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The Cairns in our Lives


Ten years ago, while hiking to Taughannock Falls in upstate NY, Joe and I were intrigued by the artistic stacks of rocks we spotted along the trail. I’d heard of cairns before, but living in a South Florida suburb, neither of us had actually seen one.

When we finally arrived at the waterfall (well worth the hike, by the way), we were greeted by hundreds of skillfully crafted mini-monuments scattered about the water’s edge. An army of little rock statues stood ready to celebrate with us! It was a laugh-out-loud moment. If rocks could high-five you, I’m pretty sure this is how they would do it.

Cairns, I’ve since learned, have been around since prehistoric times. They mark trails and burial sites. More elaborate cairns have served as memorials. In modern times, they’re often just for fun, left behind by fellow travelers. I’ve built a couple myself, one by Lake Michigan, another near St. Georges Bay. By now, Mother Nature has no doubt reduced my geological graffiti to the piles of rubble from whence they came.

A cairn is a sign that someone else has gone before you to point the way or celebrate your arrival. That, I think, is why I like them so much. They remind me of the parents, teachers and mentors who have guided and encouraged me on my own journey.

If we’re fortunate, our earliest human cairns were our parents. They were the first to warn us of dangers ahead and point us toward the right path. They also celebrated our every accomplishment, from keeping the bed dry to graduating from school.

Second in line, our teachers. Lucky is the child who has at least one special adult or teacher to encourage him/her to pursue a passion. I still remember my grandmother telling me I was “so creative.” That was over 50 years ago. Little did she know what an impact her words would have.

Most recently, my human cairns have been the talented writers of the Authors Roundtable in Mt. Dora. When it comes to writing, publishing and marketing, they know far more than I do. Yet, they generously share that knowledge with beginners like me.

Then there’s the Elder Wisdom Circle. A group of 600 volunteers, ranging in age from 60 to 105, they offer their wisdom and experience to young advice-seekers all over the world. In thirteen years, the Elders have answered over 342,000 personal requests for advice. It’s an honor to serve with them.

Cairns are everywhere, if we only stop to recognize them. Maybe you’ve seen one while hiking in the woods or built one yourself. Maybe you’d like to recognize a two-legged cairn in your own life, or share your own mentoring experiences. Seen one? Built one? Been one? What’s your cairn story?

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