December 17, 2020

Rock cairns, reflections and lessons from 2020

2020 has been an uncertain, difficult time bringing a variety of challenges. Chris Cussen shares some reflections on the year, including some lessons that have been a highlight for her and might also be for you.

This blog article was written by Chris Cussen, a Senior Advisor in the Therapeutic Services of the Australian Childhood Foundation.


A friend introduced me to proper hiking when I was in my early 20s. I learned about things like switchbacks, trangias, scroggin, gaiters, and cairns as a part of this new adventure. Cairns are my favourite. They are little piles of rocks that people build and leave along trails in the bush. I remember first coming across one of these mini-towers and thinking it looked a bit magical. My friend informed me that they are for navigation; strategically placed markers for when the trail thins out and it isn’t clear which way to go next. They have a long history in many cultures as navigational aids. This information made me love these little towers even more. The idea that people build cairns for those who pass by after them is community-minded and benevolent. I always feel assured and boosted when I see a cairn along a trail; like someone has cared about me and is assuring me that I’m still on the right path.

rock cairns, reflections and lessons from 2020I have felt stuck and unsure along the path of 2020. It’s been such an uncertain, difficult time trying to balance changing working conditions, lockdowns, as well as parenting and homeschooling two small children. I have felt concerned about added pressure in the lives of already vulnerable children, young people and families across this time. Many families were already holding on by the skin of their teeth without the blindside of a pandemic. There have been times this year when I have felt like our collective trail has thinned out and it has been difficult to see a way forward.

As we tick over to 2021, I feel thankful for the many little ways we helped each other to get through 2020. Like cairns on an unclear trail, people in our community took the time to leave little encouraging markers and messages for each other to carry on. I wonder if you noticed any across the year? Here are some of the cairns that my family have encountered in 2020:

  • Our neighbours sharing food and conversations
  • Care packages arriving in the mail from friends and family
  • Lockdown recipes, activities and craft ideas posted online
  • Local Spoonvilles, ‘Where’s Wally trails’, and toys displayed in front windows
  • People organising zoom catch-ups
  • Podcasts and Spotify playlists
  • Authors reading storybooks online for children
  • Take away food offerings from our favourite local cafes
  • People around us following the lockdown rules and wearing masks

I am very grateful to have encountered these little helpful and hopeful markers along the way this year. With vaccines on the horizon, it is feeling like a pathway out of COVID is finally becoming clear. In saying that, I know we can count on the trail becoming uncertain again in future times. However, if 2020 has taught me anything it’s that we can also count on people to build cairns for one another when it does.