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Heart-Wrenching Encounters with Nature

San Francisco Chronicle Magazine
by Beth Hughes

March 20, 2005


Intrigued by bonsai? Plagued by a black thumb? Then investigate suiseki, the Japanese art of representing natural phenomena such as mountains or the shoreline using a stone no longer than about 18 inches.

The Bay Area is experiencing a suiseki boomlet, largely due to the California Suiseki Society under the leadership of Felix Rivera, a practitioner for three decades. The group offers appreciation classes and conducts stone collection trips to the state's northern creeks and rivers. (Meetings are at the Lakeside Garden Center, 666 Belleview Ave., Oakland, 7:30- 10 p.m., on the third Wednesday of the month.) Other enthusiasts buy their rocks; good ones range from $75 to $3,000, on eBay or at stores such as Asakichi in San Francisco's Japantown.

Whatever their origin, the stones are powerful objects of contemplation as they sit on your desk or in your home's sacred space. As Paul Saffo at the Institute for the Future says of his stone, it embodies what the Japanese call "mono-no-aware," or "heart-wrenching rustic elegance."

Breathe deeply, gaze at your stone and you may hear one hand clapping.

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