(I am currently traveling in the west with my daughter. This is the first in a series of installments of our adventures. Sorry, no pictures till we return...)
“Whoaa!” I utter as I press on the brakes and the little rental car slows on the narrow mountain road. We pull to a stop. We are coming down the eastern side of Thompson’s Pass, following the Thompson River in western Montana. It is quiet, remote and beautiful. I am tempted to say that it’s in the middle of nowhere, but it’s not. As always, it’s deep in the heart of somewhere.
“Did you see that?” I ask my daughter.
“See what?” she replies.
I throw the car into reverse.
Backing up a hundred feet or so we come to a stop and there, to the right, about 50 feet off the road, upon piles of flat river stones, sit about a dozen little stone cairns, towers and pyramids constructed by travelers past.
“How did they get there?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I shrug, “I suppose some visionary person stopped here to pee and, seeing all the flat stones, decided to build a cairn to mark their passing. Someone else happened to see it as they passed and had the gumption to stop and build another one. Over time, many travelers pass, some notice. A few, like us, stop. Slowly it developed into a “cairn field” as other seekers saw them and were inspired to build their own.”
We look at each other.
We have a cairn to build.
We select a prominent site for our monument and gather a pile of suitable stones of varying sizes. Starting with the biggest, we stack them up in decreasing size, taking great care to maintain a pyramidal shape. A various junctures we pull a number of stones out and start over. When some levels wobble a bit we find tiny fragments, “wedgies” we call them, to shim up the unstable stones.
Eventually we place the capstone – a rounded river stone that we’d found earlier in the day - in position and our cairn is complete. Standing back we view it from all angles but most critically from the road where it will be spotted by future travelers.
It is perfect. It is beautiful and it sits in harmony with the others. It is a statement about seizing the moment and following through. It is what the moment called for. It is the perfect union of nature and art.
We have discovered our purpose on this trip. There are many more cairns to be built down the road, many more travelers to awake from their slumber. We are changing America: one rock cairn at a time.
We’d best be going.
There’s work to do.
© Jeff L. Howe, 2012, all rights, all photos
You can find this entire series and more at jeff-howe.net. Always