I recently received an email from a woman at Raytheon inquiring about mini cairns to be used as corporate gifts. I hope I was able to help by forwarding her along to an Irish sculptor, a pebble artist, and a stone specialist (all people who I’d call about garden cairns). But I have to tell you, the whole thing was a bit strange.
Unknown to the person who contacted me, I used to work for Raytheon as a physicist-engineer. The irony of being contacted by them after so many years but in a completely different capacity was not lost on me. I once helped them build F-18 flight simulators, and later, I wrote software to fly commercial satellites. Now, I help them create mini cairn art for corporate gifts. An odd commentary about my own life path.
Cairn Art for The Garden – Pet monuments
I have a plan to create cairns for my own garden. Over the nearly 20 years of living in our home, we have buried a few pets in our garden. The burial sites cluster at one end of our garden in a wooded, shady, and peaceful area.
I’ve searched over the years to find any sort of grave makers or pet monuments that aren’t completely tacky, cheap, and covered in paw prints or some other cheesy pet-ish images. I also want something that is destination-worthy and tall enough to see even if we have a foot of snow on the ground.
My design answer is cairns, and as more special animals come and go from our lives, I think these small monuments will stand as a testament to how much we adored them.
Cairn Garden inspiration
Years ago, there was a guy at the Chelsea Flower Show who was balancing rocks live. Right there in the middle of the crush of people and show garden chaos, he was seemingly defying gravity. It was an extraordinary display of skill.
We sometimes see pictures like the one above and think it is completely impossible that the stones will stand in such a way. I am not sure if the Chelsea Guy was Richard Schilling or someone else – but to watch someone stand stones – live- is more compelling than you’d think. It is a true testament to patience, control, touch, and concentration. As a generally somewhat harried person – I wonder if mastering rock balancing would make me a little more put together?
The History of and Origins of Cairns
Their uses and origins of garden-sized cairns intrigue me. Wikipedia has some great information about their history. The first was supposedly created when Greek gods Hera and Hermes had an argument that was put before a jury. The jury heard the sides and then was instructed to throw a stone at the person they did not believe. Hera ended up not only losing but was entombed in a pile of pebbles.
In more recent history, cairns ensconce the dead, mark mountain summits and hiking trails, and give directions to walkers, native American and Norse hunters, and seafarers. They are also the foundation of artists like Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Shilling of Land Art Blog, or they can simply be a place where a farmer might have cleared a piece of land and interestingly piled the stones.
In a large garden, it would be fun to create cairns at the far ends of paths as the result of a slow build-up of carrying a single stone down the path to stack with each garden visit. For small gardens, stacked stones can be a beautiful piece of garden art or a focal point.
In my garden – they tend to form naturally, here and there; these gardening and landscaping cairns are, more than anything else, an attempt to get the percolating rocks out of the way of my shovel and the plants.
I think this must be what my old Raytheon friends must think they would like to create. They are beautiful, and I suppose that now I know a bit more about them, to be given one of these would be a very nice gift.