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Who stacks rocks in local creeks?

hat began as a response to a flood in the Bear Creek basin a decade ago remains one of the Rogue Valley's spontaneous displays of public art.

Rock-stacking — the act of taking rocks from the creek and stacking them in varying styles and formations — is a common form of expression viewed regularly along the gravel bars of Bear Creek in Talent and throughout Ashland Creek in Lithia Park.

"It's like a sculpture, and everyone has their own take on it," says Jesse Biesanz, a Talent stone mason who has been a regular contributor to Bear Creek's stacks since shortly after the New Year's Day flood of 1997. "Different people have different styles."

Dozens of the piles dot open areas along the two creeks. Others have sprouted on Mount Ashland hiking trails.

Many come from the hands of Biesanz, 39, who believes the concentration it takes to turn rocks into stones — "a rock becomes a stone once it's been handled," he says — is therapeutic.

"For me, it's mini-meditation," Biesanz says. "It's getting into a moment that doesn't make me do anything except smile.

"And maybe it will make someone else smile, too."

Regardless of where the rocks are stacked into stones, the various elements of these mini Stonehenges all follow similar patterns.

Flat stones are stacked on flatter ones. In some places, dark rocks stand 3 feet tall next to a similar sculpture of sandy ones.

Other stacks are made off trees or downed logs or jut out of the creek bottom. Some rocks are stacked on end, with the formations jutting skyward on tiny points.

Biesanz spends most of his stacking time building arches.

"A lot of guys will try to do the highest and biggest, like a competition," Biesanz says. "I like to do dry-stack arches because they're elegant and creative."

He also enjoys the creative muscling it takes to balance enormous stones on a pointy edge.

On a recent trip to Lithia Park, Biesanz and two other men balanced a 300-pound creek stone literally on its edge, where he could then pivot it with pressure from one finger.

"I'm looking to settle it," he says. "I need to find its center."

After several minutes of spinning and tweaking, the stone stood vertically to the amazement of passersby.

While these formations seem to sprout overnight, their lifespan often is the same.

"They're definitely temporary art," says Biesanz, who sometimes snaps pictures of his arches and stores them on his laptop computer. "You can't get attached to it."

The Lithia Park stacks regularly succumb to wind, rain, the swipe of a black-tailed deer or the boot of a rambunctious teenager.

"They tend to get knocked down," says Don Robertson, director of the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, whose office is near one of Lithia Park's most prolific rock-stacking spots.

"But they seem to reappear in slightly different sizes and shapes every time," Robertson says.

"I've seen a lot of them," he says, "but I've never actually seen anyone build one."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

Jesse Biesanz poses with an arch he built in Lithia Park, an example of the spontaneous art of rock stacking.