This is a conversation I have been wanting to have. For weeks, actually. Why conscious cairns? Because I have come to realize that the significance of cairns depends entirely upon context. On mountain sides, they tend to signify the direction to follow when a trail is unclear, as across sheer rock. When constructed within a clearly marked circle, they are more likely to hold ritual significance. But the cairn constructed along woodland trails or in open meadows would most likely be an act of art. Which is what brings me to conscious conversation about them.
At Red Rocks, a woodland park in downtown Burlington, VT, where I daily walk with my cherished canine companion, I have taken to observing the ups and downs of several cairns. By which I literally mean, that one day a beautiful cairn is up, carefully constructed with artful balance baffling the eye while challenging gravity. The next day, it is gone. Not merely fallen down; but carefully dismantled, its component stones scattered or buried in an apparent attempt to undo any memory of its prior existence.
I dwell on this because, while there are clearly people like myself who enjoy both building and contemplating inventively piled stones, it seems there might also be those who feel, for whatever reason(s), somehow threatened by them. At least, this is the conclusion I have reached, short of issuing a questionnaire to walkers in the park. A thought I did, at least fleetingly, consider, being of curious constitution myself.
Instead, I patiently re-build the three cairns I have taken personal interest in when they are down. I carry on conversations with my imagined source of their destruction. I marvel at the additional creative ways others have placed mossy stones within decayed trunks; piled and bridged flat stones to create a waterfall effect; worked stone, branch and birch bark into complex sculptures that celebrate the interaction of human creativity with found natural objects. They feel to me like celebrations of life. Clearly they have been created with conscious intent – if not to guide our way, then to invite us to stop and contemplate a while. Like Tom Woodman, in his short “Zen and the Art of Cairns,” I could sense that someone had shaped the environment through piling stones in certain ways and my appreciation of the landscape was richer because of that. I do not need to understand the particular message behind such an action of conscious creation in order to appreciate it.