Lately I’ve been reading about how rock stacking or stone stacking is becoming more prevalent and how it is damaging to the environment. I’ve included a link to an article in The New Yorker which appeared in December 2018 on how our national parks are being harmed by this practice.
I must confess that I have in some ways contributed to this practice. In 1982 I filled a baby food jar with dirt from a small town in the southwest of France called Besseges. It’s the town where my grandmother was born and raised and most of her family is buried. When I gave it to her she made a face and said there wasn’t even enough dirt to plant a bean. I also took a small bucket of rocks from beside a river in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to bring home to polish. In Italy I took three stones from the beach at Cinque Terres on the west coast just because they were pretty, small, and smooth, and I wanted something tangible to remind me of the wonderful day I spent there. However I’ve never tried stone stacking.
I’ve seen several of these stacked stones over the years. I think of them as the altar from the story of Jacob in Genesis 28:10-22. The crux of the story is that Jacob is on the lam because his father Isaac blessed him instead of his older brother Esau. It’s actually worse than just receiving the blessing meant for Esau. Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, conspired with Jacob to fool Isaac into giving him the blessing. Esau is pissed about having his blessing stolen and he’s planning a smack down where Esau does the smacking and Jacob does the downing. Jacob runs off and using a stone for a pillow falls asleep and dreams of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. Then God speaks to Jacob in this dream promising to him the land upon which he is sleeping and that his descendants will be numerous and all families will be blessed by Jacob and his offspring. When Jacob awakens he declares that this spot is the Gate of Heaven and the stone he slept upon is God’s House.
Before I left on Camino in 2019 I wrote about some stones I found stacked by the dam at the metro park. It touched my heart and reminded me of other stacked stones I had encountered. While some may see them as a threat to the environment to me they are an artistic rendering of something meditative. The artist may not think of his/her stones as the Gate to Heaven, but there is certainly a spiritual aura for me the visitor to this delicate structure.
I have one more story to relate about stone stacking. Before I left on Camino I returned to the altar at the metro park with my granddaughters. I took with me one of the rocks that we collected on our trip to Zanesville to find some authentic Ohio flint to place at the Cruz de Ferro. My granddaughters also wanted to add a rock to our local altar. Maybe I should have a “shame on me” for encouraging this stone stacking behavior, but I won’t do that because it warmed my heart to see them want to participate in something so important to me.
This year has been tough for me since I have had to cancel my 2020 camino and even as I make plans for 2021 there seem to be so many barriers. But even with this frustration I found a small spark of joy. Unbeknownst to me my little girls gathered up the Ohio flint that I had to decorate my fireplace and made an altar. So when I feel sad or frustrated or just missing the Camino I have my own little gate to Heaven.