Is Earth Art a Part of Camping or an Abuse of Camping?
Earth art or vandalism?
Called "rock stacking" or the more alliterative "stone stacking," the idea of forming a human-made artifact is a more common sight in my camping experience. Even though I understand the need to build or create--the need to leave our mark on the world, an "I was here" statement--after experiencing for some time different human testaments of existence in various natural settings, I think we need stop our little moments of building in what natural settings are left in the world. Places should exist that do not exhibit the hand of man. "Leave no trace" should be our mantra when we enter the wilderness--or even parks that are human-made reproductions of nature.
"Rock-stacking denies people the experience of wildness" states the title of an article on the Blue Planet Society website. In addition to taking away a hiker's chance to experience what the world looks like without human intervention, there are also environmental concerns about what I'm calling "earth art." Water flow and habitat are changed by rock stacking, and if you can imagine, some earth art has even been created on archaeological sites, where not only are stacks added to the landscape but also those stone stacks are created using stone that may be significant to the archaeology of the area. In a New Yorker article a Blue Planet Society spokesperson said, “Rock stacking is a way of quickly making your mark and having an image of it. People are posting pictures of them on Instagram, saying, ‘I’ve been here and I made this.’”
The New Yorker article goes on to say that stone stacking is a hot potato of discussion online. I can see that; creative activities are very fulfilling, and stacking rocks checks not only the "creative" box but also the "self-acknowledging." Online social sites have driven this phenomenon recently, even though stacking stones has been around for a long time as a spiritual action, a travel marker or ownership marker. “Social media has kind of popularized rock stacking as a meditative activity, and you used to have a handful of people doing it, but it has really escalated over the past few years on public lands,” Wesley Trimble, the program-outreach and communications manager for the American Hiking Society, said in the New Yorker article.
Oh, the irony of this message painted on a rock in a state park!
The stacking fad is likened to the rock painting fad, which I also saw evidence of in my recent walk along Rathbun Lake's shores within the boundaries of Honey Creek State Park. Rathbun Lake is a man-made lake, but it is possible to walk the shores and have one's experience center on the lapping of the waves against the shore, the smell of water shore vegetation, the wind off the lake and a sense of distance from the hubbub of life. Earth art such as rock stacking or rock painting attracts the attention, leading it away from the bigger perspective. It's the visual equivalent of my sitting on a boulder on the beach, eyes closed and listening to the waves splash onto the sandy shore, feeling the sun warm on my face and the wind gusting off the water--and then having someone who has snuck up behind me say, "I'm right behind you!" It's an intrusion, even if the stack of rocks is quite artistic.
Primitive, beautiful child's art--but do it at home!
I have nothing against stone stacking or rock painting. In fact, I have written an article about the art of rock painting for this blog! What I propose is that we leave our parks and wild areas alone and engage in earth art in our own homes and backyards. Paint rocks with your kids at home. Most garden nurseries keep a supply of stones to sell. Buy a box of smaller water-worn stones and when friends come over, have a rock-stacking party! Create rock sculptures in your front or back yards (or both), and post those creations on Instagram. Create something beautiful and then live with it.
Driftwood on a Rathbun Lake beach
One interaction with nature that leaves no trace is photography. Although you don't leave your photographs at the location where they were taken, you can post them online for the social media community to appreciate. "I was here," your photos can declare, "and isn't this place beautiful! And didn't I do a creative job of capturing the beauty!" The evidence of your travels and creative artistry end up just where they belong, in a medium designed and which expressly exists for sharing--and at no clutter to the environment. There might be those who say, "But rock stacking is beautiful; it's art!" I respond by saying, in character as a retired English teacher, "Look up the definition of the word Antropocene." Good old Merriam-Webster defines it as "the period of time during which human activities have had an environmental impact on the Earth regarded as constituting a distinct geological age." Most of us experience nature in small pockets of natural environment, enclaves of nature surrounded by landscapes already sculpted by human beings into towns, roads, highly cultivated and chemically-treated agricultural land, and even parks that have been to some degree manipulated or manicured.
Do we really need as guests to these parks to be adding to the Antropocene, adding yet another layer of human engineering to the land, even if creative and artful? I prefer photography or the other, older arts of painting or sketching. In an article the other day, I quoted British Romantic poet William Wordsworth, who said, "The world is too much with us." His sentiment also applies here. The National Park Service has recently labeled rock stacking as "rock graffiti" and "vandalism." The online article "The New Graffiti: National Parks Fight Stone Stackers" does a good job of explaining the why and how of leaving stones unturned. Volunteers, cited in the earlier mentioned New Yorker article, have been organized to remove stone stacks, a group in Acadia National park recently leveling nearly 3,500 rock stacks. The article "Rock Cairns," posted by the National Park Service, also is interesting as it details the history and function of rock cairns (or stacked stones) in the national parks and trails.
When you enter the wilderness, though--even the "kinda wilderness" of many city, county, and state parks--consider yourself a guest. Just as you wouldn't mark up the walls of a friend's house if you were invited over or throw your trash on the floor, in that same way you shouldn't change the natural beauty of any parkland. This is something you can easily do . . . just by not doing, just by leaving behind no trace of your ever having been there. This is the highest art of camping, taking away good memories (and maybe some photos), leaving nothing behind.
I couldn't agree with you more. We really do need to practice Leave No Trace when we are in the outdoors. In my opinion, we have become such a culture of 'I just want to do this' that many forget the big picture and the long term implications of our 'little' actions. Take only memories (and photos)...leave only footprints.ReplyDelete
I agree with you. There are so many people on the planet now that we have to be extra careful of our actions.ReplyDelete