Saturday, July 31, 2010

Stone Story part 8

So Michael," Rhonda asked. "I'm guessing you were 'speaking' to that human, and you were the one who gave him the notion to put you over here onto our stack?"
"Good guess. I hope none of you are too upset.?"
"Do we look upset?" the Squire asked. "We're not even jostled!"
"We're still standing, are we not?" announced Myron.
"Thanks. It's just that up until very recently my power of suggestion has not been working very well. I dont know why. Maybe I'm getting old."
"How long have you been here?"
"Must be well over a century now, and I've never been able to get anyone to move me"
"Nobody has ever picked you up in all that time, or used you with some other stones, say, around a campfire?"
"Nope, no one has even tossed me into the air."
"Poor you." said the Squire "I'd have thought that somebody would have considered you
interesting enough to have taken you home by now."
"I think its because I'm not quartzy enough. Why do they like sparkly stripy stones, and the pinkish ones so much?"
"They like 'decorative' stones," answered Myron. " People are not looking for structure, durability consistency or hardness any more"

"Well what are we going to do now?" asked Rhonda looking up at Myron for direction.

The four stones tossed some ideas around and decided that, as always, it was probably best to wait. They had several other chances that day to get a passerby to notice them and pick them up, but the opportunities slipped away, partly due to Michael's regained influence in the 'humanipulating' department. He was scheming to find ways to get placed on higher balanced stacks of stones, impromptu structures which he kept trying to influence each new passerby to want to build from the many other stones that were laying around. This effort was jamming the message the other three were sending out. They eventually convinced Michael that it would be best if they could all try to work together.

"What do you suppose all these other rocks are doing here anyway?" asked Rhonda.

There was indeed a lot of random piles of rocks dotted around the area.

"It looks like they were all gathered here by someone for a reason" said Myron. He cleared his throat and spoke to the crowd of rocks "Excuse me, I wonder if you could tell us what it is that you are up to?"

"We've all booked a holiday in Eskdale" the boulder of the rocks replied.

"How on earth do you plan to get there?" asked the Squire.

"By air. In the sky! We all got together and arranged a flight. You'll see."

Sure enough it wasnt long after when the saw several trail workers combing the hillside gathering up all the uasable rocks they could find and stuffing them into large sturdy-looking vinyl cargo bags as they approached. They were stockpiling material and getting it ready to be air lifted to be used to repair a retaining wall along the hiking trail on Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.

"Can we come along?" asked Michael. He looked sheepishly at the other three."I've never flown before. I think it would be great fun, dont you?"

"It's not going to get us to Stonecroft" objected Myron.

But it was too late. Two humans drew near carrying a big white bag.

"Look at this Gavin" said the first 'trail builder', pointing to the tower of four balanced stones. "Should we leave them here?"

"Toss 'em in the bag, mate. They're speakin' to me." he said, jokingly.

After that, everything happened so fast. The next thing they knew they, and about 50 other rocks who had all been bunched together in the cargo sack, were being air-lifted by a huge roaring army helicopter up over the Cumbrian countryside.

"Wahoooo!" Michael shouted, as he peered over the side of the bag.

" Careful, you're going to fall out ! " blurted the Squire.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Stone Story part 7

The next morning things were pretty quiet. The rocks had run out of things to say to each other. Myron had rambled on mostly about his past as marker-stone along the Pennine Way. He had that job until being unceremoniously 'removed' (more accurately, stolen) and ended up in Oxford some years later, ironically he was transported back to Cumbria by an English professor, who liked to collect rocks, where they both went into retirement.

Rhonda retold the story of how she had a twin sister and that they had been separated early in life and had not seen each other since they had been split up, which she figured had to be at least 300 million years ago. She hoped one day to be reunited in a wall.

The Squire explained how he'd ended up with his unusual square shape, which in fact had happened when he was in prison. He had been knocked around a lot there and much of the way he thought and looked was for the most part shaped by his experience with the inmates who had been pretty rough on him. When they were finished with him he was too small to be a regulation- size cobblestone and so ended up being 'pitched'. He did the rest of his time (before he went to sea) in a makeshift courtyard outside the main livery stable at Shrewton-by-the Sea.

Later on he and about 2000 ballast stones managed to get themselves loaded in the hull of a merchant sailing ship and enjoyed years of traveling first class visiting many exotic parts of the Caribbean and the eastern coast of North America. His fondest memory was of traveling with some pretty important welsh stone material, slated to be used on the roof of a new church being built in New York city.

His sailing days came to an end when the clipper he was on ran aground off the coast of England. It was about a year later that he and Rhonda met on the beach after a big storm.

Just then Myron heard the noise of some humans coming down the path. There were three of them. The tallest wore a leather cap, a colourful checkered shirt and baggy canvas pants. He was the first to notice the balanced stones. He looked around for some other stones and challenged the other two men to do some balancing of their own.

This was not going the way the three stones had planned.

The men set about precariously stacking stones for about 20 minutes and then the taller man walked over to where the three stones were balanced, carrying a flat stone, and deftly placed it on top of the triangle stone, coaxing it until he found the balancing point.

"What ever made him do that? Rhonda exclaimed.
"Sometimes they just get it in their minds to stack stones without getting any prompting from us at all." Myron reported.

The men continued laughing and joking for a while, threw some stones at the piles they had made (knocking down all but the original one with the new flat stone on top) and then not long afterwards, headed off down the path.

The four stones remained balanced in their new taller configuration for quite some time. No one said a word. Then Michael, the flat stone, broke the silence
"My name is Michael," he said flatly "I don't believe we've met." he added in a completely mono-stone voice.

Before any of them could answer he went on.
"I think this is the most exciting thing that's happened to me in about fifty years."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stone Story part 6

Conveniently, the storm was not long in coming. Rhonda was washed down the side of the hill, followed almost immediately by Myron (the pyramid shaped stone) and after quite a lot more heavy rain washing away parts of the hill, the Squire tumbled down in a slurry of mud to meet them.

They had to wait some time for the ground to dry up and longer until someone came along.

Their plan was simple – catch the attention of a hiker, then have that person 'think' they would like to try to balance the three stones, (not knowing the idea was planted there by the stones) and so get themselves carefully stacked, one on top of the other ,in prominent place, and then hopefully attract another passerby to stop and admire the 'balancing act' and decide to take them home . The balancing part, they thought, wouldn't be too difficult, as anyone with a shred of talent should be able to find the 'zone' fairly quickly, without too many collapses.

"It's always disappointing when they give up before they've even given it a decent try" the Squire thought to himself.

They heard someone coming up the path.

"Shhh, I'll do the communicating" said Rhonda.

A couple of hikers walked by without noticing the stones at all.


"Let me try next time " said the Squire.

"Perhaps we should work together" suggested Myron.

Shortly afterwards, a young man came over the ridge wearing crocks, shorts and a faded burgundy T-shirt with the Japanese symbol 'ishi' printed on the front. (The word for stone)

"Looks like we're in luck." Myron whispered.

They caught his attention and it wasn't long before he was placing the stones in different configurations on the ground. Eventually he thought to try balancing them one on another. After a couple of failures, he made a reasonable three stone tower, and then stood back admiring his work. Rhonda and the Squire thought he was staring far too long at what he had made, considering the skill level required to produce such a simple balancing act.

"Let's hope he doesn't knock us down before he goes" said the Squire
"No chance of that " said Rhonda. "He's too pleased with himself."

Sure enough the young man dusted off his shorts and wiped his hands and proceeded on his way leaving the stone tower for someone else to discover.

"We should be able to stay balanced this way for a while" Myron informed them "As long as the wind doesn't come up."

They all three concentrated on staying as still as they could.
The Squire had the most trouble not moving. He was trying his hardest not to scratch. It was no good. He gave in and shimmied on one corner to alleviate the itch. The three of them nearly toppled over.
The other two peered down at him disapprovingly.
"Stop Rocking" Rhonda snapped.

"Seriously? I ask you. " he creaked back "How can you ask a rock to not rock? It's like asking a fly not to fly. It's what we do, for goodness sake!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stone Story part 5

The three stones, having decided it would be good to see what could be done about a troublesome 'fake-stone' wall, which they were told had been built not far from Stonecroft Cottage, now had to figure out a way to get there.

For millions of years, before humans, there were only a few ways for rocks to get around. With the aid of gravity they were restricted to fairly random migrations along rivers, or over longer cross-country routes traveling 'in the company of other stones', by way of glaciers. Most often stone 'movement' consisted of sliding down sides of hills and mountains with the help of normal types of erosion. In short, their movement was fairly restricted, particularily in any upward direction. Now and then, if one was lying close to a fault-line which was about to 'heave', a rock could catch the 'updraft' on what would then become the side of a cliff, to find themselves happily higher than the adjoining geological plate. Other than these forms of propulsion, stones moved imperceptibly slow for millions of years.

It was when humans came along that things really started to change. Especially when some of the smarter rocks discovered ways to get them to do what they wanted. Over time, more and more rocks learned the basics of 'humanipulation' and were not only able to travel more efficiently, but also found ways to have them 'do their building', and so create the entire realm of impressive stone structures that we see today. Around the world, a devoted strata of stone and bedrock developed a non-verbal 'litho-language' and so through history imparted their creative influence on men. Their strategy was simple - to be lifted up and to be stacked in meaningful arrangements where they could be fully appreciated - basically so that, for a few thousand years at least, they could attain the stature and respect they deserved.

Did not one of their own poets write...

The dance of repose.
The recumbent pause of we the inanimate.
Except for a brief ion of activity.
(For such a great mass, only insignificant rumblings, really)
Mostly stillness.

Except for placement,
For slight rearrangements,
The occasional pyramid, or great wall, or stone fortification.
Enough time to be shaped into cathedrals and bridges and complex cites of stone.

But before and then, after...
Mostly waiting.

"I say we catch the next torrential downpour, slide down that other side of the hill, over to that footpath there, and then get someone to pick us up. " said the Squire.

To be continued...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Stone Story part 4

"Ah yes, there are some good wallers out there - ones who 'listen to stones', but I am afraid most have joined another rebel clan. We stones are living in a time of great danger where a whole generation of humans have forgotten about the 'bond' which has existed between us for thousands of years. I refer specifically to the plague of so called 'masons' - men who are nothing more than rock thieves and stone traders, who catch and imprison the likes of us, merely for the purpose of sticking them together to drape over their houses and decorate their walls with."

"I have only heard of such things, but never believed it to be true." the Squire said as he shifted his weight from one side to the other. " I have only been used in structural structurally with a comfortable lime mortar bedding to breath and move"

"This other 'modern masons' use a kind of cement is so hard it causes damage to the stones," said the triangular stone, "and they that have been besmeared are scared for life with this horrid 'cement of portent'. The poor stones locked in such a wall have no life at all. They are all bunched together in suspended aggregation.

"How wall full ! " Rhonda gasped

"Yes it is. For surely these things are not cement to be." The triangle stone said looking down at the ground, grimly shaking his apex.

After a long pause he went on " But there is a new wall I must tell you about, though I dare to call it such, something I watched being amassed to my amazement. It is constructed not of local stones or natural material, but of some kind of 'shamrock', a 'phony stone' which is held together with a concoction horrible and sticky. I think 'tis called 'landscape glue'. And yet neither it, nor the wall itself, holds the landscape together at all. It is an affront to the background and a distraction to the eyes. And yet, I am told, this 'impostor wall' is only one of many to soon reach our land. We rocks must try and stop this invasion."

He stared at them gravely. " It is for this reason that I have waylaid you, so that I might inquire your assistance."

"How can we help?" the cube-shaped stone asked.

"I am not sure exactly, but I believe there must be some way for us to undo this spectre of a wall and ensure that nothing like it is ever built in these parts again."

" And where is this 'pretend wall'?" Rhonda asked.

" Not far from here - about a stone's throw from Stonecroft Cottage. I am hoping you will both come with me there to see what can be done?"

" But we are bound for yonder valley to join with our brothers and sisters in the dry stone wall you see being built off in the distance there. We should not delay any longer than needs be."

" I know, I know, but this slight diversion will not 'hold you up' for long, certainly nowhere near as long as those other stones will, when, after this adventure, you all shall be joined in a beautiful wall and enjoying being 'held up' together for a long time."

She paused and then turned to consult the square stone who was staring down longingly towards the walling activity below and asked him " What do you think, Squire?"

" As much as it would be nice to be down there with our kin," the Squire sighed " I suppose we should consider the imploring of our new friend and inspect this 'wall' of which he speaks. "

Monday, July 26, 2010

Stone Story part 3

They were perched, ready to roll further down the hill towards the group of wallers, when they heard a voice call out for them to 'weight'. They were surprised to discover that they had been followed by an odd shaped rock, neither square shaped nor spherical, but strangely triangular. He was as short of breath as he was in stature. They noticed that he wasn't 'dressed' well either. There were some chip marks and patches of unevenness where he had obviously had some rough breaks. His faces were worn and tired looking.

"I hope I didn't give you two a fright." he said, leaning towards them awkwardly.
"Not at all" They both replied politely.
"Ah good" he sighed and added "You see, when I saw you two roll by, I thought to myself, there go a couple of rocks who wouldn't mind being 'put upon' by a common rock such as myself."
"We too, are merely common rocks." answered the Squire, who was grateful for the opportunity to stop and talk. "We don't mind being put upon, do we Rhonda?"
"Not at all." she said.

"You know," the triangle-shaped stone went on, "We rocks have to stick together. There are plenty of enemies out there."
" Too true." They both replied. It was the only thing either of them could think to say, though Rhonda was starting to worry just how cracked the old stone actually was.
" I shudder to think about it sometimes. All those unpleasant lichen sapping our strength, the mangling mobs of moss smothering our faces, the infernal freeze thaw cycles that are so upsetting, the constant rubs and abrasions, and well... how does Slatespear put it ? Ah yes, - the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." he stopped and thought a moment.." I myself have been slung from a sling on more than one occasion and suffered great misfortune at the hands of some would-be David."
"Really," said the Squire in disbelief.
"We have mostly had good dealings with humans" said Rhonda."We kept one for years on our property in Ambleside. He wasn't a very good gardener so we never saw him that much. He stayed in his house and kept to himself mostly."
"I'll admit " added the Squire "they do move annoyingly fast and are pretty 'shallow' as a species, and they make a lot of noise - but you get used to it"
"Occasionally you find one or two with enough patience that you can teach them a thing or two about building a good stone wall" added Rhonda " but most of them don't get it."

To be continued...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stone Story part 2

'The Squire' as she called him, ( the cube shaped rock ), stopped and faced Rhonda. (the round one) "It's too bad really," he said, gritting his teeth "cousin Rocky would have made a great problem-solver stone in the wall"

They had been talking about how Rocky had missed the 'boat' and had never been chosen to be fitted into any walls. The Squire was now wondering what their chances were of getting chosen.

Rhonda saw a shadow come over his flat face.

" Look at you. You're thinking they won't put you in the wall, are'nt you?" she said in her graveliest voice, as she tried to encouraged him. "Listen, you may be old, but you're as hard and strong as you ever were. And you've got a handsomely chiseled face. So don't go all flakey on me now and let's just get a move on." Then she added "If anyone should be worrying it is me. Look at me. My entire makeup is all patchy and uneven. "
" Yes but you have the nice curves, my dear. You have a lovely contour."
" That may be so, but I've heard they sometimes don't like to build with round stones. They think they're too difficult to work with."
" That's a load of rubble." the Squire said, consoling her now.

She moved over and leaned on him gently.
" Do you think they'll put us together? " she asked.
" I don't see why not, we make a great pair " he answered proudly, in his best phony Scottish accent.
" Seriously, sometimes they don't like to put round rocks with squarish ones. They break them up. I've heard the round ones are sent off to the hard laborers who's job it is to smash them up for the heartless wallers."
" Dont worry my dear, if anyone can get around that problem, it's you." the Squire said, sensing her sphere. "Where as me, I'm just as common as they come, square as a brick and about as lovable. When they put too many of us together we make a pretty bland wall. Sad really. Of course that kind of coursing is done all the time. It's completely structural, but oh I do like to see the round ones mixed in with the square ones" He sighed.

They continued slowly down the side of a long fell and after what seemed like eternity they were at the crest of a gentle hill overlooking the valley. Another week or two, with some good erosion, they might get to the bottom.
" Look " she said "We're almost there! "
Below them, they could just see a group of wallers fitting stones into a magnificently long dry stone wall that stretched far up the valley and off into the distance.
'That's so beautiful!' thought the Squire.
" Come on " she said "We haven't got forever.....

To be continued.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Stone Story 1

A round rock and a square rock went for what was not a very fast roll one fine year. The square rock was having trouble keeping up.
"You are rolling far too quickly for me my dear."
" Am I ? " she replied.
" Yes, " he said rather straight faced " I wonder if you could slow down the pace a bit ?"
" We will never get there if we don't get a roll on. "
" That's fine for you to say. It's not so easy for me to rock and roll the way I used to, you know. I would really prefer to stop for breaks now and then. "
" Who has time for breaks anymore? " she asked, as she spun around and faced him " If we rocks want to make it and get ahead in this day and age, we have to be movers and shakers. We have to make use of every eon that we are given. In any case, you know as well as I do that it's much harder to get going again after you've stopped."
" I know I know, it's just that one misses so much, tumbling along at this speed."
" Misses things like what, the ground?" she asked rockingly
" Not just that, there's the beautiful view over there, the grass, the trees, and the sky,- look at that sky ! "
" Oh you're such a square." she said tenderly and smiled at him, as if to say in her own round about way 'I still love you, you old block head' .
He, not seeing her face, just carried on.
" Why do we need to rush anyway? There's sure to be a place for us in the wall when we get there"
" Did you forget what happened nearly two millennia ago to your cousin rocky ?" she asked in a less nice 'stone of voice'.
" I do, I do, but it was his own fault." the square rock replied as he came round the corner. " He was dying to get into Hadrians wall, but they didn't want to use him because he looked like a trouble maker."
" He was too late, too. The wagon was already full of volunteers" she reminded him. " You can be in great shape, but if you don't show up on time you're gonna miss the stone boat."

To be continued.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Feeling good about the way it turned out.

While most indoor fireplaces obviously can't be built 'dry laid', an outdoor fireplace can actually incorporate dry stone elements into much of the design. As long as the fire box and and smoke channel is well sealed using mortar and masonry bricks and clay flues it will work well. However with proper attention to a close fitting of the stones and brickwork, (to ensure that the smoke travels out through the chimney the way it should) the entire fireplace presumably could be dry laid. If the work is carefully done and the design is not too 'Fred Flintstoney' the result can be quite stunning.

The fireplace we completed recently in Ontario is looking pretty sweet. Up until now we have only done more open concept campfire-type fireplaces - ones with circular dry stone seating areas. We were quite happy with the results of this free-standing 'Rumford' type and how close it looked to the original Sketchup design.

There is an appealing curved space created by the outer side walls of the structure that facilitates a cozy sitting area. The height of the walls gives some protection from the west wind. The structure sits at a high point on about 20 acres, overlooking a green valley with hills running further to the north. It took about 25 tonnes of material. Our hope is to build a smaller version of this one during the four days of Rocktoberfest this October in Landon Bay Park, near the famous 1000 Islands vacation area in Ontario. If you are interested in helping on this festival project please let us know.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Maneuver Board

There are times when a wooden board or two come in handy. A big stone is not as scary if you know you may not have to dead lift it to get it into a wall. By simply rolling or walking it up a plank the process becomes much easier. Dry stone walling is not about breaking your back, it is about letting physics and the stones work for you.

Scaffolding has been useful in two of the latest projects we have been working on. We stood on planks to be able to lift the stones higher on the chimney we were building last week, and this week we placed the heavy roof tile flagstones on the small shed we are working on using scaffolding. When standing on planks it's convenient too having a higher 'working area' at waist height. The planks act as a stone table. Caution must be taken while working up higher. Most walls don't require a lot of thinking about stones falling from where we are working on to somebody below. A load of stones piled on scaffolding boards is not something you treat lightly.

Last weekend we moved a huge stone we found on the property by three of us rolling it up two boards into a pickup truck. The boards swung upwards ( like a catapult) as the weight reached the top of the truck bed. They protruded like diving boards off the tail gate. We were going to have to lift and roll the big stone further back into the truck box in order to pull the boards out, when we realized their position was useful for when we would be unloading the stone. By merely driving to the wall (with the boards sticking out) and then backing up to the wall, the stone could be rolled onto the wall without any extra lifting.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hands up all who are not in favour.

Except for councilor Fudge the town council in Port Hope voted unanimously in favour of not honouring Farley Mowat, by squashing a proposal supported by a growing movement of people (in Canada and around the world ) requesting that the name of the small residential street that leads to the dry stone boat built in his honour in 2006 be changed. (see Handmade Craft Percy street has only one house on it, and that resident is also in favour of the name change. Extensive research including delving into the town archives gave no definitive indication to who or what the present street name refers to.

A number of Farley supporters showed up at the council meeting last night hoping that the town would see fit to have the area in town where the boat roofed house is situated, have a little higher profile, by changing Percy Street to 'Farley Mowat Way'. The proposal which was put forward by local resident Stephen Smith and former town councilor John Moran, had been shelved many times in the past, however it was still hoped by many of us attending last night's meeting, that a favourable decision would be made, which would see internationally known author Farley Mowat, a long-time resident of Port Hope, 'recognized' for his contributions to Canada while he is still alive.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Drip-Drystone Walling.

The large outdoor fireplace that we have been working all last week is starting to take shape. This unusual dry stone structure has given us the opportunity to stretch our walling skills a bit more. It is being built on a concrete pad so the batter does not need to be as much as a traditional dry laid wall or terrace. The 'bones' of the fireplace were done in block first, to which we have added a herringbone firebrick liner and a dry stone hearth, with two large flagstones creating a mirrored seating area either side. The exterior cladding using boulders and random quarried limestone tailings are all dry laid, as is the segmented arch over the actual fireplace opening. (That's 'segmented', not 'cemented' )

We are now finishing off the elliptical curved chimney (echoing the shape of the ramparts Akira and I worked on in Ventura California) to a height of four and a half feet above the damper. The walls which surround the 3 clay flue tiles, which were set over the firebox opening, step in from six feet width to four feet, where thick flagstone caps will give the fireplace a unified stately look. The whole shape is taking on a striking presence framed amidst the background landscape of Northumberland County rolling hills.

While it was not quite as hot working on the fireplace today as it was last week, the new in-ground pool we are working beside continues to be quite a 'handy' perk to this project. We have been granted the luxury of using it anytime the temperatures get really uncomfortable. As you can see from the photo, there is no question that 'drip-dry' stone walling is way cooler, and far less wrinkly looking, than 'hot and sweaty' dry stone work.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The new 'Insta-wall', The instructions on the rocks say "Just add waller"

Scott and Cindy Cluett got a new wall over the weekend. A couple of us from the DSWAC drove 3 1/2 hours from Port Hope to their property near Crysler Ontario and helped teach walling participants how to build a free standing dry stone wall. Wilder and Mark joined us from the Ottawa area. Larry and Corrine came in from Russia ! Ben and Martine from down the road in Russell and Doug joined the party from Kanata, Ontario. By the end of the second day there was a tall section of beautiful dry stone wall completed along Morewood Road for people to see when they drive by.

As Joe and I drove back late Sunday, after having spent the whole weekend away helping build the Cluett's wall, we discovered that pretty much every thing looked the same, back in Port Hope. On the other 'hand', people driving back to Ottawa down county Rd 13 after spending the weekend in say, Port Hope, won't be saying 'nothing much changed around here since we were away'!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Thinks like a rock.

Hi John
Still trying to source enough 'pre-made' hearting for the workshop coming up this weekend. However I also have had someone volunteer to come and 'make' hearting on Saturday. Mark Lovell was a student during the first week of last year's dry stone bridge course in Russell. Deep voiced, bald fellow. Nice guy. Is this ok by you? Having someone volunteer to do the labour-intensive job of making hearting during the workshop sounded like a pretty good deal to me.

Hi Scott
Yes that's great. I remember Mark. He's a great guy. look forward to seeing him again. I recall he balanced stones with the children at the 2008 festival when we were building the beehive hut and he built this neat arch with them. He certainly loves stones. Thinks like a rock. I have this picture of him (the back of his dusty head and this rock next to it ) when he was working at the bridge course . The comparison is kind of re'mark'able.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trying to grasp why there isn't more of a hands-on excitement about dry stone walling here in Canada.

Im trying to figure out why people choose 'wall-ternatives' to walls like this one we built in Port Hope nearly 7 years ago. I guess maybe Im asking the question - why don't more people build with stone in the dry stone method, or at least, if they dont know how to or don't want to learn how, why don't more people hire a professional waller to build a permanent wall or a garden feature for them on their own property?

And especially why would anyone choose this alternative, built of modular concrete blocks only to have it fall down?

I am very curious about this. It certainly isnt a matter of cost. Is it that people don't know dry stone walling can be done, and that it lasts a long time, and that these dry laid walls have been around for thousands of years? Is it that Canadians don't understand that there are many intersting applications where dry laid stone would be a far better choice? Have they not seen enough dry stone examples in their travels to other countries, or thought about the many structural/aesthetic applications that are possible here in Canada. Maybe they have never been shown any good examples of dry stone work near them.

I suspect that the marketers of manufactured steel and concrete products have so permiated the landscape industry that people don't even consider a more natural, more traditional stone building method or feel they need to see any other alternative terracing or walling options. Or perhaps people are just waiting a few more years to see if that recently built beautiful dry laid wall they drive by everyday, is going to fall down, before they make the call and get someone to build them one on their property. Have they not seen enough leaning, cracked, fallen down, concrete walls yet to think about an alternative?

Or maybe within the modern human psyche there is a built in resistance to the whole concept of random stones sticking together on their own without some sort of manmade adhesive. People may actually be predisposed to disliking anything natural. If it can't be bought form Home Depot, Wall-mart or a local 'Cultured Stone' supply store, how could it possibly be a good product? The colours might not be consistent. They might fade. It might be the end of the batch. The sizes might be totally random and natural. Some stones might be too big looking and others with crazy markings might jump out at you. And as for having a dry stone arch or sculpture on your property, well thats just crazy. Wouldn't the money be better spent on a concrete fountain or huge armourstone water feature?

Friday, July 16, 2010

You might like to try your hand at Sketchup.

Again talking about Sketchup - the second phase of the dry stone church ruins we built in Beaverton was completed in May of 2009. My helper Joe Mitchell and I spent a week and added the north wall to the nave, creating another full gothic window and two other openings in the wall, where it was supposed to look like there had been other windows. ( The thing about making 'ruins' is that you can decide it is 'finished' at any stage of the building of it! )

My good friend Stephen Smith and I came back and revisited the project a month later to inspect it. I took this picture of him leaning on the concrete fountain. This was a fountain I never liked, by the way, and generally tried to not have it any of the photos I took of the ruins. (I can remove it in Sketchup by simply deleting it)

Some of the really interesting features in Sketchup are the many textures you can add to the objects in your drawing. It comes preloaded with this excellent stone pattern which I've applied to these walls. You can make your own stone textures to 'paint' on any Sketchup drawings of walls and buildings you've created by simply sampling photos of your own real stonework (you've created) and importing them into the program. The 'shadows' feature (which can be set in real time, to the month and day) is a clever application too and adds so much to a 3 D Sketchup file . Here I have programmed the shadows as they would have been on the day I took the photo of Stephen. It's interesting how closely they match.

You can imagine how satisfying a feeling it is to get the opportunity to do a realistic drawing of something this big and then actually build it and see it in real life, 'set in stone', so to speak. I think it is similar to how a composer might feel after hearing his symphony he wrote played for the first time by an entire orchestra. You should give it a try.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Happy Marriage of 'Rendering' and 'Realization'.

On the theme of Sketchup once again, I include the picture of the design (in Sketchup done in February of 2008) and a photo of the finished Church Ruins which we completed the first phase of that same year at the end of May 2008. We were pleased to see how close the dry stone folly looked to the drawing.

The idea for the church with gothic windows and door was presented to me by Rick and Dale Doner. It was to be the backdrop for their son's wedding. The Doners sent me lots of pictures of walls and churches in Ireland that they had visited and liked and Rick did a rough drawing of what he envisioned.

I was new to Sketchup and played around trying to visualize it in three D and then 'locate' it (actually 'stick' it on a satellite image of the property) on Google maps. It was very gratifying not only to get the church ruins drawing as exact and pleasing looking using the Sketchup program, but also to get the structure built to match that drawing so accurately. I had to climb up a high extension ladder (in real life) on the day we finished the first phase of the ruins, in order to get the same birds-eye shot for the comparison photo, an angle which is far less difficult to achieve with a mouse, using the 'orbit tool' in Sketchup.

Thanks to the vision of the Doners and the tremendous work Joe and Evan put into it, with some great help from other wallers like Dean,Reid,Mike and Phil, the 'church ruins' dry stone project ended up looking really stunning.

The wedding, which was held later that summer apparently was a great success too. Rick and Dale sent me several pictures of the event, and while this one shot seems a little over the top, it does give an indication of how the new/old dry stone ruins fit in and how monumental a part it played in the whole marriage ceremony.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Computer Drawn, and looking finished - but not quite Hand Built yet.

I highly recommend a program that you can download from Google called Sketchup. It is amazing. By watching a few detailed tutorials (most of them on utube ) and then just a little practice you can begin to start drawing not just 3 dimensional objects, but whole scenes with buildings and cars and people. I have been using it for over two years now and am finding it invaluable for showing clients what their dry stone projects are going to look like.

By dropping an imported picture from Sketchup onto a photograph of the property and then manipulating it in Photoshop I can make a pretty convincing image of what a wall or terrace is going to look like in the proposed setting. I like to use Sketchup even if the client has already given us the go ahead to do a wall. Any reason to experiment with the program and get better at it is appreciated. A future job presents new opportunities to practice and learn new functions and techniques. I am nowhere as good as the many people out there who submit amazing stuff to the Sketchup online 'Warehouse' for everyone to look at and even incorporate into their own 3 D files.

Looking through the warehouse you come across amazing stuff - castles skyscrapers cars gardens landscapes ships jets bridges you name it, all in amazing three dimensional detail. These are all files you can download and then with the Orbit tool hover around and view from any position.

I usually like to 'impressionize' the final rendering I do of a proposed project to actually make it look less realistic. I find if I make it too life-like it sometimes spoils the impact for the client and can even produce an opposite result. I suspect at least once that a detailed realistic drawing I did became an end in itself, as the people I drew it for no longer needed a real wall - just a picture of one in front of their house to look at and show their friends, was good enough!

I drew this picture of the outdoor fireplace we have started building this week in Baltimore so that the clients could see better the changes to the original design I proposed. It has some complicated planes and angles in it so it was worth drawing out carefully in Sketchup to see if it would work from every angle. Peter, the owner, gave us the go-ahead based on this design and probably his satisfaction with all the walls we have done already on the property. Later this week I hope post some pics on how our work is coming along and how it compares with the drawing.

Let me know if any of you are using Sketchup.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It was Henry Thoreau's birthday yesterday.

Is there anyone who studies or mingles or works with stone, who doesn't feel an affinity with lichen? There is a relationship there, which Thoreau aptly 'touches' on when he writes..“I seem to see somewhat more of my own kith and kin in the lichens on the rocks than in any books.” (Journal: 15 December 1841 Writings* Volume 7, page 296.)

It is as if we see something of our own nature and detect a hint of our distant origins in these natural 'living petroglyphs'.

Like our lives, lichen is a mystery. No amount of reading or research on the internet can adequately explain either away. We share a common lacy existence, clinging in marvelous manifestations to this our rocky planet – only on different scales.

All these crazy in-your-face colours jump off the surfaces of the rocks and bury themselves in the collective mind . The patterns have textures which like three dimensional fractals spread and overlap and curl upwards in layers like tiny pages of time itself.

Who could scrawl such appropriate graffiti on these sacred rocks and stones? Who could paint such convincing visions of the etherial? What hand could create such likenesses from nothingness and silence.

I foolishly hold my hand steady, paint brush poised and wait for inspiration and guidance. I hope to 'tune into' the beginnings of some new detail to this cosmic doodle. Perhaps the muse will show me, move me, teach me some small stroke, some decorative gesture, that I may add to this uncelebrated yet timeless work of art. Ah, but I see I will be here a long time. Try as I may I suspect I shall never understand the essence of such beauty. Ah lichen, what shall I liken thee to?