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Posted on Wed, Oct 6, 2010 : 10:01 a.m.

The magic of cairns in autumn: more than just a pile of rocks (or pumpkins)

By Sarah Nicoli


Don't you just LOVE driving by?

Sarah Nicoli | Contributor

No, this is not a travel article; I’m not talking about the city in eastern Australia. I mean the towers of rocks that we can see on North Main Street right by Argo Dam. I’m talking about all those fabulous towers of rocks all over trails and forests, above and below the treeline. And, most recently, my house.

I’m talking about the magic and mystery that makes anyone who sees a cairn (pronounced “karn”, by the way) wonder what the artist meant by the erected pile.
Why this shape or that color? Why placed here or there? What did whoever built this cairn mean by it?

I love cairns. And, I’m currently a bit mildly obsessed with them.

Of course, in the wilderness cairns have a real purpose; that is, to help a traveler mark his trail — either to help find his way back upon returning from a hike or a hunt — or to notify a traveler who will follow after him exactly which way he has gone.

It’s using some of nature’s oldest and grandest gifts to let us communicate with one another, or ourselves. It’s so basic. It’s so comforting.



Sarah Nicoli | Contributor

I got completely taken, while up north this summer, by all the beautiful rocks that we have in this state of ours. Granite, pudding stones, igneous, metamorphic, in just about every spectrum of the rainbow. Nature’s art.

So, of course I had to build my own. It’s only about 12 inches high, but it’s at the edge of my driveway. It bids me farewell each time I leave and beckons me home when I return. It says ‘welcome” to those who darken my doorstep. It says mystery, beauty and peace. I love it.

Then, I ran into my friend Clyde at the Produce Station last weekend. Guess what he was making? A cairn…out of PUMPKINS. Wow. To say that I had to have one would be too obvious.

Clyde helped me pick out the best of the stock and taught me how to arrange it to be certain that I liked it before I bought the pumpkins of many sizes and colors. Now I call Clyde “Martha.”


You can have your very own, too!

Sarah Nicoli | Contributor

And now I have yet another cairn. A pumpkin cairn. An autumn cairn. You can too—it’s easy. It’s colorful. It’s of the season. It’s magic…just like all those other fabulous towers all over.

Sarah Nicoli is founder and owner of dotmine dayplanners, the fashion meets function dayplanners, based in Ann Arbor. Please share your easy and magical ideas for celebrating fall in Ann Arbor ... or tell her about your cairn. You can reach her at


Sarah Nicoli

Thu, Nov 18, 2010 : 5:53 p.m.

Thanks, Sarah! Yah, I'm really into purple these days--and the orange and green pumpkins look so great against it!


Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 9:12 p.m.

What a great idea! I love the color of your front door!

Rork Kuick

Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 7:22 a.m.

Yes, I have been using a morel lately. It's the "thickfooted" type.

Sarah Nicoli

Wed, Oct 6, 2010 : 4:15 p.m.

Rork, I couldn't agree more! When on the trail, we all must abide by the "leave no trace" code...which is, I think how cairns originally came to be used. However, at home--they CAN be magical and artistic. btw, is that a morel in your hand?

Rork Kuick

Wed, Oct 6, 2010 : 1:15 p.m.

Just a note about doing it in public without good reason. I don't like cairns made on our public lands in the Waterloo/Pinckney recreation areas, that people are increasingly making. It's dead against the "leave no trace" ethic. Maybe you want to scream "look at me" but that's not appropriate some places.

Sarah Nicoli

Wed, Oct 6, 2010 : 8:11 a.m.

Send me your photos...we can share them on our Facebook page! Thanks for your comments...I figured the feeling about cairns was something innate!