Defying gravity in Sausalito, CA
The view from Sausalito’s Bridgeway Boulevard, Alcatraz
and the fog-smeared San Francisco skyline across the bay, is pretty hard to ignore. Today, though, the throngs of people cramming this shoreline sidewalk are doing just that, their attention instead caught by the spectacle of a short man in cargo pants piling stones beside the path.
Actually, Bill Dan is doing more than this: He is building rock towers that really have no right to be standing. In the piece he’s working on now, the pointy end of a wedge-shaped boulder balances on a sea-smoothed brick, which teeters on the rounded edge of another stone, and so on.
“Glue,” someone mutters, and the 62-year-old sculptor laughs. “I get that a lot.” He has been stacking rocks here, he says, most weekends since 1994. “I started when I took rest breaks during runs, and I just kept doing it.”
While no two towers are alike, they usually consist of five stones of various shapes and sizes balanced in highly improbable ways—one art critic went as far as to speculate that Dan might have “a mystical ability … a strange, special power over objects.” He prefers to leave such speculation to others.
“When you think too much, you lose,” he says. “This comes from feel and experience, not knowledge.”
Now and then, a spectator will pull out a bill, only to find there is no tip jar here. “Sometimes I’ll put one out,” Dan says with a shrug, “but mostly I’m here to enjoy myself.”
Now, squatting like a baseball catcher, he seems oblivious to his surroundings, even when a gust of wind topples a nearby pile with a clatter, eliciting a collective “Aw” from the crowd. “All it takes is a soft wind, a tiny earthquake, or a bird landing on top,” Dan says, surveying his latest pile as the onlookers drift away. “It used to be hard for me to accept but not anymore. Nothing is permanent.”