For hikers and trekkers around the world the cairn, a deliberate stack or pile of stones, is always a welcome landmark.
Sometimes a cairn indicates a memorial of a place or event. Sometimes it marks a burial spot. In the photo above this large cairn is a memorial for a British trekker who died going through this mountain pass from France into Italy.
That’s me, adding a stone to this memorial cairn.
As we hiked the TMB we came across dozens and dozens of cairns. I became obsessive, almost superstitious, about not passing a cairn without adding a stone like the trekkers before me. No matter how weary I always stopped to search out and add a stone. I was always grateful for the marker left by previous trekkers and felt compelled to add to the effort and pay it forward, like it was good luck.
Sometimes the cairn indicates that you’ve reached a summit or a crossroads.
Sometimes the cairn was a navigator letting you know that indeed you were on the right path.
As we trekked the TMB, going from one cairn to the next, I thought about the direction of my life and the metaphorical cairns that mark its path. For the past year I’ve been at a crossroads and unable to make a decision about which path to follow, which direction to take next.
I’ve been unemployed. In the blink of an eye a fifteen-year career ended. I’d reached a pinnacle and failed. This stage, a fairly significant one, was over. I looked around and wondered, huh, what now? Do I keep on the same path? Or do I take a left turn here? Should I head uphill or down? I dreaded the possibility of going backwards. I turned in circles, scratching my head, wondering which way to go.
As we trekked through France, Italy and Switzerland, and I wandered around in my own head, those cairns comforted me. Every time we reached one it whispered to me, see, you’re on the right path … you do know your way. Have confidence, girlie, and keep going even if you can’t always see the trail.
It’s amazing what a pile of rocks can do for your morale.
Here we are at my favorite summit, the one I’m most proud of reaching. I was never so happy to see a cairn in my life. I couldn’t wait to hug that baby. I may have even kissed it. This wasn’t the highest summit on our trip, but for me it was the most difficult–and thus the most satisfying—as it required me to dig deep and overcome my fears after a scary fall during the ascent.
So … after all that walking and all those cairns I finally started to see a path for the next stage of my life.
I’ve decided to go back to school to become a pharmacist.
Surprised? I know. Me too.
It’s funny how new paths can lead you full circle. I studied for pre-med twenty years ago before switching my major to architecture and design. All those science classes that I thought were wasted are coming in handy. I’ve got some catch up to do—after all, it’s been twenty years since I’ve taken chemistry—but at least I’m on my way, thanks to all those cairns.