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Little totems called cairns dot the landscape around Lake Superior. They remind me of a Japanese rock garden equivalent of ANN WAS HERE spray-painted on an overpass, or carved into a picnic table. Only less Japanese, more Viking-ese.  People of all ages and from everywhere make them and leave them behind, but they seem to appear of their own volition.


Cairns can symbolize trailblazing or reaching a peak or can simply be decorative. The pronunciation sounds like this –like something your high school choral director would make you repeat with your mouth just so.

When you visit Superior you can hardly believe the stones—so smooth and round and many. Maybe you’ve had a hot stone massage with them, or maybe like me, you paid up the wazoo to have the floor of your shower done with something similar but way more expensive than free-for-the-taking. My kids skip the cookie-shaped ones with Papa D, paint large flat ones the size of saucers, and spend hours with my mom combing the water’s edge for sea glass.





Yesterday we collected stones to decorate reception tables for a wedding. This third marriage celebration, a cairn itself– a marriage on top of a marriage on top of a marriage, each one separate but all forming a life story.

The wedding stones sit gathered in a basket by the back door like Mancala pieces. The sea glass my boys collected lays ziplocked-bagged and prepared to meet its fate on a closet shelf alongside retired goody bags and shin-guards.

Mom and I went to yoga on the shore. Pebbles filled the arches of our feet and supported the small of our backs and stuck to our skin. I brushed them off. Like the beach treasures I collect and keep in my pocket for a time, I leave them when my visit ends. I don’t want to carry them with me. My children collect stones, I try to shake mine loose. Sometimes they fall out of my mouth and land heavy with a thud, maybe even on a small toe. I retrieve them and offer them up.




My friend Heidi’s story reminds me the cairn pictured above—at once shattered and majestic, seemingly precarious yet awe-inspiring in its strength. Her book “Fancy Feet” follows a life nearly destroyed, painstakingly rebuilt, and ultimately transformed. It will leave you breathless, and with hope.


I’m giving away a copy here. I’ll pick from the comments (US only) and announce the winner next week.

23 comments… add one

  • n1n2ya August 27, 2013, 8:39 am

    I like the post!Especially the line about wanting to leave the stone behind, etc….

  • Pearl August 27, 2013, 8:49 am

    Superior is so beautiful, and so unexpected, somehow.

    A great place for agate hunting!


  • Heidi August 27, 2013, 9:47 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Heidi August 27, 2013, 9:49 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Heidi August 27, 2013, 9:50 am

    What a beautiful post. I especially loved this: “My children collect stones, I try to shake mine loose. Sometimes they fall out of my mouth and land heavy with a thud, maybe even on a small toe. I retrieve them and offer them up.”
    Thank you so much for this, Ann. So, so much. xo

  • Heidi August 27, 2013, 9:57 am

    Sorry Ann. Blogger insisted I was a dummy who couldn’t verify numbers and letters and rejected me. So I tried again and again. Then…voila…all 3 comments appeared. Who’s the dummy now? (Me. It’s still me.)

  • ladyfi August 27, 2013, 9:59 am

    What a lovely post.

  • Kizz Robinson August 27, 2013, 11:05 am

    Beaches are good for our souls.

  • Liz @ PeaceLoveGuac August 27, 2013, 12:25 pm

    I have a soft spot for cairns too. Love to see them smiling at me along hiking trails.

    Beautiful post, Ann. Hope y’all are settling into the school year.

  • Nancy Davis Kho August 27, 2013, 12:26 pm

    I’d love to read it. Had no idea the shores of Lake Superior sported such treasures.

  • Becky August 27, 2013, 12:34 pm

    This was a beautiful post, my friend. Funny, we used to build those on the shore of lake superior too when we still had our cabin. I never knew they had a name until now.

  • Heather August 27, 2013, 12:56 pm

    I was going to quote what Heidi quoted. I love that part so much.

    and you sound like YOU, beautiful wise you.


  • Jessica Watson August 27, 2013, 1:03 pm

    Such a gorgeous post, Ann. So happy for Heidi and her new book.

  • Wendi August 27, 2013, 2:50 pm


  • Andrea August 27, 2013, 8:06 pm

    OOOh, I remember you linking to one of her beautiful posts before I do believe.

    Such a lovely shore experience for all of you!

  • Heather Novak August 28, 2013, 8:12 am

    Fabu! Wondered what those were called, have seen them in the Colorado mountains too. I started piling lake stones like this in my yard ad hardscaping!

  • The Empress August 28, 2013, 9:16 am

    I could not put Heidi’s book down. I had to see it through, it’s the only way I felt I was holding her hand, letting her know, so many of us are glad, grateful, she’s here.

    It’s a tremendous read. A gift to anyone.

  • Marinka August 28, 2013, 11:46 am

    beautiful post. Thanks for telling me about the book!

  • The Jenkins Family ~~ August 28, 2013, 3:14 pm

    Love love love. I must take my family there. Beautiful experience and writing. The book sounds amazing.

  • dusty earth mother August 28, 2013, 7:43 pm

    Wonderful post and so want that book.

  • MommaBeThyName August 29, 2013, 10:15 am

    I love these. There’s a man who travels our state during the summer and creates these little monuments. I love them. I find them calming. I’ve got a few books in line to be read, but I’d take another with great pleasure!

  • anymommy August 31, 2013, 9:31 am

    I’m more like your kids, with a tendency to collect and hoard ;-) But I’m always inspired by the beach, stones, and glass as well. Small treasures.

  • Kristin September 3, 2013, 9:31 pm

    I love visiting the Great Lakes; my son is learning to love Lake Michigan the way I do when we visit my parents every summer.
    I’ve heard so much about Heidi and I would love to win her book!

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