The first thing I noticed in front of 1422 Fifth Street were the stacked stones
They may be called cairns, I’m not sure. A cairn is a human-made pile or stack of stones. There are lots of them here. Somebody has got the balance thing down.
And then I noticed the trapezoid-ish raised-bed sand-box-not-sand. The surface is gravel, with lots of rocks. Stacked rocks and placed rocks.
On the rocks and on the gravel are dozens, many dozens, of small plastic animals.
The rocks and small world are the work of Mac McIlroy. He has lived here since about 2000, and has been working on a drought-tolerant front yard since then. The small world sand box is about five years old. The Google Street photo form 2011 shows no small world, so five years is about right. He estimates that he has spent no more than $50 on it. Most of the animals are sidewalk finds, some are left by neighbor kids. The rocks are all finds, not bought.
I asked Mac if he had every done anything artistic before or whether this was his first endeavor.
He has. He was a guitar player with punk bands, the Noise Boyz and Leroy’s Pleasure Missile.
Did they ever play Gilman? No. Gilman is straight edge – no drugs, no alcohol. Mac’s band didn’t buy straight edge so as a matter of principle didn’t play Gilman. I asked how many chords a guitar player in a punk band has to know. “It’s not the chords. It’s the amp. The chords don’t matter, just the amp. The Marshall 100 watt was the answer. In certain ranges I’m deaf thanks to the Marshall.”
How about the rock stacking – how’d he get so good at it? He studied history. He particularly studied the Pythagoreans and Pythagoreanism. He figures that they got it all wrong – things don’t fall down, they fall up. “The rocks want to fall up. You just find the center and let them fall up.” I was reminded when he said this of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe and the flying instructions there – “There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that presents the difficulties.”
Mac clearly has a knack for rock stacking. Based on his success I have to say that the idea of letting the rocks fall UP cannot be discounted.
I asked about the sand box, the small world of animals. Does it tell a story? “Yeah. The story is – it’s very funny.”
So there it is. A quirky aging punk rocker who is kind of a quote-machine when you get him talking has created an enchanting small world with cairns based on the premise that the rocks want to fall up, a perfectly destination visit for Quirky Berkeleyites with kids. A few houses to the north at 1406 Fifth is home of Rob Garross with a caboose in the driveway – I’ve posted about it. Just south of the small world, half a block up Page Street, is Doug Heine’s sculpture studio and the airplane crashing into his roof – described here. A destination for kids for sure – three major manifestations within about a block.
I showed the photos to my friend. He went through all the photos from the visit, including a couple I didn’t choose to use. Including this one.
“Dude is onto something with the rocks falling up. That is flat-out brilliant. It’s one of those things like ‘karass’ or ‘grok’ or ‘meeting your other half’ that doesn’t make sense until it does. And then it does. And check out his tat – wise up or shut up. Boy ain’t that the truth! Anybody who uses the word ‘livable’ might heed that advice.”
Okay, okay. What about the post, the rocks and small world?
This is absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing the marvelously quirky places of Berkeley. I am looking forward to the other treasures you discover. Cheers!