The meaning of a cairn

is debatable. It’s a marker or a meditation of some kind, says Sarah.

An ode to the fact that people have been here. Yes. Sarah swims in the cold, rough ocean, and knows something about everything.

Traditionally, in the Andes or Mongolia, say, rock cairns were used to mark routes to safety, to food, and to villages. Three or more stones piled up, usually.

Thomas believes that they were first used to prevent marauding predators from defiling corpses, but remembers that in Boy Scouts, hiking, they built them to use as a sign for those who follow. That must surely have been fun.

Finding your way in the world can be fun. Or not. It’s always an adventure. Even pain lets you know you’re alive. Can help you find your way.

All kinds of signs, not just cairns, in this Midwestern sortie. The wall leading to the beer hall restroom.

The supermarket aisle, full of Midwestern cute-isms.

The roadside wayfinder to the coming old-time thresheree. Missing it. Rats.

Even the fish store has its own signpost, useful for dinnertime filet crust-creators.

Something called a chambered cairn in ancient times featured a grave underground and a cairn above.

Marking your way, finding your way, figuring out where the heck you should go. You probably have heard that men and women organize space differently, and wend their ways differently when they take to the road. Women determine where they’re going by landmarks, men by maps.

Here on the shore of Green Bay, sticks and stones.

Sticks and stones won’t hurt you. Stones might. Hundreds of thousands of spiders swarm the shore and clamber whooshingly into the cracks when you make your way across.

Sculptor Andy Goldsworthy is known for his sculpture at Storm King sculpture center in New York. With the help of five men he built a wall 2,278 feet long out of rough stone dug from local fields—1,579 tons of rock. Incorporating an old farm wall, it wends its way through groves of trees before “disappearing” into a lake and “emerging” at the other side. Goldsworthy has noted, Trees, stone, people—these are the ingredients of the place and the work. The stones connect to past and present. Touching the wall can bring luck, as Maud knows well.

Past and present. Mimi told me that cheese shops were commonly built at the crossroads in rural Wisconsin. Whaaat? Gil and I call such facts when used in written works bite-in-the-ass-details. Almost too delectable to be true. BITAD’s.

But I checked in with Rick, a Midwesterner born and bred. His grandpa was a cheese professional – got his degree in cheese-craft at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1930s, then went about the cheese business in rural Wisconsin at crossroads cheese factories. Seriously.

What if you find yourself at a cheese crossroads?

Sometimes –usually — a hammock is the best place to reflect on the tides of life.

My proposal for a book about American forests is out there, wending its way through the publishing quagmire, looking for a home. Waiting to find a home is hard, but I like to think I’ve done good work and the rest will come.

Over every mountain, there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley. That’s what Theodore Roethke said. Lyn said that she recalls a kind minister helping her overcome some of her shyness by appointing her the church’s liturgist – she didn’t foresee that path but will always be grateful.

Charlie used cairns as a backpacking counselor. One trail was on Bomber Mountin in the Bighorns of Wyoming. The group found the WW2 wreckage near a peak, then cairns guided them down a 1,500 foot descent to safety.

Only one thing for certain: there will be peach upside-down cake for dessert.

How many more perfect sunsets will you view in your life?

How many perfect cedar skies?

How many slices of peach upside-down cake? How many Midwestern Van Gogh sunflowers kissing the light?

How many cheeks will you kiss? How many times will your own face be kissed? 

How many sweet summer vacations? I hate to break it to you, the number is finite. 

The ways are innumerable, though, I hope. Keep an eye out for signposts.

2 Comments

Filed under Jean Zimmerman

2 responses to “The meaning of a cairn

  1. Judy Cigan Hall

    Thank you Jean. Fun and whimsical musings.

  2. Anonymous

    I love this one. you are such a talented author.

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