Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cairns


A man-made pile of rocks, ranging from two or three to whole mounds of rocks, cairns are to be found in every part of the world and go back to prehistory.

In my lifetime I have seen them in the dessert, on mountaintops, along the coastal areas of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans as well as along fjords, rivers and other seas. Currently my profile picture is of the one marking the path down over the mountain to Scex les Granges in the Valais, Switzerland.


It is fascinating to wonder who built one and for what reason – hands made those piles that lived centuries before yet their trace persists in the simplest of elements: stones picked up from the surrounding ground.

I have yet to take a stone from one, although one definition of a cairn is a pile that was made by each man going into battle placing one stone in a pile – those returning took a stone and the remainder were left grouped to indicate how many had died and honor them.

I used stones to build mini-cairns or arrows myself whilst hiking in the hills above my mother’s house (dozens of dry dirt trails with no signage: the first few forays into them had me putting stones at every crossing so that if worst came to worst and I couldn’t circle down back to a known point, I would at least be able to retrace my steps).  I have also used them in the forests where I now hike back in the days where I was looking for circular routes of a determined time length (1 hour, two hours, etc.) Mind you some of those were a pile of wood or pinecones laid decoratively.

Engineered

Adding that last stone was difficult!

I have come across “normal” cairns – i.e. piles of stones – as well as those that must have been built by an engineer, but I had not yet seen one like that, which I discovered on my walk yesterday.

Cairn in between two trees