Here’s a mystery that rocks

As Devola resident Ines Allen walked along the banks near the Devola Lock in March, she might not have thought twice about seeing the occasional bird or even some early spring fishermen, but she took a second glance when she noticed an unusual and artistic series of rock pilings settled in the sand.

Piled high and balanced against what seemed like unnatural odds, Allen said she had never seen anything like it before.

Now into the summer, trees have filled out and weeds have taken over the small embankment about a half mile from Lock Number 2, but the picturesque rock formations-known formally as cairns-still sit beautifully unharmed.

Allen said while walking her dog one day she finally saw a young man carefully piling rocks up high to create statue-like artwork on the bank of the river, but the artist has not been identified.

“I saw him one time, and he just told me he was bored and doing it for fun,” Allen said. “He had read up and learned how they balanced, and I was shocked that I got to see them.”

The formations, which stand as short as knee height to higher pilings of balanced stones that stand almost four feet tall, have a connection to Canadian Inuit history.

Allen said she found through her own research that cairns similar to the ones found in Devola are known in singular form as inukshuk, from the Inuit word “inunguag,” which means “human form,” as the formations are shaped to look almost like people or living structures.

Nadine Fabbi, a scholar for the University of Washington, wrote a report about the formations, which began as an ancient type of map and now have become a symbol, even used as the logo for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“Inuit are the only people who have used these stone pilings as a central part of navigation,” Fabbi wrote. “Some are constructed strictly to direct the traveler in the right direction, and some are set to indicate an area of danger.”

Or as many rock cairns were used, inuksuits can often be built to commemorate lost lives.

Artist Geoff Schenkel of Resolve Studios in Marietta said the cairns are reminiscent of a style of art inspired by British artist Andy Goldsworthy.

“He would stage naturally found objects in an artistic way in their own environment,” he said. “It emphasized the impermanence of that kind of art, rather than just being something that was meant to be long-lasting.”

Schenkel said the finding should be intriguing to any artist.

“Those can be very striking to see out in nature,” he said. “I used to put out artwork in odd places for people to discover, because as a kid it was something I would have loved to stumble across.”

The wintertime left more accessibility to see the formations, but the steep embankment and large growth of greenery has protected the artwork, which is a small series that closely resemble a sand drip castle or even a carefully crafted game of Jenga.

“It’s quiet, secluded and there’s plenty of material, so it’s the perfect place for them to sit without someone disturbing them,” Allen said.

Their size, detail and longevity, Schenkel said, is nothing short of fascinating.

“I love to know that there’s people in the area that are just being creative in this way, and this speaks to the care that he put it together, because it obviously wasn’t done haphazardly,” he said.

Ryan Smith, owner of the Marietta Adventure Company, said though he kayaks in that area often, he has not yet seen the formations, which can be viewed from the Muskingum River.

“I’ll certainly have to look for them next time I’m down there and point them out, because so far none of our customers have noticed them, or at least have not told us about them,” he said.