Monday, April 5, 2010

The Inconsequential and The Sacred

It's a strange word, and probably calls to mind a woodwind instrument of fleeting description and hard to recognize sound, which is really an Oboe. Obos is actually a Japanese term referring to a pile of rocks, for lack of a more eloquent description, and in English they are often referred to as Cairns. A stacking of stones, one atop the other and often only 3, they mean nothing to almost everyone who sees them but have a deep and resonating meaning to the one who builds them. Why? Because they create a focal point, even if placed amongst thousands of similar stones on a windy beach shoreline, they are something that comes from someone's hands, a flourish of imagination that says "I was here".

Obos can be built anywhere from an abundance of natural resources just lying about: stones, rocks, pebbles, boulders, I've even seen them made with broken concrete blocks and old bricks. Placed on top of each other they become more than just 3 or 4 or 10 rocks in a shaky pillar, they become a sanctuary for our thoughts and our minds, sometimes only for a few minutes until we move on. Beside a ramshackle house, along a garden path, in a meditation labyrinth on someone's desk, next to a gutter on a busy Manhattan Street, riding the crest of a craggy mountain trail, there they are: shrines to the indelible human spirit of imagination and individuality. The insignificant is elevated to a different level, a tribute to something higher, a deep need to create.

Obos may be used to commemorate an event, like reaching the end of a long hike, or marking a particular patch of ground for it's importance in one's life. Perhaps they are simple homages in reverence to something grander in the natural world surrounding them or just a playful gesture without seeming thought, a doodling with rocks. But we are builders, we work with our hands and our minds, consciously or not, and what we build is sacred if only for us, privately, for a fleeting second. Obos, by their very nature, are towers of serenity even if only 2 inches tall. They give one pause, whether in their building or the contemplative eye upon them. They lend respite from the cluttered world and stand as an affirmation to the value of our personal efforts and our individual dreams.

3 small stones, found nearly everywhere.
Inconsequential parts in nature, lovingly placed one on top of the other by our builder's hands, given life by our visions and transformed into a unique, beautiful and sacred whole.
Art that leaves no footprint.
"I was here."

The incredibly powerful Beach Stone Cairn Pendant seen above was created by Sue Davis who has a wondrous Shop on Etsy: ...Thank You!
I wish you all an amazing week. Perhaps we should all take a few moments and build an Obos, reflect on what it means to create and say "We were here."
My love to you all...


  1. Kristin, you are eloquent and thoughtful here as always, and as always you've elevated my from a bothersome and humdrum afternoon into a beautiful sanctuary called Monday. You've just built your obos in my mind, telling me you were here. And I love you for it.
    xoxo Mollie

  2. Ah! Kristin! Yes, yes and yes!
    You have definitely expressed all of the reasons that I must build those little stacks of beach stones! Thank you for featuring my beach stone cairn pendant. I am honored.
    Sue Davis

  3. Beautifully written, expertly illustrated by Sue's necklace. My Father died yesterday morning and today I have asked myself that question more than once, "What mark did he leave behind?"

    I think the answer is my brother and I.
    We were his obos.

    Thank you.

  4. One of my flickr friends builds these. They are so pretty. I love looking at his flickr pool- all those stones. It's like a majic trick of sorts. I may have to build one next time I go camping. Thanks for reminding me how lovely the simple things in life are.
    What a wonderful shop sue has!

  5. What a strong and eloquent piece this is Kristin; And what amazingly comforting literal and figurative interpretations are seen in Sue's work and the in the comments of others.

  6. what a gorgeous story behind an captivating idea. in Crete there is a dry river gorge called the Samaria gorge (sp?) and literally thousands of tiny obos (as I now know them) have been built along the dry stone river bed. the most awesome site.
    beautiful and simple jewellery, I have been thinking along similar lines with turquoise wheels, too.
    Rachel (rachellucie) x

  7. How lovely! thanks for the great read. I want to go and build an Obos :O)

  8. you're such a talent in writing, kristin! thanks again for such a refreshing read.. and for helping us to take a step back, and deeper, into our thoughts. now I will build obos everywhere I go! :)

  9. Wonderful post, beautifully written as always. Luke built some on the farm, they are beautiful! XO

  10. thank you Kristin - some beautiful thoughts.... my children love building these, & we're off to the beach today, so we'll build a few & think of etsy project embrace ;-) Xxx

  11. A lovely meditation once again... which is why I always come back to the Monday posts... I may get here late, but I get here and sometimes return too! I have a thing for rocks, and you'll find them in obos and in clusters throughout my home and in my garden. And when I do build with them, it is a reflective process as well as creative, but then, those two things go hand in hand, don't they?

  12. Powerful commentary and essay on a beautiful 'act'.

  13. Once again, beautiful and profound! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I love that necklace!

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  15. There is a trail in Southern Oregon that leads to a hillside full of cairns- it had to be fenced off because it is a Sacred Native American Spiritual Place. Cairns in their culture were sacred prayers-
    Being a hiker I always add a stone to the cairns as I passed by - It made me feel like I was in good company on the trail.
    Necklace is wonderful. Love the photos too.