Houlton eclipse celebration will include cairns with thousands of stones

1 month ago

HOULTON, Maine — Dave Hutchinson woke up one January morning with the idea of creating a large eclipse rock on the lawn of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Houlton. 

Much like ancient stone cairns found in forests as trail markers or as spiritual markers of deaths, profound events or an individual’s sacred journey, the eclipse rock creates a sacred space for attendees, he said.

“When we started to plan what kind of events we might create for Eclipse ’24, one of the first ideas we came up with was a large rock or rocks placed on the front lawn that could serve as a marker or gathering spot for eclipse activities,” Hutchinson, UU pastor said. “We are trying to bring the idea of cairns into a public space for the eclipse for people who want to approach it with that aspect in mind.”

Everyone is invited to leave a stone at the rock during their visit for the April 5 to 8 Eclipse weekend. And with a projected 40,000 visitors for the total solar eclipse on April 8, they could end up with a pretty big cairn. 

Stone stacking into cairns, the Scottish word for pile of rocks, has been part of spiritual practice throughout the world for centuries. They are found on mountaintops, cliffs, deserts and arctic areas. These delicately balanced sculptures often represent different things for different people, whether for cleansing, releasing, meditation or even strength. 

The huge stone pile at Cruz de Ferro along the French portion of the famed El Camino de Santiago Way between the towns of Manjarin and Foncebadon, is a place for pilgrims to drop a stone on the pile as a way of releasing the past.

Planners are inviting people to place a stone or rock on top of Houlton Eclipse Rock to gather the energy of this cosmic time during the official eclipse weekend opening ceremony at 4 p.m. April 5. 

Spiritual leaders from the Maliseet tribe, the pagan tradition, a Buddhist monk and the Episcopal Church, will be part of the opening ceremony that includes the use of an ancient Chinese gong, crystal bowls and bells to officially launch the eclipse weekend festivities. 

“We are limiting people to one rock per person so we can track participants,” Hutchinson said. 

When the eclipse has passed through Houlton, the participants can come back to The Rock and get their stone or crystal. 

“You can take your eclipse exposed rock with you as a special memento of your eclipse experience,” he said. “It’s a great event for children and adults alike.”

To add to the potentially huge visual, they are adding their Beltane – a pagan ceremony of spring and rebirth – pole wrapped in brightly colored ribbons behind the eclipse rock and flying an earth flag to create a visible landmark, Hutchinson said.

Local contractor Josh McLaughlin of McLaughlin Construction in Houlton is helping out with the rocks, including bringing them to the front lawn of the church before the April eclipse. 

“We are looking for some larger irregular rocks from our gravel pit,” McLaughlin said.

The larger boulders will go back to McLaughlin’s gravel pit. And any leftover stones and rocks will go into the outdoor meditation garden behind the church as an ongoing momento to whatever spiritual or cosmic energy might be retained in those stones, Hutchinson said. 

“There will be a special spot in the meditation garden where people can come back and revisit the event,” he said.