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Cairns: Messengers In Stone Paperback – October 1, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Mountaineers Books (October 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594856818
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594856815
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #815,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

David Williams is a freelance natural history writer and author of THE STREET-SMART NATURALIST: FIELD NOTES FROM SEATTLE and the highly-praised STORIES IN STONE. His work has appeared in Smithsonian, Popular Mechanics, California Wild, and High Country News, and he is a regularly contributing writer for Earth magazine. Williams lives in Seattle, WA.

Customer Reviews

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By SandraSci on September 22, 2012
Format: Paperback
Guide travelers.
Honor the dead.
Find a safe place to park your sheep in a blizzard.
All ways cairns have been put to good use, according to the latest from David Williams. Williams weaves in expert opinions, poetry by William Cullen Bryant, a reference from the Odyssey and his own wry insights.
Cairns left by sheepherders, for example, might have led them to protected bedding ground when snow storms hit. But David speculates other purposes as well. "I don't think we can rule out boredom. Living in isolated, desolate spots, they may have seen another person just once every week or two. Their only companions were a dog and bands of unruly, often incredibly stupid sheep. Surely you would want a pastime."
Or when considering the tiny stones some earthworms pile at the mouth of their burrows, Williams points out, "If I could equal an earthworm's strength I would be able to drag a 3,000-pound walrus, not that the opportunity has arisen."
In considering why we feel compelled to stack stones, Williams writes that, in part, it's a way ". . .to leave a little part of ourselves in the landscape. The cairn becomes a tangible sign of the bond between people and place, an acknowledgement of a relationship that we value. Cairns are a sign of community - of hikers, of family, of humanity."
"Not bad for a little pile of rocks," he writes.
I echo that when I say "Cairns: Messengers in Stone" is not bad for a little book about piles of rock.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David Laskin on September 14, 2012
Format: Paperback
David Williams would make the world's best hiking partner because he seems to know everything about the natural world, especially its geology and history. The next best thing to having him along on a hike is reading his books. I loved his Street Smart Naturalist -- and Cairns is just as good if not better. Williams quotes a rock and ice climber saying "a well-placed cairn popping out of the mist" on a major descent "sparks the same feeling as a lit-up gas-station sign when my car has been running on empty for a half hour" - and that's pretty much how I thought about cairns. Then I read this book -- and discovered what cairns are really about. Communication; building; our evolving relationship with nature; history; altruism; even religion, politics and humor. Who knew? I read Cairns with a new sense of wonder for the world outside my window -- and even more wonder for the world awaiting me on my next hike. Maybe my dream will come true and Mr. Williams will miraculously materialize at my side? But if not, I'll have his handy, witty, supremely informative volume to light me on my way. Williams himself is a messenger in stone -- and definitely a writer/naturalist to watch.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JBW on September 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
David B. Williams's sparkling, sharp and intelligent writing makes Cairns: Messengers in Stone a surprisingly delightful read. Surprisingly, because one would not typically expect that historical, culture stories about piles of rocks would be so instantly engaging. Yet I found myself wholly absorbed in it from the very first pages.

The chapters range from the geology and ecology of cairns to the historical and mystical. I found myself intrigued by stories such as cairn's role in helping rescuers learn of the final days of the John Franklin 1845 expedition to discover the Northwest Passage and their role as wayside shrines. Others will find instructions for building a proper cairn and dating older ones more to their likening.

In telling this story about Messengers in Stone, Williams emphasizes that "cairns represent a cross between the realm of geology and the realm of humans...and when they intersect--whether in the form of an earthquake, a volcano, or a cairn--it merits our attention, draws us in, and gives us a richer connection to the world around us." This is a book you will want to share with hikers, travelers, natural historians, really anyone who is interested in and spends time outdoors.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Holly on June 23, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read a review of this book in our paper, and it sounded interesting. I bought it as a gift for a friend that back packs & hikes. He said he really liked it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By whitenomad on April 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wonderful easy reading book. A great read or purchase for that hiker in the family. Factual text, but is also interesting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Moline on March 10, 2013
Format: Paperback
As a frequent hiker, I found David B. Williams' "Cairns, Messengers in Stone" a great trail-side companion and an engaging guide to these geo-human features.

Having encountered many cairns in my life, I was surprised by how little I knew about these common rock markers. The book's chapters helped me understand the origin of these features--their interwoven geologic and human history--and the distinct meaning they hold based on their location. Williams does this by describing the wide variety of cairns found in the world--including the bronze age burial cairns of Scotland, arctic expedition cairns, and the "art" cairns of stacked stones in the United States. Through interesting stories and compelling encounters, the book allows one to learn all facets of cairns from the ground up, through history and across the globe.

I hold a special place in my heart for books that reveal and explain a feature of our planet. They add something to our experience of living here, helping us find our place. This book has made me appreciate cairns and given me a background and storyline to consider each time I find them in the landscape... no matter where in the world that is. Who knew a "heap of stones" could connect so many diverse stories and places?
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More About the Author

I write about natural history, whether it is ecological recovery at Mount St. Helens, a journey to find salmon in Seattle, or an essay about seeing and holding first editions of On The Origin of Species. Some of my work can also be classified as science writing and/or environmental journalism. Over the past few years, I have focused in my books, including The Street-Smart Naturalist, primarily on urban landscapes.

A central goal in my writing is to encourage people to look more carefully at the natural world around them. I hope that my essays and articles will provoke the reader to ask more questions, to go outside and investigate, to delve deeper into the subject, to reevaluate what they may have taken for granted. I have written for publications as diverse as Smithsonian, Earth, Northwest Palate, and American History.

I grew up in Seattle, went to college in Colorado, worked as park ranger at Arches National Park and the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Park, and moved back to Seattle in 1998. I write full time, like to hike and bike, and explore urban nature.