Last Saturday, I took a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains here in Southern California. The path ran parallel to a creek, ending at an incredible waterfall that looked to be at least 50 feet high. That waterfall taught me a valuable — and pleasurable — lesson.

After arriving there, I took off my iPod, and sat for a while, watching the water splash down a steep rock face into a pool below. The area was deserted and completely silent except for the sound of cascading water. The longer I looked, the more I began to observe things I’d never noticed all the other times I’ve been around waterfalls.

I’ve always believed that the size and placement of a rock is what makes water tumbling across it behave a certain way. But watching nature’s creation, I was struck by how many other factors came into play, and the amazing degree of subtlety with which they all interacted. Smooth rock creates a different effect than a surface with fissures. The appearance of the water varies dramatically depending on how much of it is coursing over a particular area. And the actual texture of the rock matters as well — is it rough or slippery?

I have edited numerous articles and attended seminars on how to place rocks in waterfeatures so that they effectively mimic nature. I thought I understood the concepts pretty well. But until I took in the astonishingly beautiful and intricate variations within water as it moved across one single fall, I had no idea that I knew almost nothing.

Building a good natural waterfeature is not all that hard. Building a great one is a lot tougher. If you design these types of installations,

I highly recommend that you spend time outdoors looking, really looking, at a number of waterfalls.

If you are like me, then the process will quiet your mind and open your eyes long enough to gain a new understanding from the best teacher of all.

Erika Taylor