I am spending a lot of time in the desert lately. I hike every day for several hours and my mind wanders; thoughts and ideas flow freely. There isn’t anything else that brings me the peacefulness that comes with walking a trail.
I am very lucky; I live a short 2 miles from the boundary of Saguaro National Park. I can even hike to the hike should I choose to do that. Every time I enter the desert I find something new and exciting to wonder about or admire.
A week ago while hiking, I looked to the right of the trail and there was a large mountain lion (aka Puma or Cougar) track.
Another time, I looked up and spotted a crested Saguaro cactus.
I have conquered the 10.8 mile hike from one trailhead across the park to the totally opposite trailhead and back. In fact, I have set a goal to walk that trail at least once per week. So far I have walked it three times.
At about the 3 mile point, I have begun constructing a prayer cairn. Each time I pass the cairn I add another rock with my intention attached to it.
When I previously walked the Camino, I also put rocks with prayers attached on existing cairns. This is now what I understand cairns to signify.
Here: The most basic cairns are often a single stack of rocks intended to mark a path, a territory, or a specific site. The intent is utility and meaning, rather than art. Those who place them are thinking of those who will come after. Those who find and follow them are trusting travelers who went before. Many experienced hikers fondly call them “trail ducks” when the top rock is larger and points the way at a turn.
There: In Spain they were called milladoiros, and were thought to be placed there by pilgrims to show the route for those following. This practice was believed to have originated with a pagan rite to invoke the protection of pagan spirits who protected travelers.
My Understanding: During my hikes at home and on the Camino, I have encountered on the sides of roads, trails, or pathways stacks of stones that look like random sculptures. I add a stone blessed with a prayer to the cairn, and I believe my intentions merge with those who have left stones before me, empowering us all.