Sunday, June 30, 2013

Cairns Against Entropy

Marks, of order, of variety, of intention

Cairns are piles of rocks which mark something. In the most basic form, they indicate "I WAS HERE." Without necessary clarifying who the "I" was. But, wandering through some wild place, windswept, sunbaked, little sign of man nor beast, it can be both comforting and informative to come upon one of these, serving as a trail marker (their most common application in these desert parts) or a summit collection.

These particular examples are currently found along the new path on the Arizona Canal in Scottsdale. They cause me to wonder what they are for. I hope art. We'll see if they are serving some actual purpose for the constructors of the path. In the meantime, though, I'm free to reflect on their pure rocky goodness, the mix of shape texture and form, a place where order and disorder, man-made and natural, rough and smooth, met in a pile of contingency. Easy to scatter. Easy to remake. Packed into metal cages, simple enough to make into gabions for walls or cyclist-pleasing visual accents.

But set all that aside for a moment. To look a bit deeper at cairns, I mean. At their deepest, these piles of rocks are basic symbols of order vs. chaos. Pick up a few rocks from random places. Set them down in an intentional place. To my eye, much more pleasing than the excessive and overblown intent and order of something like the surreal intentional patch of landscaping along my route. That thing is over the top in this respect. While a pile of rocks at its most basic is a construction, something made, yet still basic.

Stuff breaks. Suns burn out and explode. Comets crash. Cosmic rays tear across the cosmos and pierce matter like Chinese noodle chefs going through dough. Solar flares scream toward earth and sere everything. Heat death ensues eventually. So we pick up rocks as we go along, set them down in piles, and signal that we were here. And that we ride on.

Stuff breaks. This is the opposite of a cairn.

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