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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Wowk


Cairn. A piece inspired by the limitless.

The Faroe Islands were everything they promised to be: untouched, untamed, unaltered, and unwavering. The vast expanses of landscape, dramatic mountains and furrowed valleys, reminded me of the simple freedom nature grants us. The journey across these wild landscapes meant trekking without a clear path to follow. It's a place without signage stating "stop here", "wrong way" or "do not enter". So, at first, there's a feeling of aimless uncertainty leftover from the innate human need to organize chaos. But as your expectations of predicated directions ease, you realize how free you are to choose your path; a freedom so rarely granted in the conventional world of conditioned thoughts.

The winds whipped through the valley beneath Slættaratindur, the Faroe Islands' tallest peak. Climbing atop a collection of stones, known to hikers as a cairn, gave me a great vantage point to take in the view and soak in the moment. From Scottish Gaelic, a cairn is a heap of stones built as a memorial or landmark. Placed at regular intervals, a series of cairns indicate a path across barren terrain, and are often found in places where the trail direction is not obvious. Atop this particular cairn, I could see two others; the one I'd left behind to reach this one, and the forthcoming one I'd arrive at once I was ready to leave this one.

Walking across the sloping side of this Faroese mountain, the significance of the cairns laid out before me started to come into focus. I learned that hikers will often add another stone to the pile as they pass: for luck; in gratitude; insurance to maintain the integrity of the beacon. It got me to thinking how frequently people act as our mortal cairns; beacons shining the way for the next direction your life will take. You won't always know they are a cairn when you meet them, but when you realize that, inevitably, you have to move on from them in order to reach the next cairn, you should graciously acknowledge the guidance their presence provided. It is a bittersweet reality that these particular individuals play an ephemeral part of your journey. It's natural to want to hold on {how pivotal their influence seems!} but equal in your gratitude must be your self-control to accept that their temporary purpose was to show you where to go next in your journey. But before you go, add a stone -- for luck and in gratitude; give something of yourself to this person who gave guidance to you. The easier you release the attachment to a cairn not meant for you, the quicker you can reach the summit.

From this vantage point, I could see something else that I hadn't been able to before. Each cairn in this series represented the perfect intersection of paths. Looking backwards, memories emerged like ghostly apparitions, rising from the catacombs of my former life in Edinburgh and loitering in the caverns of nostalgia. Once a constant accompaniment to my life in this city, these memory ghosts are different now. They whisper a different story. They haunt from a different time. I knew they'd resurrect during my trip; I hadn't anticipated what I'd do with them. In this moment, it had never been more clear that allowing them to continue toddling along with me, even to the next cairn, was to my detriment. I asked them to stay at this cairn, so that I could peacefully journey on to the next without them. Looking forward, the barely visible tiny peak of the next cairn was there, steadfast and patient, waiting to light my way.

Each cairn in our lives represents an intersection of who you are and who you will be. The journey forward can't start unless you release the fear of directionless uncertainty in between. The trek to arrive at the next one is unpredictable. Though you may not recognize it at first, and albeit far in the distance, the next cairn in your life is unquestionably, always in sight.

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