Saturday, May 9, 2009

May 9, 2009 – Cairns – A Timeless Syntax

Piled stones, balanced a few high, made of all natural and locally available materials, assembled with no special tools besides a basic intuitive and empirical understanding of balancing objects, stones held together by gravity and their unique interlocking and granular surfaces, arranged in a way just different enough from the natural order of things that they stand out to the human cognition system and communicate a clear message – this way forward and that way back.

The syntax of this message has remained unchanged since our ancestors ventured out of the trees and began to explore the great savanna. The simplicity and elegance of this human gesture, to pass information from one human to another, whom may be separated by time, community, affiliation, language, and geo-political perspective. Most other long standing forms of cross dimensional communication require complex keys or technology to create, decode, perceive and understand. But the cairn is one of the purest, self defining autonomous objects the human species has ever devised.

One can exist alone with a certain symmetrical power but limited impact. There is even a current resurgence in the building of stand-alone cairns. If you visit a river bed or beach with polished stones where other people have been recently it is not surprising to find these precariously, but artistically stacked stones. They attest to the patience and special prowess of the assembler but beyond their fundamental artistry and isolated beauty they have little more to say to the observer. The real art in my opinion, is in the process and vision required to assemble these stackings.

But, when one isolated cairn is considered with a community of other cairns - essentially networked, they become very powerful as a persistent communication system. Follow these stackings from one to another and you will be led to a new place predictably. Follow them in reverse order and you will be able to return from whence you came. In an uncertain world, with confusing and sometimes unrecognizable landmarks, such networks of cairns offer a calming relief.

Another beauty of the cairn system, is that there is no need to see in advance or in retreat more than a single cairn. It supports the NOW. They allow the traveler to experience what is here and available immediately without the need to anticipate the future or to remember the past. There is not the need for an overview, and the message delivered is not an abstraction of the way – it IS the way. Other forms of maps require the map reader to be several levels of abstraction away from the reality of their actual experience in order to make use of the device. Consider a trail map – it is first off – two dimensional, not three, and that limitation alone assumes a basic cognition and abstraction skill. Then, it is not really represented by points, but by lines –a path that leads from here to there. Immediately upon viewing and comprehending the user sees what is ahead for quite a ways. Now, granted, for certain kinds of travel over certain types of terrain this is indeed essential in order to properly prepare for the journey. However, when considering a simple single day’s outing over basically navigable terrain, the map can rob one of the true exploratory experience. Under these circumstances, I much prefer the NOW of the cairn and the connection it gives me to the long traditions of my nomadic tribe.

From 12 May 2009 - Southern Utah

From 12 May 2009 - Southern Utah

From 12 May 2009 - Southern Utah

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