Stop Stacking Stones

 

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The steep downhill path starting from Xyloskalo

If I have done it, it would have been once. And hopefully less of an issue than the examples given in this story below. It was a day in September, 1983 and I had traveled to Greece with two childhood friends, all of us now in early adulthood. With us was one new friend, who we had met in JFK airport just prior to departure.

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The peaceful river crossing Samaria Gorge

On the island of Crete, we left Xania well before sunrise to hike from the top to the bottom of Samaria Gorge, as far south in Greece as you can get and still be on land. With every switchback of our descent, I was getting more and more lost in conversation with our new friend, so that by the time we reached the bottom of the gorge I wondered where the day had gone. After a full day of hiking, lost in conversation or otherwise, the stones of the gorge play on your mind.

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The impressive Portes in Samaria Gorge

At this point you pass through one last formation that is so stunning that if you had not been thinking of playing with stones until now, you had not been paying enough attention. And that was my case. I remember walking silently through this last section and not talking again until the very end, when you spill onto a beach formed by smooth black stones, facing south, nothing but water until you reach Africa. There, in Agia Roumeli, you can get a cool drink before a boat takes you back to Xania. And while you wait for the boat, if you have something to wish for, you may find yourself stacking those smooth black stones.

My photographs from that day, somewhere in storage, would show the beginning, long middle sections, and end of that day. If I did stack stones the evidence will be in those photos, and I will find them. For now I have linked to photos from the blog of a Cretan travel consortium to give a hint of what the place looks like, and as a recommendation to others to visit. Sophie Haigney, writing on the New Yorker website, gave me reason just now to think about my own culpability in what can now be described as a dangerous, destructive form of travel footprint, and I thank her for bringing this to our attention:

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An Instagram trend that’s littering national parks with towers of carefully balanced stones, #StoneStacking can cause erosion and damage ecosystems. Photograph by Sam Oakes / Alamy

People Are Stacking Too Many Stones

The photograph in the Facebook post is pretty: piles of red rocks balanced at the edge of a cliff, suggesting a miniature mirror of the jagged rock face opposite. The stacks look like small shrines to mountain solitude, carefully balanced at the edge of a precipice. But when Zion National Park posted the photo, in September, the social-media coördinators for the park included a plea: “Please, enjoy the park but leave rocks and all natural objects in place.” The post noted the “curious but destructive practice” of building small stone towers, and said, “stacking up stones is simply vandalism.”

The balancing of stones is an elementary kind of creation, not unlike the building of sand castles. Stone stacks, or cairns, have prehistoric origins. They marked Neolithic burial grounds in what is now Scotland, guided nautical travels in Scandinavia, and served as shrines to the Inca goddess Pachamama in Peru. Contemporary stone stackers, then, are taking up the mantle of an ancient and artistic tradition. In the past decade or so, though, there has been an explosion of cairns around the world—in national parks, in the Scottish Highlands, on the beaches of Aruba. Park rangers, environmentalists, and hikers have all become alarmed, to varying degrees. The movement of so many stones can cause erosion, damage animal ecosystems, disrupt river flow, and confuse hikers, who depend on sanctioned cairns for navigation in places without clear trails.

The posts found within the #RockStacks and #StoneStacking hashtags on Instagram range from amateurish (a couple of stones against the backdrop of the ocean) to seriously impressive (round stones balanced improbably, or a sharp rock standing on end atop a pebble). It is common for multiple stacks to appear in a single picture; they look like chimneys or gravestones or maybe the ruins of a lost civilization…

Read the whole article here.

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