After reading Tara Austen Weaver's account, on Tea & Cookies, of her walk through the labyrinth on Lummi Island and the small pile of little things (stones and shells, mostly) that she found there, I started thinking of a similar walk I took a couple of years ago.
In early fall of 2010, my boyfriend and I bicycled out to Governor's Island, on the northern edge of Lake Mendota. We spent a golden afternoon wandering around the edge of the island, and exploring the small trails through the little woods. In one shaded area, I found a small shrine or altar. It was very crude, made of things that one would find on hand there in the woods, but it was still quite recognizable. Sitting on top were a number of small objects, including several dollar coins.
I didn't take any photos, because by that point the late afternoon light was too dim under the cover of the trees, though I wish I could have. I don't know who made the altar, nor for what specific purpose. I certainly didn't touch the objects on the altar, particularly the coins. I figured that, sooner or later, someone would come along, disturb the altar and pocket the coins. But I was not going to be that person.
It isn't uncommon to see roadside shrines: crosses, flowers, maybe balloons or stuffed animals, marking the scene of a fatal accident. It is also pretty common to come across places like the Dickeyville Grotto, which are built with genuine love and respect, but are also pretty public. Something like this, in such a quiet place, stumbled-upon, rather than displayed, seems unique. Yet there are probably just as many quiet, out-of-the-way little altars and shrines as there are in full view. You just have to be there to find them.