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Stacking Rocks in the Wilderness


I was involved with the Boy Scouts of America as a child.  Every month, my scout troop and I would pack up the trailer and drive to some far-off location where we'd build fires, pitch tents, and hike through the wilderness.  Eventually, I became an Eagle Scout; the highest rank that a boy scout can earn.

One lesson that was drilled into us at the start of every camping trip was the philosophy of "leave no trace" camping.  The idea was simple, the natural word was sacred and worthy of our respect.  We were guests in the forest, and it was our job to leave things better than how we found them.  

So, campfires were built using dead wood that we found lying in the forest as opposed to chopping down trees.  We hiked on established trails to protect newly grown vegetation, and garbage we produced during the trip was bagged and carried out in the trunk of our cars.

Obviously, it was impossible to have zero-impact on the natural world, but our hope was to enjoy it in such a way that when we left the forest, no one would know that we were there.  Thus, we often repeated the following motto:

Leave nothing but footprints, Take nothing but pictures, Kill nothing but time

This topic came up recently when I spoke to a friend about an epidemic of rock-stacking that's taking place in our local park.  Historically, rock stacks, or cairns as they're more commonly called were used to mark trails or store food in case hikers got lost and needed a resupply.

However, I believe something else is at play here.  None of the cairns that I've seen were used to store food, and all of the trails are professionally maintained by the forest service, so there's no need for vigilante trail-markers.

So, it would appear that people are balancing rocks in creeks and river beds for aesthetic purposes.  Maybe they want to "leave their mark" in the natural world prior to returning home.  Maybe they're doing it for clout; hoping to get likes on Instagram and Twitter.  Honestly, the reason doesn't matter because they're doing serious harm to the environment.

Some of the problems with rock stacks are:

  • They confuse hikers who depend on sanctioned cairns; created by forest management to find trails
  • They destroy the homes and habitats of living creatures like ants, earthworms, and slugs
In short, building an unsanctioned rock cairn is the ecological equivalent of spraying graffiti on a historic monument.  Convincing people to stop doing it should be a simple thing, but nothing is simple in samsara.  

The general argument seems to be, "There's lots of bad stuff going on, who cares about rocks?!"


In Buddhism, however, we take a different view.  The core of our practice is accepting that suffering is part of life and choosing to practice Right Action anyway.  

Thus, it's because of political unrest that we do no trace camping.  It's because of disease and starvation that we take down unsanctioned cairns, and it's because of all the world's suffering that we protect the homes of salamanders, insects, and worms.

Because if we can't solve those other problems, isn't refusing to stack rocks the least we can do?

Isn't missing out on a few Twitter likes and Instagram hearts a small price to pay if we can dampen the fires of suffering; making life better for the people who come after us.  

In Buddhism, we don't need to to "leave our mark" by stacking rocks in river beds.  

We understand that practicing Right Action does that for us.  And as we move through this world, leaving no trace, we leave things better than how we found them.

Namu Amida Butsu


 If you enjoyed this essay, you'll love my book!





Stacking Rocks in the Wilderness

Comments

  1. You're right....another way of leaving a piece of ego wherever we go.

    ReplyDelete

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