“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it,
bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Stone piles, or cairns, can be found all over the world and have been created by humans since we first learned how to stack things. There are all sorts of meanings behind the existence of these temporary structures. Most people have encountered the cairns hikers create marking wilderness paths, providing assurance and guidance to future hikers that they are on the right path. Buddhist monks stack stones as a type of contemplative meditation; Jews stack them upon graves to keep the soul from wandering during the short time it remains with the body after death. Indigenous cultures have been building these structures for thousands of years, marking up the landscape with a sort of ancient graffiti that says “I was here.” Whatever the reason, the spiritual meaning behind these stone piles transcends culture and time.
For me, like creating natural mandalas, building cairns is a type of spiritual practice. For me it’s about finding balance, both literally and figuratively. I never know what will be created, but for a period of time, I kept creating these stone people. I would go back back and visit them, and I loved seeing how long they’d stand. I loved it even more when people added more character to them.
Someone added mossy hair to this one! This particular stone person sat along a stream leading to Brigg’s Gully for an entire summer season until Hurricane Sandy washed it away.
Here are some other stone people that came into being:
And here are some other cairns — like I said, it’s all about balance!