There are many rocks around Aspen’s home in the Elk Mountains. There are also humans. Breaking News – humans are putting rocks on top of each other and in piles… and have been since like, forever. What’s the deal with all these piles of rocks?
These piles of rocks, called cairns, can be separated by use: wayfinding and rock balancing. Both of these result with human-made objects in nature, but your opinion of each may vary. The lines can get blurry, so let’s separate the two.
A cairn is a pile of rocks stacked on top of each other. These rocks form a mound that can be used to mark a path, pass, or peak. There’s no standard size or shape, but if you are looking to find your way a cairn will usually help.
Rock balancing also involves a pile of rocks, but rather than helping you find your way, this may help you find your center. Rock balancing is the practice of stacking rocks on top of each other, but rather than forming a simple mound, these rocks are typically much more improbably placed.
Both of these piles of rocks draw attention to themselves and make it clear humans have been there. Let’s blur everything. These piles of rocks can be found on trails, rivers, and mountains. Both of these can be helpful, peaceful, comforting, and enjoyable to find. Both of these are human-made, unnatural, ecosystem destroying disturbances in nature. Regarding the Butterfly Effect, we can’t put one rock on top of another and call these two piles of rocks different.
But people’s opinion of these two can be very different, perhaps generally: cairn for wayfinding – good, cairn for rock balancing – bad. Here’s a video on “How Leave No Trace Builds Rock Cairns.” Spoiler Alert – They don’t. This article calls rock stacking “natural graffiti.” So, there’s a need and importance of protecting the habitats of the microorganisms that call these rocks home.
But, even Leave No Trace understands “the desire to build, and play, and interact with nature in your own way.” Michael Grab understands that too, this guy is the Michael Jordan of rock balancing. This video and his site Gravity Glue are going to make you feel something about rock stacking. And if rock balancing makes you sick, just skip to the video’s 5:53 mark and watch him in reverse naturalize the area.
Is a pile of rocks only acceptable if we need it to not get lost? Maybe we need art too. You can think about it next time you pick up a rock and forever alter the universe.