Archive | January, 2014


21 Jan

This summer my dear husband and I traveled around the great Pacific Northwest including 2 days on the Olympic peninsula. We had already spent a day at Mount Rainier and I was already happily basking in the beauty and raw-ness that is that part of the world.

We were driving up the coast, stopping at beaches in the misty rain when we got to Ruby beach. Like many of Washington’s beaches, Ruby beach is rocks pebbles and a touch of sand thrown in. There are tall cliffs and full tree size driftwood. This was our third or fourth beach stop on our way to the rainforest. All the beaches had been rugged and beautiful in their own way, nothing like any of the beaches my world traveled husband had seen, and as familiar as an old friend to this native Washingtonian.

But what was new and breathtaking to me at Ruby Beach, and indeed why I’m writing this blog was the stacks and stacks of rocks, also known as cairns.

Back in the days when I did theatre as my main occupation, I worked on this beautiful and haunting show called Precious Stones. It spoke of many cultural ideas and issues and is much more than I mean to tackle today, but the prologue tells the story of how stones weave together the lives of the Israeli and Palestinian people. It taught me that it is tradition to leave stones on a Jewish grave, to symbolize that someone has visited.

I don’t know why it started at Ruby beach, why there were hundreds of stacks of rocks, we hadn’t seen them at the other beaches we visited that day and I don’t remember seeing anything like it in my previous visits. But they were there. Some postulate that it’s a fad, this stacking of rocks, I suppose that may be true, but as the type who is interested in the deeper meaning of things, I have some other things to say.

Maybe, like the Jewish tradition of leaving rocks on graves, it is a way to say ‘I was here.’ There is a longing to leave a mark on the world and a generation or two ago, that was often combined with graffiti of some kind. Certainly stacking a few rocks is a much more environmentally and aesthetically conscious way to claim a piece of the beach.

Following that thought, I’m sure others do it because someone started it and they want to do it too. To see how high they can make theirs, or how fast. Remember this is a thin strip of rocky beach in the misty rain, not much Frisbee, sandcastle building, or sunbathing going on here.

I know that others use the building and then contemplation of the cairns as a spiritual practice. Certainly there is a mindfulness that is part of the creation. Even those who are not intentionally having intention are still having to be careful of size, shape and balance.

Maybe that’s what caught a hold of me at this beach. There was an aliveness that went beyond the other people who were there with us. These stacks served as evidence that many others had been there, and that each was made with intention. Obviously, this creation was no accident. I felt the same breath of life and peace that I feel in an empty church, temple, or other such place where something sacred has been going on for a while.

It’s possible that the feeling of the sacred is why people keep making their stacks. As the minister type, I lean in the direction of believing that people are longing for that touch of the divine, of something more than what they know. The peace and focus I used will live to tell the tale for a time while it continues in me though the story of my experience. Because surely this is an impermanent act, the tides and winds will reclaim all the rocks for the beach, but that is part of the beauty of it. The rocks I stack today were part of someone else’s stacks, and will once again be stacked by someone else.

We stack because we can, to say that we were here, because we are connected in the chain of all that was and will be.

And so, I leave you with my little stack. Peace to you my friends.