Okay, don't judge, but I really like rocks. I have a box full of rocks that I have saved for a very long time. And trust me that says something because I do not save things. It started when I was little, as all good habits do :) We were on a beach in Washington State that had tons of rocks that were all shaped like M&M's. I collected several of them and they have been with me ever since. They are perfectly smooth, perfectly shaped like M & M's...did I already mention that? They are so cool. I wish it was appropriate for someone of my age to proudly show them to everyone :)
There are other rocks in my box too. I try to take a rock from significant places I go...yes, go ahead and report me....I dare you. I even have rocks from old boyfriends driveways....did I just say that out loud? Now from that last statement that I let slip I guess you can tell that for me it is never about what kind of rock it is, or how pretty it is, it is all about the memories associated with the rock.
Anytime we talk about my love of rocks the conversation should always naturally lead to cairns. Cairns are my latest fascination. What brought this interest on? Well last Saturday we started off the Baird families 2010 hiking season with a hike to Kent Falls in Connecticut. I have been there before but this time we took a different trail and we came across all these carefully placed piles of rocks. It was very magical and a little eerie to see all of them lined up in this place along the trail. I wanted to know the stories behind them. I wanted to make one. I wanted to know who started it and how long they had been there. At the time I did not know what they were called. But I thought I heard one of our friends use the word cairn. It is a weird word that you do not hear very often so I had to google it and figure out what it meant and more importantly the "why."
A cairn (pronounced "carn" if you are in Ireland, which we aren't, but still useful information) is simply a man made pile of stones. They are found on, "uplands, moorlands, mountaintops or waterways." I was amazed to discover all the purposes cairns can fulfill. In modern times we use them as landmarks but in ancient times cairns were used as "sepulcharal monuments, practical or astronomical purposes." They can be used to commemorate an event that happened in a certain spot. If they are placed at regular intervals they mark a path...like maybe a "buffalo jump" I know how often we all come across "buffalo drive lanes." They can memorialize. They can mark the summit. A cairn can be a loose pile of rocks or it can be a engineering marvel. The ones that we saw on Saturday were definitley not loose, random piles of rock. Everyone was different. All balanced very carefully. Some were tall and some were short. Some were fat and some were skinny. I did not count them but I would guess there were maybe 50 of them. They made you feel like you were someplace really special.
Cairns can be found all over the world. It is a Jewish tradition to place a small stone on a grave when you visit as a token of respect. In old times stones were piled on graves to deter thieves and scavengers and possibly even to keep the dead from rising. In Scotland it is a tradition to carry a rock with you to the top of the mountain and place it there. These day we use cairns to mark trails. Most of them are under a foot high. I was amazed to see the pictures and read about some huge cairns around the world.
I learned that when you pass a cairn you should add a rock to the top and that the rocks should get successively smaller until the top is tiny rocks balanced precariously. So apparently there are some cairn rules :) And you know that makes me happy.