When do we need to remember? When do we need to forget?
The logo of my business is a cairn – historically a pile of rocks used in celtic and other northern cultures as way-markers to show travelers the path when traversing unfamiliar landscapes. Legend has it that as you passed a cairn, you were invited to add a stone, making the way clearer for those who came after.
At the metaphorical level, the idea of cairns appeals deeply to me, often (though not always) not as landmarks for others, but rather as reminders to ourselves. Sometimes of critical events in our lives that we want to learn from and continue to tap into, or sometimes avoid. Sometimes of behaviors or choices that we are choosing to make and want to reinforce. If I am working to become more assertive – or less assertive – what are the stones or pebbles that mark each success I am having? Sometimes I am inspired by the cairns of others. Sometimes, particularly when times are hard, I ask friends, family or colleagues to add their own stones to my pile in support – maybe over a celebration, maybe because of grief or illness. I can visualize looking back over the landscape of my life and noticing piles of rocks scattered across the hills and moors and peaks and troughs. Leaving small, yet memorable, marks on the landscape.
So it was fascinating to me to gain a new insight into this metaphor recently, when hiking through the stunning natural world in the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. As we started on our route through a sandy canyon into the plains of rock unlike anything I had seen, we saw this sign:
In a place of natural beauty like this even cairns – art, way-posts made entirely of natural materials – are inappropriate. A sign of human incursion into a place that should be honored for its wildness. I started to wonder about my inner world of cairns, and when or which are the points where a marker is not necessary or appropriate. Those times when wandering in the wilderness without sense of when or where I am going to come ‘through’. Those moments of such unique and exquisite joy, embarrassment or grief that they need to be experienced and then left behind, with no intent to remember. Those experiences that are so deeply personal that I do not want to (or at least not yet) place a marker that signals to others what they might be. It left me with the question of:
When and where in my life do I want or feel the need to be leaving a marker. And where do I choose not to do so?
And in the wonderful synchronicity of a postscript, on our very last day of this beautiful exploration into the world of Utah and Nevada, in another, more habited location, I came across a beautiful, tiny cairn, at the top of some of the reddest rock I have ever seen – built by children as testament to something that only they will know, but I like to think of the gift of being alive.