Kayser Ridge Cairns!

A bit about “Cairns of Kayser Ridge”

Kayser Ridge Retreat & Learning Center has an occupying force of “cairns,” which for some visitors creates a spiritual presence. Other visitors describe them as “interesting” and some say they’re just flat-out “ridiculous.” Apart from being guideposts for inter-terrestrial visitors to a landing site I recently constructed on Kayser Ridge (yes, I’m kidding)  — I enjoy working with and photographing cairns as a means of creative expression. I also find this activity metaphorical to the work I do in organization consulting and executive leadership coaching. Each stone is both unique and perfect in its own way – partly an inherited form and partly formed by the forces and circumstances of its experience. Each stone is also like every other in certain ways, and possesses a center from which it can be supported and also support other stones. Each stone has innate potential to be part of a something bigger than itself.

Sometimes working with a cairn seems almost too easy — bing, bang, boom —it’s up, it’s balanced, and it’s just plain amazing! Then from time to time a cairn seems impossible and frustrating to work with and after awhile, hardly makes sense to continue the effort. However, even those experiences contribute in some way to my growth and learning. So, if I can learn something from stacking rocks on top of rocks I can learn from anything and any experience! Agreed? ;) Cairns do posses a strange power for me, and it helps that Kayser Ridge has no shortage of rocks. While I’d like to take credit for all of the cairns on Kayser Ridge, the truth is that many “Kayser Ridgers” (guests/retreaters) have employed their own creative and engineering prowess to the cairn collective. Come out to Kayser Ridge, check them out, build one or several of your own, then, come back to visit them! ;)

I noticed recently that some of the very first cairns I ever constructed are still standing. I’ve also seen many bite the dust after a few minutes or in their first windy encounter. In 2007, I decided to photograph them to capture the transient nature or when there was something especially whimsical – like a leafbug proudly standing atop a cairn at the peak of autumn. There’s usually a supply of these photographs available for purchase at Kayser Ridge. Please feel free to take one (prices marked) or take a few with your to give as gifts! (Please make check out to “Xperience, LLC” and send to 660 E St. SE Washington, DC 20003.)

What Are Cairns, Exactly?

Cairns along hiking trails are often maintained by groups of hikers adding a stone when they pass. In some regions, piles of rocks used to mark hiking trails are called “ducks” or “duckies”. These are typically smaller cairns, so named because some have a “beak” pointing in the direction of the route. An expression “two rocks do not make a duck” reminds hikers that just one rock resting upon another could be the result of accident of nature rather than intentional marker on the trail.Cairns have been used to commemorate any sort of event, from the site of a battle to a place where a cart has tipped over — a warning to other cart wheelers. They vary from loose, small piles of stones to elaborate feats of engineering. In some places, games are regularly held to find out who can build the most beautiful cairn.

The word derives from the Scottish Gaelic (and Irish) càrn, which has a much broader meaning, and can refer to various types of hills and natural stone piles. In German and Dutch, a cairn is known as Steinmann and Stenenman respectively, meaning literally “stone man”. The Inuit inukshuk version is also meant to represent a human figure, and is called an inunguak (“imitation of a person”). In Italy, especially the Italian Alps, a cairn is an Ometto, (or a “small man”).

Starting in the Bronze Age, cists were sometimes interred into cairns, which would be situated in conspicuous positions, often on the skyline above the village of the deceased – perhaps to deter grave robbers and scavengers or as a token of respect as is the case in the Jewish tradition. Cairns can be found all over the world in alpine or mountainous regions, and also in barren desert and tundra areas as well as on coasts. In ancient times they were erected as sepulchral monuments, or used for practical and astronomical uses. In modern times cairns are often erected as landmarks. They are built for several purposes:

* They may mark a burial site, and/or to memorialize the dead, mark the summit of a mountain, and placed at regular intervals they indicate a path across stony or barren terrain or across glaciers;

* The Inuit erect human-shaped cairns, or “inuksuit” as milestones or directional markers in the Canadian Arctic;

* In North America, they may mark buffalo jumps or “drive lanes”, often petroforms (made to look like animals) in the shapes of turtles or other animals or for astronomy;

* In the Canadian Maritimes cairns were used as lighthouse-like holders for fires that guided boats; and,

* At Kayser Ridge cairns have as many meanings as there are individuals and groups that construct them. From personal experience one meaning they have is to honor guests who come and are part of the dream of Kayser Ridge coming true. (My original business plan was, “build it, and they will come.”)                         Cliff Kayser




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