Sunday, April 22, 2012

stream of consciousness (pun intended)

We were in Gatlinburg last month to celebrate our anniversary and get away to our favorite place for respite, The Buckhorn Inn. It is truly a hidden gem of hospitality tucked into a fold of that mountainous area with an extraordinary view of Mt. LeConte, one of the highest peaks of the Great Smokey Mountains.

The morning we left to head home we took a walk along one of the area's many trails that featured early blooms of trillium, wood violets, and other beauties unfamiliar to me. The trail pretty much follows the curves of a tributary to the Little Pigeon River, and I never tired ot trying to capture the enthralling beauty of the water spilling over and around rocks as it tumbled its way down the mountain. At one such point I encountered a wee cairn, pictured above, that someone took the trouble to assemble not long before my own arrival at that point.

My own life doesn't include a tradition of cairns, but both my grandmother and her sister seemed to follow suit when they erected cairns on the family homestead to mark the occasion of their respective weddings.
my grandparents posing at their wedding cairn in Georgia
It never occurred to me when I had the chance to ask my grandmother about them, but now the genealogical sleuth within wants to know. I wonder about a family tradition based on nothing more than the fact that these are referred to in the photo album as cairns. A cairn is a distinctly Scottish word, referring to an erection of stones to mark an event or occasion of significance. Scripture is full of "cairns," though the reference to them is of building altars to the Lord (think of Jacob after wrestling with the angel). My great-great-grandmother was a Davidson, of Scottish descent.  I am more inclined to think that this idea became fashionable by some other means, however. Our Davidson ancestors came to this country more than two centuries before the weddings of my grandmother and great-aunt, and had such a tradition remained intact all those years, it seems unlikely that it would have ended with my grandmother and not been passed on to my mother and shared with me. 

All of that wondering notwithstanding, this morning I am thinking about cairns, and the ways we mark or acknowledge events of significance in our lives.  Communities large and small seem to do a better job of this than individuals, or perhaps they are just more visible. Marking anniversaries of victories, defeats, transitions and transformations is something we appear inclined to do, perhaps as a way to uniting us or offering us a means to feel that we belong to some thing and some place bigger than we are. 

Do you have a cairn, real or metaphoric? And how does it serve to draw you back or urge you forward in your life? This inquiring mind wonders.


Terri said...

WHen I worked for small church we had two years of significant losses - deaths, primarily. So one year for the season of Lent, when we were all grieving deeply, I decided to invite us to build prayer cairns. I built a few around the church - on the altar and around the font using large rocks. I then put a basket of small river stones outside the entrance of the church and invited people to take one as they entered the worship space. the instructions were to hold the stone until the prayers and anointing for healing (prayers of the people) at which time they could place them around the font and build onto the cairns - or they could add them to the cairns when they came up for Eucharist. It was quite profound.

The Bug said...

Wow - I love Terri's idea! As you know, Mike & I have had some loss in recent years. Perhaps it's time for us to start our own cairn.

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