Rock cairn

Rock cairns are route markers, way-finding tools.  They can guide us back on track after doodling along, lost on our pilgrimages.  Often they are built by people who have gone the route ahead of us.  They say we are not alone on our journeys.


Rows of rock cairns, Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park

Rows of rock cairns, Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park

by Jane Hirschfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt

What appears to be stubbornness,
refusal, or interruption,
is to it a simple privacy.  It broods
its one thought like a quail her clutch of eggs.

Mosses and lichens
listen outside the locked door.
Stars turn the length of one winter, then the next.

Rocks fill their own shadows without hesitation,
and do not question silence,
however long.
Nor are they discomforted by cold, by rain, by heat.

The work of a rock is to ponder whatever is:
an act that looks singly like prayer,
but is not prayer.

As for this boulder,
its meditations are slow but complete.

Someday, its thinking worn out, it will be
carried away by an ant.
Mystrium camille,
perhaps, caught in some equally diligent,
equally single pursuit of a thought of her own.



The flat, smooth, water-rounded pebbles and rocks on the beaches of Washington’s Pacific coast seem to inspire Andy Goldsworthy-ish mini-sculptures.  I often find cairns, those piles of gradually smaller and smaller stones precariously balanced.  Part of their appeal is their ephemeral nature, waiting to be toppled by tide or wind or passersby.

My sister and her husband collect heart-shaped stones.  I seem incapable of walking a beach without picking up at least one favorite rock or stone to take home.  On this day, I found irresistible this dimpled rock that felt good in my hand and pocket:


And I added my own Andy Goldsworthy-inspired rock art to the Rialto Beach landscape.  It was likely dismantled by the next incoming tide, but I couldn’t wait around to witness its destruction.