Eric's Heroes: The man who stacks rocks amidst the chaos

A slice of clarity: The man who stacks rocks amidst the chaos. (KOMO News)

Embedded into the noise and constant clatter of the Port of Seattle, with its trucks and jets and ships and cranes and containers of cargo being carted to and fro...

Past barbed wire and no trespassing signs, a man slides along a chain-link fence in search of a place he has made his own, a slice of clarity and even grace.

His name is Emile, and he started coming here a couple of years ago after his mothered died.

The place is called Jack Perry Memorial Park, named for a man who was killed in a crane accident.

It is nestled at the feet of twin steel dinosaurs.

Emile, who is 60 years old, picks up rocks and piles them on top of one another.

"I don't think it ever really is complete...and how would I know if it was?" Emile said.

And he does it over and over, for hours at a time. Day after day.

"I'm kind of a physics buff," Emile said. "You have to put energy in to raise the object...then you can exploit its potential energy as it descends, like a weight in a clock, that sort of thing..."

Little towers of granite pop up, mismatched spires reaching skyward. The Gaelic word for them is "Cairn."

The first one was a tribute to his mom.

"And then I just became addicted, I'm addicted to rocks," Emile said laughing.

He turns the rock delicately, fractions of inches at a time, feeling for balance. And when he finds it, he lets go.

And when he needs new rocks he walks down to the water and picks out a specimen.

"This is a good's like a workout, well it is a workout," Emile said.

His brother Kevin is almost always watching him. They are a team. Emile says they look out for one another.

When he is on his game, Emile and the rocks he chooses come to a kind of understanding. He feels for the center of gravity, waits for the moment of perfect balance.

There is only time and space here, and the two of them bend to Emile's moods and inspirations.

"It's therapeutic, it takes real focus," Emile said. "Coordination improves, physical far as the mental thing, it seems to help but I couldn't tell you why."

When he is done with his stone age artistry, he and Kevin walk about a block away to St. Martin de Porres. It's a Catholic men's shelter.

The two of them are homeless, and have been since their mother died.

Prior to that, Emile Cole was an artist.

His mind, ever a source of revelation and ingenuity, came up with these machines, marvels of balance and displacement. He calls them "Cole Mechanisms."

Emile said he has lived an artist's life. He's never owned a car, or a credit card, or a bed. He said money means very little to him.

"Never had more than $2,000 in my whole life and I feel just fine," he said.

It's not everybody's path but it is his path.

Emile said that in a month, he and Kevin will have a place to live.

And he says that even then, he'll still come to this special little slice of clarity and grace, amidst the cacophony and chaos of the Port of Seattle, to stack his rocks and to think, and to create.

Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to

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