What is an urban cairn?
A cairn is a pile of stones that has been created deliberately. They can be made of a few stones or many, large stones or small and can be simple piles or carefully balanced stacks. Traditionally, cairns have been used to create meaning within a landscape — as way markers, memorials or sacred sites. My idea was to do the same thing in the city to lend meaning to the — often anonymous and alienating — urban landscape. Hence an urban cairn is simply a cairn built in the city.
How do I build an urban cairn?
1. Find a stone and place it in a location (preferably somewhere outdoors that has significance to you) that you visit or pass regularly.
2. Look for stones as you go about your daily business and pick them up. I like to keep a few in my bag at all times.
3. Every time you visit your cairn location, add another stone. Once a day is ideal, but it can also be less frequent.
Follow these steps and your urban cairn will soon take shape.
What makes a good location for an urban cairn?
Based on my personal experience trying to construct urban cairns, the most important thing is to find a location where your cairn will not be disturbed (assuming that you want to build your cairn in a public space). Think about possible threats to your cairn as you scout locations. As well as the risk that your cairn may be deliberately vandalised, it can also be disturbed accidentally by passers-by or inquisitive animals (dogs, foxes), damaged by the weather or broken up by municipal employees mowing grass. Finding a spot that is secluded without being totally inaccessible can be a challenge. I have found that the bases of trees in public parks can work well.
Where can I find stones for my cairn?
There are more stones in the city than you might expect, once you start looking for them. Parks and playgrounds are obvious places to look. Often stones can be found on normal streets or squares. A rich source of stones is where river or sea pebbles have been used for ornamental purposes, for example to border paths. You can buy bags of pebbles from Ikea for around one euro. I will also be delighted to post you a stone with which you can begin or add to your cairn — please send an email with your postal address to me at saul dot remus at gmail dot com.
Why create an urban cairn?
There are many reasons why you might want to build an urban cairn, but, as with a conventional rural cairn, the main aim is to create meaning within the landscape. You can use them to mark a location that is already significant to you. Conversely, the act of creating a cairn lends new significance to a location. If you add stones regularly to your cairn, you may find yourself benefiting from having this as a ritual in your daily life. At the same time, you are creating a thing of beauty in the form of the cairn itself.
What do I do once I have built my cairn?
You can keep adding stones to a cairn indefinitely. There is no maximum size unless you choose to impose one. Of course, you may decide at some point that your cairn is finished. Even once you are no longer actively building the cairn, you may enjoy knowing it is there and visiting it. I would be very grateful if you were to take a photograph of your cairn and send it to me at saul dot remus at gmail dot com for me to publish on this blog.
What happens if my cairn gets accidentally or deliberately destroyed?
Simply start building another one. The ritual of adding stones to the cairn is at least as important as the end result. Beginning a new cairn after one has been destroyed has a spiritual aspect which you may find rewarding.