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“I’ve been stacking rocks my whole life, but someone recently told me it’s a big no-no. Am I a horrible person?” –Balanced in Boulder
You’re not horrible; you’re human. Flat rocks can inspire all sorts of spontaneous artistic endeavors, and if the moment moves you, hey, go nuts (but do keep erosion in mind; avoid using anything that’s holding up a hill or stream bank). When you’re done marveling at your handiwork, snap a pic and dismantle the masterpiece.
Stacking rocks is pretty harmless as long as you put them back where you found them; the spaces under and between stones serve as mini-habitats for bugs, snakes, and salamanders, all of which can have territories staked out under particular rocks.
But even if you can’t remember exactly where you found a stone, you should still break down your installation—for one, the next hiker to come along might mistake the stack for a cairn and veer off-course. Secondly, art is subjective, and no matter what your mom says, not everyone is going to love yours—especially folks looking for a pristine swath of nature. Your balancing act might help you channel your zen, but it could just as easily upset theirs.
Your penance: If you know you’ve left your rocky signature along a trail or two, we suggest atoning for your well-intended but misplaced art by scanning the next campsite you walk through for microtrash (you know, like bagel tabs and little bits of plastic people tend to miss), and leave the world a little more natural-looking than you found it.