guardian of travelers


I‘ve always been delighted by towers of round stones found in the forest, or along the seaside. Adding my own palm-sized stone to these communal monuments feels reverent; a small prayer to nature or getting lost, to permanence or transience, or to myself. The stones are without beginning or end, so perfect unto themselves – a bit of infinity.

On a trip to Scotland a few years ago I learned that these rock piles are called ‘cairns.’ 
“The God of Cairns” is a figurative painting of Hermes, the Olympian god, son of Zeus. Hermes is known as the god of transitions owing to the fact that his name in Greek means “pile of stones.” 

My cairn is one of my favorite possessions. My daughters collected the stones from northern Japan, in the forest surrounding a Shinto shrine. We couldn’t take the sacred Japanese pathways with us, so we’ve taken the path marker instead. At the moment our cairn is packed in a cardboard box in a storage facility in England, which, if you think about it, is ironic and appropriate. 

Always on the move. 

I miss the footpaths in England too, but I’ve brought them to Florence in my poems. The poems can be stacked hundreds high and never topple. Besides, these labyrinthine Florentine alleys are paths and trails in and of themselves, tempting wayfarers. In Florence, buildings create their own cairns, disintegrating into rubble and ruin, pebbles stacked at the edges of the sidewalk. Whole buildings will turn to piles of stone, saying “I was here.”

God of transitions, indeed. I have left my cairn in Oxford, England, and before that, in Germany, and Japan, and so on. As luck would have it, the first street I moved to in Florence was via dei Cristofano, St. Christopher’s Way. There are guardians of travelers everywhere. 

I often wish that I could stay in one place, but the universe has other plans. The earth is stacked with my memories – a trail map of wanderings, discoveries, wrong turns, losings, findings, reunions, exiles, serendipities, and treasures.

“The God of Cairns” is for my fellow nomads, my tribe of seekers, ramblers; those who wander to get lost, those who get lost to get found, those who find themselves climbing that stone tower again and again. 

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