chances are they will not stay that way for long.
Smalley says he has seen the rocks stay up for as long as a week, but inevitably they will topple. Sometimes people walking by will deliberately nudge them, perhaps testing to see if there is some trick involved.
There isn't, other than Smalley's background in physics and geometry.
There must be three points on the tip of the rock being balanced, he explains, and the center of gravity must be placed precisely on the base he is stacking upon.
Sometimes Smalley will place a smaller rock on top to counterbalance the larger one, a trick that requires him to call out for an extra hand from anyone who might be passing by.
Small stacks of balanced rocks have become a common sight lately. But don't be fooled. Smalley says he usually waits until those lesser attempts have fallen before he goes to work because he does not want them to distract from his designs.
His versions stand out from the others fairly easily. For one thing, not everybody can lift the rocks Smalley uses.
``This one weighs at least 200 pounds,'' he says, looking over some snapshots of his work. ``I like stacking that one a lot.''
It also helps to be a weight lifter, he admits.
Smalley, a 30-year-old construction engineer, first saw somebody balancing rocks behind Seaport Village off San Diego Bay. But he didn't try it himself until he was camping on a surfing trip in Mexico and was looking for a way to pass the time when the waves were flat.
Smalley says he still stacks rocks when the waves are flat in Encinitas, but usually he plans his projects in advance, going out once every few weeks.
Other people who have perfected rock-balancing have found ways of cashing in on their skill. At least one person does inspirational talks at schools, and another accepts tips while working.
Photo: (1) Rocks balanced by Smalley silhouette the hori zon along Highway 101 in Encinitas.
(2) Samuel Smalley works late into the afternoon balancing rocks along the coast in Cardiff by the Sea, in Encinitas, Calif.