Perhaps you have never noticed them. I didn’t for a long time, until last fall as we were traveling somewhere, my wife pointed them out. Of course, she was in the passenger seat and I was keeping my eyes focused on the highway, most of the time.
What we saw very few miles or so down NH Rte 104 several odd, neatly arranged piles of rock. Stones atop one another, some precariously balanced and in random order. Occasionally there were big ones placed on small or ones teeny ones atop monster rocks followed with an impossible large chunk, turned on edge and standing unsupported.
These stacks of stones you occasionally see alongside the road are not a haphazard act of nature. They were placed there for a reason.
I wanted to get to the bottom of this pile, so to speak, and I started as many of us do by checking the internet.
According to Wikipedia……”Rock balancing is an art, discipline, or hobby (depending upon the intent of the practitioner) in which rocks are balanced on top of one another in various positions. There are no tricks involved to aid in the balancing, such as adhesives, wires, supports, or rings.”
Well, that pretty much covers the definition of said ersatz cairns. But the question of “why” nagged me.
History is full of examples of stacked rocks. Stonehenge on a plain in Wiltshire UK is an example of carefully stacked rocks heaved into place about five thousand years ago by humans and, according to some estimates, took some thirty million hours of labor.
The reason for their construction is a bit murky. We think it was a spiritual aid perhaps to a Druidic cult for either human sacrifice, or astronomy. Or both.
In Adam Roubo’s case building free standing rock piles had nothing to do with mummies, Druids, Mayan kings or astronomy. He builds them, in his words, “Just for fun and because they’re a challenge.”
He has an engaging smile and boundless energy and has constructed several free stone structures around his families’ home in Meredith. And he has not finished. “I’m probably going to build some more.” he said with a mischievous grin. I paid him and his mom Lynn a visit recently at his home and we were joined by the family dog Simba to look over Adams stone piles.
Adam is a normal ten year old who was first drawn to artful rock piling last year the same way I was. He saw a series of them alongside NH Route 104 while heading to New Hampton. “I thought they looked cool and so I tried to make one.” He smiled and said “They didn’t fall over right away, and I was hooked.”
The fourth grader at Interlakes Elementary school likes the outdoors and so he decided to combine his love for nature with a hobby that is much like a large, heavy version of the popular stacking game Jenga. However, in Jenga, the purpose of the game is to remove as many of the wooden blocks as you can before it topples over.
Stonehenge, by the way, is only one of many places in the UK where massive stone stacks abide. Avebury, about 25 miles north of Stonehenge also boasts some magnificent cairns. The types of mineral used in building these structures are Welsh sandstone and bluestone.
The Great Pyramids of Giza built by the Egyptians to house the body of a pharaoh were built around the same time as Giza, but are not technically free- stacked stones because some mortar was used in securing an estimated 3.1 million limestone blocks into place. But Mayan temples were free stacked using only a little loose gravel to hold everything in place.
Adams material was NH granite, sandstone and any type of rock he saw laying around that might fit his vision of what he was trying to make.
Rock stacking is many things to many people. It can be a challenging game, as in Adams case. Or it can take a metaphysical left turn and be a tool for meditation as in Zen or an art expression. Some rocks have been stacked on or actually in rivers or brooks; producing a perfect melding of mans vision enhancing nature’s image.
There are several sites on line which display, at times, this seemingly impossible art form. There are even professional rock stackers who haul rocks from place to place and involve the audience in this rock solid game of stones.