I don’t think many of my friends or family in Ireland/UK are aware of this stone-stacking trend, it only just seems to be spreading. Now that I’ve pointed it out to you, you’ll probably notice it more and more.
I noticed them recently at Malin Head, where I’d never seen them before. And my first thought was: this has to stop. In fact, I had what I can only describe as an anarchic rage. Do we have to litter absolutely every inch of this planet with culture? And I began knocking down every single one I saw. I’ve since found out the locals in Malin come up when they can to do the same thing. Please stop leaving your mark.
Please stop stacking stones. Please tell others to stop stacking them. And even when you see lone stacks, gently dismantle it. Or kick it over if it makes you feel better. The Leave No Trace principle promoted in the US means you should leave only footprints, and take only photos. We should adopt the same attitude here. Even for natural elements.
Where once stone stacks were used as unobtrusive way-markers in the US, the increase of stone stacks has turned into meaningless babble and clutter. Even worse, it’s destroying habitats and ancient monuments. There’s really no point to them, and those that argue it’s some sort of spiritual practice can just get stuffed. There are better ways to be in the moment without being a total dick about it.
Canary in the coalmine of overtourism
I see it as a canary in the coalmine of overtourism affecting everything lovely and local. For me, it signifies the notion of generic global tourism which includes ticking a box, snapping a selfie, and leaving a mark. The most stones stacked I saw was at Sagres Point in Portugal. Absolutely littered with em in the most precarious places.
Things like stone stacking seem pernicious because you could be someone who wouldn’t dare litter but you would think nothing of clambering all over some bog cotton to disturb someone’s habitat to stack some rocks or spell your name.
Please stop stone stacking, writes Robyn Martin a senior lecturer at Northern Arizona University.
“Stone piles have their uses, but the many rock stacks that I’m seeing on our public lands are increasingly problematic. First, if they’re set in a random place, they can lead an unsuspecting hiker into trouble, away from the trail and into a potentially dangerous place. Second, we go to wilderness to remove ourselves from the human saturation of our lives, not to see mementoes from other people’s lives.”
We have little wilderness in Ireland, but we have wild vistas and places for solitude. The problem sounds worse in the US where it’s spreading.
Where there were just a dozen or so stone stacks at a much-visited state park on Sedona’s Oak Creek 10 years ago, now there are hundreds. What’s more, the cairn craze has mushroomed, invading wilderness areas everywhere in the West.
It’s bad in all natural environments, but particularly in rivers. Don’t move rocks, it leads to habitat loss, “stacking river rocks is doing serious damage to the delicate river ecosystem.” Lift a stone, and you’re upsetting someone’s home. National Parks in the US are fighting stone stacking particularly because of the habitat damage. It’s also ugly-fying the environment for other visitors.
“It really is detracting from the natural beauty of the place to see all these man-made cairns in an otherwise untouched environment.” – New Graffiti
In England, the laws are catching up to curb what is essentially vandalism. Stone stackers could face jail for destroying historical sites.
Is your zen moment worth this?
If you’re in the natural environment and want to soak it in and practice mindfulness – sit and breathe for 10 mins. That’s really all it takes. Indeed, I think the idea that stacking stones in a natural environment would be some kind of Zen practice is daft. As if it’s a step on the path to enlightenment. To me, it’s a sign of arrogance and ego. But what do I know?
A professional stone stacker, Gravity Glue, says he is “~ Zen as Fuck ~.” I don’t mean to single him out, because the notion is widely spread. He’s particularly skillful, and he advocates on behalf of the practice, against the advice of environmentalists. He advocates for it merely by doing it and photographing it. I could imagine someone afflicted with the Dunning-Kruger effect would think “hey, it’s just stacking stones- I can do that too” and fail miserably to recreate his work. All the while, disturbing habitats and generally making an absolute balls of it.
I asked him directly if he felt responsible for spreading this trend, and how he’d respond to environmentalists who criticized him? He said “I tell them to get a life.” Oh yah. Zen as FUCK! The author of an article supporting Mr Gravity Glue does the dance of whataboutery in this article asking why are they cracking down on stone stacking when there are “above average rates of rape and theft in Boulder”. Logical fallacies are ZEN AF.
Update: he replied on Instagram to add some ad-hominem attacks for his critics, calling them ‘self-righteous, naive, xenophobic, and/or lacking emotional intelligence.’
It seems people think they are practicing some kind of esoteric practice by doing this. Is this really part of the eightfold path? Go do that in your Zen garden.
Better ways to mark the moment with mindfulness
Consider other ways you can soak in the moment when you’re there. I often find people scramble up in activity without stopping and looking. It’s thought that even taking a photo can impair your memory of a moment. So stopping to add a few photos isn’t likely to help.
Instead, why not take a sketch? Drawing will help your memory more than a photo.
Or if you want to soak in the moment, try seated meditation with your eyes open, and use the sound as your anchor. If you tend to nod off, have a friend bop you on the shoulder lightly with a stick a la Rinzai sect meditation. Now that is ZEN as fuck (whatever that means!)
So, please tell people to stop making these stone stacks, if you see them take them down carefully. Or if you like, kick them!