Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Seeing by hand.




One of the most moving moments involving stones and hands happened in Seattle at the North West Flower and Garden show. We had completed a dry stone arch and a slanted wall in the three days leading up to the opening of the show, forming a dramatic entrance way to a lovely garden display which had been created by Exteriorscapes the landscape company that had hired us to come and do the dry laid work . The show was in its second day and it was late in the evening. I had been standing most of the day, watching but not talking to many people who visited the show, as it seemed more appropriate to stand back and let the landscapers handle questions about their exhibit.

I found myself studying the people as they walked by the arch, watching them stop to inspect the garden arch and then usually, take pictures and stand back to admire it some more.

The crowd had thinned out just before closing time when I noticed a interesting couple moving over towards the arch. He was a blind man and the woman who was obviously his wife was talking to him and describing for him everything in the show. They stopped at the arch and she spoke for several minutes and then took his hand and guided it over the contour of the stones in the arch.

His wife stopped talking as the stones started speaking to him. In the quietness of the moment we watched him feel along the the line of the stones suspended in an arc above his head. I sensed in my own limited way the energy, the wonder and the complex structural information that was being transmitted from the stones to his hands and on to the rest of his body. A smile came over his face as she explained to him that the stones were only supported by their own weight.

Those few moments as I stood there watching the couple 'experiencing' that arch have become a treasured memory. I have built quite a few arches since then, but I have never seen one as clearly as I did that evening through a blind man's hands.



Monday, August 30, 2010

Shadowlandscaping




The exuberant shadows of the seven participants at yesterday's dry stone wall workshop at Ferris Provincial Park near Campbellford Ontario Canada follow the contours of the stones that create the flat plane of the new wall the DSWAC students have just completed. The old wall was fallen down and had no defined planes or cohesion. The new wall has geometry and structure.

A shadow falling on a random collection of rocks can loose its definition and give no indication of who or what is making it. By contrast, random-shaped rocks arranged and fitted carefully allow the eye to recognize shades and patterns and understand what is causing the play of light and dark.

Speaking of play, the learning has been fun. All the stones and the hands have worked together well on this wall. Much of the weekend has involved the acquiring of new spatial skills where the mind has had to let the hands be involved in the discovery process and do a lot the thinking. It's a learning process that is truly 'contour-intuitive'.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Putting the gloves back on.



I spent yesterday working with seven students rebuilding a one hundred year old wall near Campbellford, Ontario. The wall is part of a network of walls at Ferris Provincial Park. The original land was owned by the Ferris family and about 15 miles of walls were built when the land was cleared starting about 1896. This is the second year the DSWAC has been involved in restoring these historic walls. Many of them are very wide 'consumption walls' which helped to store the vast amounts of stone that came out of the limestone bedrock every year up through the shallow soil.

The 35 feet of wall we are repairing in the park at this workshop has had about a third of the stones stolen or removed for other purposes over the last 60 years. Luckily the walls are still wide enough that there is enough material to rebuild them to their original height in the same style using the original stone.

Speaking of original. These are old metal maple syrup buckets which we are using to hold our hearting. Carol Robertson, one of the Friends of Ferris, provided these antique buckets for the workshop. They sure look better than the plastic ones we normally use. We like to think they would have been used around the same time as the walls were originally built. Not only will these stones add to the structural composition of the wall, sitting in these beautiful metal buckets they make a nice composition for a photo too.

Below is a photo of the wall with the three step stile we repaired last year, along with the string line set up for the new stretch we are fixing this year. Local vet and workshop participant Kathy Wilkins is putting on the gloves to put in one more hour of work which then ends this first wonderful day of walling at the park.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Don't knock it until you've tried it.




Our dry stone entrance pillar we built recently near Baltimore Ontario got clipped yesterday. A large truck took the turn too close to the new gate entranceway and dislodged several of the stones. Ian, the driver was very upset and genuinely sorry. He told us he likes dry stonework a lot. He had needed to make a tight turn around the pillar and accidently caught the corner of the structure with the back of the truck. We were working on the north side of the entrance way and looked up too late to stop the damage from happening. Had it been a concrete gate it would have toppled over.

Ian figured the column would have to be rebuilt from about three and a half feet up at least. We were pleased to tell him that it wasn't necessary and that with any luck we could 'bump' the stones back into position. Which is what we did, with the aid of a sturdy scaffolding board. Ian was relieved to see he wouldn't have to to tell his boss about what had happened.

I remember a similar thing happening in Seattle at the N.W. Flower and Garden Show. We had built a dry stone arch there as a garden feature entrance to one of the displays. One evening just before the opening of the show a bobcat while backing up with a bucket of top soil
caught the side of the arch. It nearly knocked out one of the main voussoirs stones in the arch. The triangular stone stuck out precariously from the rest of the structure. We managed to carefully knock it back in with a 4 by 4. The arch looked fine again and people were able to safely walk under it during the entire show. If the arch had been a solid concrete or mortared structure, the whole thing would have fallen over when it was violently knocked by the bobcat.


It was the same thing with the truck incident yesterday. Dry laid structures 'yield' rather than crack and fall over when they are struck or shaken or subjected to heaving. Anyone researching the effects of seismic activity on manmade structures would do well to look into the merits of dry stone construction.


The walls and pillar don't look too worse for wear.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Okay, you rocks. It's break time.




Yoko is the name of a very large 20 pound sledge hammer we use to break up really really big stones. She can break huge chunks of granite and limestone, and any other type of rock we come across in our day to day work of building dry stone walls. My friend Evan Oxland bought this beauty in Ottawa, at Preston's Hardware ( a great place to buy well-crafted masonry tools) He gave her that name in deference to Yoko Ono who was powerful enough to be able to break up the greatest rock group in history.

Yoko does a good job, but like other smaller sledge hammers she still has to be swung carefully. Accuracy, not just strength, is needed to split a big rock the way you want it to break. If it is done right, a large rock will yield two halves. These halves will usually have flat straight faces running at right angles to the length of the original stone. These split stones can then be laid structurally along a wall, with their faces showing out. Most often (at least with the quarried flattish limestone material we usually break up) a stone will break better if it is hit off to the side of the middle. If hit in the very middle, it will break into several pieces that are often too small or too triangular to be useful as builders.

To get a crisp long break it is best to hit the rock near its edge, (but not so near that it just chips a chunk off the side) When hit properly the break will spread in one long straight line across the stone. By contrast if the rock is hit in the middle, it will often break spreading cracks out from the point of impact along several radiating lines, creating half a dozen, less useful, short triangle pieces.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Twisted Sisters.



The twisted Sketchup preliminary drawing



The real twisted thing, completed yesterday.



Twisted brothers and twisted sisters.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pillars of the Perverse


Speaking of twisted things, here is a photo I just came across recently of our dry stone helix being built in Garden Hill, Ontario, an unusual structure which I designed and was fortunate enough to have skilled members of the DSWAC ( Reid Snow, Evan Oxland, Patrick Callon and Stephen Nevin ) come and try to build it at the 2008 Northumberland Dry Stone Wall Festival. Like the two pillars we are building today, this was very tricky to figure out, especially how much to 'twist' the two walls as they curved upwards. The ten flat long stone rungs held the ascending walls in place and stopped the 'rubble helix' from falling over.

Our two tisted pillars were coming along well, but every stone has to be placed and shaped and repositioned several times before feeling good about it actually looking 'right'. (As if a twisted pillar can ever actually look right?) But seriously, this has turned out to be more awkward than we first realized. Recently we have been doing a lot of weird pillars. Entrance gate columns with curving Japanese style contours at one job, another one that had water flowing out from the top of it, two others that were over 6 feet tall and 4 feet thick. I'm thinking of calling this chapter in my life Pillars of the Peverse.

As promised, here are two visualizations I drew yesterday in Sketchup of this new 'twisted' project, to try to figure out how it would look - and, based on what we saw, how we would go about building it.



Below is a picture of how far we have come today on one of the pillars.



It looks like who ever was building this pillar was drunk! We have ended up using rebar as batter guides, twisting them clockwise and held in place at the top with a square piece of plywood rotated 45 degrees to the base and held with duct tape (you cant see that in this picture) Bungee cord string-lines help us to line up our stones with the 'splayed' geometry of the twisted sides.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How do we handle a wall with a twist?

Today we embarked on a project involving building 'spiral' dry stone pillars. They will form the posts for a small decorative fence which roses will then grow up on. There will be a middle pillar which is oriented 45 degrees to the line of the fence. The outer two are aligned with their bases parallel to the line of the rails but then turn a full 45 degrees by the time they reach the top.

Building spiral structures is always a challenge. I remember doing the first 'twisted arch' at the Fergus Highland games in Ontario in 2004.

The idea of 'twisting' an arch as it connects two ends of a curved dry stone wall sheepfold was a structural challenge I presented to dry stone wallers in N.A. Scotland and England back in 2003, to see if it really could be done.


Norman Haddow and I tried building a model of it at first with sugar cubes and potatoes cut into small twisted cube shaped voussoirs, to see if it could be done. We did this while I was staying with him in the bothy at Balmoral Castle when I worked with him there in 2003 . It worked briefly but the sugar cubes began dissolving with the juice from the potatoes. We built it again on the top of the television using only potatoes cut in cubes. It was a complete success. Norman announced triumphantly. "Look, it's on TV"


The next year at the Fergus games I and members of the DSWAC managed to do it. The twisting shape of a wall went over a 3 foot arch span and turned a full quarter rotation. Combined with the circular part of the wall it effectively created a dry stone 'mobius sheepfold'. It took a lot of right brain activity and considerable dexterity to build. We had a pretty exciting time attempting it, with many hands and minds working together to make it happen. Sadly the arch had to be taken down after the festival.



There were lots of design issues to figure out today with the twisted pillars so we didn't get much building done. We decided the spirals could not just twist as they went up since this would make the profile of the pillars look top heavy. They would have to taper too. If that was the case how large should the top be and how much should it twist? Would the vertical (angled) corners merely be straight lines leaning in or would they be slightly curved too. How much batter should it have? Would the corner stones all have to be slightly less than 90 degrees? And how would we set up guides in order to follow the shape we are building?




To help us we tried building models again. First with plastercene, then scrabble tiles, and then we tried doing 3D drawings on Sketchup.

Tomorrow I will post some of those drawings and I hope to also to be able to show pictures of how we are progressing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Scutch on the rocks.


It's curious how often the newer hammer handles break, compared to the older ones. I have swung sledge hammers and clump hammers of all sorts and sizes for years and I am seeing a remarkable difference in the quality of masonry tools being sold today. In the past these tools have lasted well and I have rarely known the handles to break with normal usage. However a new hammer these days doesn't even begin to go the same distance. I have more than once or twice in the last 6 months had a newly purchased hammer (with supposedly 'proper' hickory wood handle) break on the same day that it was bought.

This new scutch hammer, purchased last Thursday, was swung only five times before the handle broke. Now it goes to join a growing pile of recently purchased tools which have sadly ended up 'on the rocks'.

Is the quality of hickory not the same any more. Is it hickory at all?

I don't know.

All I know is I need a good stiff drink and tomorrow Im going to take this new scutch back. The older (aged) stuff is much better.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Coverbands or coping hands


While the proposal to do traditional vertical coping ( still fairly uncommon in Canada) was not turned down by those involved in the organizing this project, it was decided in the end to go with flat coping rather than vertical coping based on the small amount of material we had left.

After three days and fun and lots of lifting, shaping, fitting and socializing - the memorial 45 foot long curved dry stone wall at the Knox Church in Dunedin was completed. This nonprofit event ended mid-afternoon with everyone pitching in to clean up the site for pictures and Sunday's morning meeting. There were some informal speeches and then goodbyes to the dozen or so people who gave three days of their time towards this garden project organized by Anna Hobbs in remembrance of late husband Bill.

Thanks to all the student wallers, Anna, Byron, Bruce B , Bruce D,Wayne, Arturo, Jill, Heather, Eric, Earl, Bob, Chuck, Bryan, Ben and the various visitors who helped out each day. Local waller and DSWAC member Mark Lewis and his assistant Marion dropped by to see what was going on, as well as students from the 'Healing Wheel Wall' workshop in Orangeville Ontario and several other wallers from the area all came to cheer us on.

The boulders we used at the cheekends were donated by Scott Winters who has a gravel quarry not far from Creemore. Again thanks to Credit Valley Quarries who generously provided walling material at a very reasonable price. We hope to come back next year and build a dry stone arch entranceway between the two walls we constructed this week..



Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lending a hand



Our DSWAC field director just happened to drop by today to check out the wall we are building at the three-day Knox church dry stone wall workshop in Dunedin Ontario. Eric timed it right. We stopped for lunch just as he arrived and after lunch he got to talk to everyone about some of the beautiful water feature dry stone walling projects he has been doing in the Creemore area. He then took some time and worked along side some of the female students and showed them a bit about hearting and gave them some advice about building along a curve and crossing the joints. It was nice of him to drop by and lend a hand.



We took a short field trip and visited another waller who had dropped by and happens to be working in the area. Nick Lynch is doing a big project repairing a 100 foot dry stone retaining wall along the bank of a river. He and his friend Justin Koifman have been there many weeks. Eric had some words of advice about walling for them too.

Friday, August 20, 2010

All hands on hearting.





This is a photo taken around lunch time yesterday (Thursday) at the three-day Knox Church Walling Workshop in Dunedin Ontario. This gift to the community was organized by a Anna Hobbs a member of this quiet country hamlet in the rolling hills just outside Creemore. Anna wanted to make a contribution to the church garden fund in honour of her late husband. The small fee for this workshop went towards some of the cost of the stone which was kindly supplied by Credit Valley Quarries at a very reasonable rate. Stone material originally had been ordered from another source but arrangements fell through at the very last minute. A call to Lisa at Credit Valley saved the day and the stone arrived just hours before the workshop began.

This is a lovely workable sandstone which is surprisingly light and easy to shape. The selection was just perfect, combining a good number of nice flat copes, hearting , some long 'throughs' and great builders.

It was a beautiful day for learning how to make 'walls without mortar'. It rained just as we went for lunch at twelve (which was kindly provided by the ladies of the church) and then the rain stopped exactly one hour later. The rest of the day was sunny and cooler enabling the 12 participants to be very productive.

The first course of stone seen here in the picture above has just been hearted, and the students have all taken their time to see that every stone, down to the smallest one is fitted carefully in between the larger building stones so that they don't rock or leave any spaces for anything to slump or loosen.

This will be a curved wall and gate feature that wraps around the crescent shaped driveway beside the old Presbyterian Church situated in the middle of Dunedin. This wall will be easily seen from the road.




I had done a design some time ago using Sketchup and Photoshop to give an idea of what the wall would look like when this benefit DSWAC workshop was completed, which I emailed to Anna, and which the local newspaper printed recently, along with an article giving the details about the church's plans to build this wall. I had forgotten what it looked like and was pleasantly surprised to see how realistic the picture of the wall looks. Now all we have to do is build it that well!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stone Story. Segment Two. Part 4


The Squire (the cube shaped granite rock), having told the other rocks how he had ended up meeting the beautiful round stone Rhonda, when he had been first washed up on the beach at St Bees Head, continued to tell the story of how their friendship slowly evolved.

"There was a gradual metamorphosis." He told them.

At first they gave each other a lot of space. They learned to appreciate each other's various facets. The main thing that they had going for them was the fact that they were both fairly elderly. It was an important part of their makeup. Being many million years old enabled them to have perspective, and not feel they had to rush into anything. The fact that they were both 'mature' was one of the essential elements to their 'getting along, as essential as oxygen and silicon, the other two most common elements contained in rocks.

Stones don't often 'fit in' with each other if they are not of similar ages. The older the better. Stonework looks too busy, too disjointed and quite unrestful if their are fresh split stones, or newer looking stones, especially if it is mixed in with weathered, older looking stones. Generally stones like being built together with others who are of a similar age, sharing the same time period. If this is not possible, they need to at least have spent a similar length of days above ground.

New stonework, where every stone appears freshly cut, may look stunning, crisp and clever but it will not likely have the depth, the character and the rustic appeal of walls built with older untooled stone. Stones that give no indication of their having be chiseled, or drilled or sawn or even polished, will gladly yield to a mason who is tuned in and wants to have them look their best. The charm of modernity can not compare with the beauty of age. The sense of history even in new stonework, that sense that it has been there for a long time, a quality which is so appealing in walls and buildings made of stone, is something not to be resisted or suppressed. Most rocks, being of such a great age, prefer to have this enduring attribute emphasized. Their permanence and long-lasting durability is something to be celebrated. They are troubled by those who strive merely to make a stone structure look new. This is because they know better than humans that it is far too easy to create something that looks new.

Rocks don't need to look new. They don't need to change much, or be changed. They are not big on novelty. They find it hard to conform to fads and fashions. They laugh at the idea of anyone trying to modernize them, or try to fabricate or duplicate their genuinely natural look.

Rocks love to be together but they are not into reproduction. They love to fit well with each other, but they are not into synthesis or artificiality. A good waller 'marries' stones of different sizes and shapes into a wall, allowing for their variety to compliment the overall look. Forced conformity is not attractive. It detracts from a marriage.

The Squire and Rhonda were opposite shapes. It didn't take much to see that they were 'attracted' to each other. It was a physical, even structural kind of attraction that would last a long time, and they knew would work well in a wall one day.

To be continued, on and off, in the next few months.....


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Stone Story. Segment Two. Part 3


The square stone's story was quite different from the other two. Many of the details you may remember, if you've been reading along. (see Stone Story part 7)

Myron had merely asked the Squire how he and Rhonda (the round stone ) had met, but that was all the excuse the Squire needed to launch off on an epic tale about their past, which I am only able to remember parts of.

Many many years back, Rhonda left the glacier and eventually ended up living on the west coast of what was not yet England, not far from what was to become town of St Bees. She spent all her days on the beach sunning herself, listening to rock and roll ( the sounds of tumbling stones and smaller pebbles being rocked back and forth by the ocean waves) and enjoying the constant changing of the seasons. Years passed and much of the surrounding coastline eroded away - in one area exposing the high red sandstone cliffs now known as St Bees Head. Rhonda had been fortunate enough to keep her place on the coast though many other rocks living closer to the ocean had come and gone.

"Finally, some time after that, humans came on to the scene. They gradualy moved into the area," the Squire was guessing " about 3000 years ago."

"That's right, isn't it, Rhonda?"

"You're telling story dear, I'm going to stay out of it."

"Well anyway from that time on, from what I gather," said the Squire, "Rhonda didn't have a dull moment. She was often picked up, sometimes two or three times a day by various strangers passing by along the beach."

"I never minded the attention."

"Many years passed and Rhonda enjoyed the reputation of being one of the oldest residents along that part of the coast"

"But go on, tell the story about the big storm."

"Yes well, here is where I come into the picture. Some time later, I'd say back about 175 years ago, while I was sailing from North America in the hold along with a lot of other granite ballast, we strayed from our course and ended up running aground not far from Whitehaven. Running aground was tough break for the ship and the crew, but it was a nice break for us. I spent a good few years enjoying a long relaxing ocean-bed holiday."

"The storm, dear."

He paused again, looked at the rain and then launched into her favorite part of the story.

"At the turn of the century a very big storm blew in off Iceland. There were huge great breakers the size of small mountains, smashing into the shore. It churned the coastline waters up so violently many of us were washed up onto the beach."

"We ended up meeting and falling in love."

"I believe you wanted me to tell the story dear?"

"I had been cast up onto the briny shore only to find myself lying beside the most beautiful piece of rounded granite I had ever seen in my life. "

"You were quite a hunk yourself"

"I knew it was going to be the start of a lovely long 'rocky relationship'. Oh, It was quite 'Tectonic' at first, of course . We discussed how far the continental drift had strayed, and how the earth's lithospheric crust was made.

We talked of many things...

Of shale and schist, and sealing cracks
And amethyst and slates
And why debris forms mountain scree
And why the earth has plates

We spoke of sub-atomic mass
Of particles and strings,
Of quantum leaps and isotopes
And earth's magnetic rings."

The Squire stopped and took a breath. "Things started to develop fairly quickly after that."





Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Stone Story. Segment Two. Part 2





Unlike Rhonda, the circumstances that shaped Myron were things he wanted to forget. He had spent many millennia milling around, just below the earth's surface barely existing as a large sandstone deposit known as ' millstone grit ', back in the Namurian age. It was a very dull geological period of his life.

Myron told Rhonda,

"The Pennines just seemed cold and dark back then. Dark seams of coal below, piles of earth above, and nothing but formless sandstone in every direction.

"I had no identity back then, just part of a huge faceless mass of bedrock. I wasn't near enough to the surface to be where the interesting things were happening. And too, I wasn't going out with anyone back in those Carboniferous days, about 350 million years ago", but then Myron wondered if he was dating himself.

Many million years later, (probably during the time Rhonda was managing to scrape her way across Scotland) a lot of the sandstone bedrock around Myron was exposed. A long time after that, somewhere back in the early 1800's he, along with a lot of other grit material, had an opportunity to get quarried and shaped by humans into massive sandstone 'wheels' to be used as millstones.

"Extracting a whole millstone from a rock outcropping was basically a 'hit or miss' procedure. You either got the drill or you didn't. Back then only the stones that showed real grit made it in one piece through the extraction process."

Myron went on to explain that stone used for making a millstone could not have any lines of weakness which could cause it to crack as it was being removed from the bedrock. In order to quarry millstones from a deposit of millstone grit, a narrow circular groove was first made outlining the shape of the millstone to be taken from the rock. Deeper cuts were chiseled into the circle and these were pegged with wedges made of oak. Water was then poured on the wedges causing them to swell and so eventually the wedges split the stone, facilitating its extraction as a single piece from the surrounding rock. The middle hole was usually cut on site. This method of quarrying millstone left large perfectly round hollows in the rock surface, or sometimes just a shallow circular groove in the bedrock, if the stone cracked the wrong way before it was freed. Stones frequently cracked during the arduous quarrying process or later when they were bored. Myron had ended up in his original 'pie shape' (later to become more pyramid-like) when he broke off from one of these flawed millstones.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Stone Story. Segment Two. Part 1



It rained hard all weekend. The Squire and the other stones were soaked - well, as soaked as a granite rock can get sitting in the rain. Rocks that have long been buried under the ground and have only recently been exposed to the air, do have what is called "quarry sap" in them. They are, to some extent , 'damper'. Even then, their moisture level is almost negligible, but a rock fresh out of the ground is far more workable than one that has been sitting on the surface for a long time presumably because of its moisture content. Builders have learned this and good masons try to make sure they use the stone shortly after it has been quarried. Even rocks that have been soaked under water for a long time, after having been sitting around many years on the ground, are still more brittle and harder to shape than newly exposed rocks. Fresh rocks with quarry sap are like new born babies: they are pliable and soft and full of life.

Granite rocks that are left out in the rain may not get any easier to work with, but they do regain some of their luster and original attractiveness. They have a happier disposition; you can see it on their faces. They shine and have a lively beauty about them which humans have often noticed and admired. It's the sort of look humans try to capture in photographs or try replicate by sanding and buffing stones, or applying different plastic liquid finishes. Regardless of all the hard work, it never looks as attractive as a naturally shiny wet stone.

The typical water absorption of granite rocks is .03 percent, not a lot of water for their mass. Their resistance to taking on moisture, their low porosity, is part of the reason they weather so well. Water doesn't get very far past the surface, and therefore can't do the kind of freeze/thaw damage that it can do to more porous materials like brick and wood.

Rhonda watched the rain coming down and remembered the days of her youth. For many, many years, soon after being separated from her twin back in the Mesozoic Era, she had travelled with a group of friends with the glaciers through what would later become Scotland and had discovered a rugged affection for the desolate geology of the area as she passed through. The constant damp cold, the lovely bleakness of everything back then, was something she missed. She had tons of happy memories of her journey southward as she made her long striations along the craggy Pre-Caledonian landscape; it was all so moving. Her years in that magic place had carved her and shaped her. By the time she arrived in Cumbria, having left her home in the north country for good, she had become a well-rounded and beautiful stone. All her rough edges had been taken off. She never forgot her rustic beginnings, back in the days when she was not anywhere near as polished or in as good a shape.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Wall of Dreams


I got an email yesterday from some friends who had invited us to come and teach a group of enthusiastic people who wanted to know how to build a dry stone wall from local fieldstone on their country property. The students who came to the workshop built a lovely section of wall in their front yard, well back from the road, and well within the what was obviously the established property line.

The husband wrote to say.

Having an interesting discussion with the county roads dept about the new wall. It seems that the previous owners sold a strip of land to the county, so the old iron bar located in front of the wall is NOT actually the property line any longer. Instead the new line is behind where we have situated that wall. So it is partially on the county right of way. The local roads foreman thinks the wall is a hazard. The county engineer thinks it is attractive and well built, but too close to the road for his liking. They want it relocated back about 2 feet ! No kidding. I’m trying to see what recourse we may have, but may need to take it down, which would be very unfortunate.

Very unfortunate indeed.

Many trees, rocks and bushes in Ontario, not to mention countless fences and signs and telephone poles (and who knows what else) are all dotted much closer to the road and are much more of a hazard (just by their sheer number) than the rarer more beautiful 'obstacle' that one simple dry-stacked wall presents.

But basically it's the old 'sandcastle phenomena'.

I remember this from my early days, going on vacation to the lake or the ocean with my parents, and playing on the beach, building sandcastles all day with my friends. I realized pretty early on that there are those who build sandcastles, and then there are those who enjoy knocking them down.' It almost seemed like you could divide kids into two basic categories, the ones who liked to make things and the ones who liked to wreck things.

I still wonder if I was right and more specifically I wonder how this 'plays out' as people grow up. I know that a lot of the rebuilding of walls in Britain is associated with repairing the damage done by vehicles crashing into them. Are the walls always at fault, or are the drivers just big kids, finding new ways to wreck beautiful things?

Anyway, it amazes me how people in authority ( mostly those lacking any 'ability' for creating anything as beautiful as a stone wall) have nothing better to do, or maybe just enjoy nothing better, than demonstrating that they have the 'ability' to force those who make dry stone walls, to take them down.

Or to rephrase the famous line in the movie Field of Dreams....If you build it, they will come,
and tell you to remove it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A 'dry stone story' break.



Im taking a break from Stone Story today. Monday begins with a whole new segment continuing from where we left off on Friday.

Right now I'd like to tell you about the plans coming together for Rocktoberfest in Canada. The site for this year's festival is at Landon Bay Center Bio-reserve, half way between Montreal and Toronto not far from the bridge to New York Sate, and it looks like its going to be an event you won't want to miss.

As you can see there are already children parachuting in be part of this event. (We saw these kids having a lot of fun today. They are actually attending the summer nature program at Landon Bay Centre)

There was lots happening there today in preparation for this Canadian Thanksgiving Event where wallers from around the world, among other things will be coming to help construct ''Kay's Bridge', a 12 foot span, totally dry stone arched footbridge to be built on the side of a forested granite knoll, over a craggy stream. We visited this Canada Parks run campground/ecological park on Friday and talked with some of the people like John MacLeod and Margot Miller who are helping make this dry stone walling event happen.



We gathered more stone from along the the forest trail and brought it to the bridge site. (Thanks to Lee with the tractor and wagon) We shaped the bedrock either side of the creek to accommodate the sandstone springers that the bridge voussoirs will 'spring' from. The newly constructed form was carried down and placed into position too. It fit beautifully.

We also prepared 70 feet of foundation for the two dry stone wall workshops that are going to be taught Saturday and Sunday at the festival (please write to mcclaryharris@sympatico.ca for details)

We decided where the dry stone fire place was going to go, which John Scott, Heritage Masonry Instructor at Algonquin College in Perth, along with alumni and students are going to build during the festival weekend. We chose a place for the dry wood wall we are going to be building out of firewood with some of the children at the festival. We also did decision making about the dry stone arch which will become the entrance way to the hiking trail. This park feature will be built by a group of volunteers from all over Canada headed up by Evan Oxland.

We checked out one of the restaurants where wallers and students will be eating on the Saturday night. The Ship's Galley, a fine dining establishment on the St Lawrence, will be the venue where stone walling experts Patrick MacAfee and Michael Weitzner and Bobby Watt will, (after those attending the festival partake of a hearty rib and chicken meal) give their audio visual presentations on fascinating walling related subjects. Patrick will be showing photos of the amazing network of walls on Aran Island in Ireland, and Michael will be giving the talk he plans to give at the Dry Stone Wall Congress in Ambleside this September. Its exciting to think that all this is coming up so soon, this October, and that entrance to the park and all demonstration walling events are free to the public.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Stone Story part 21



A second man joined the waller later that morning. It looked like drizzly weather had settled in for the day. They worked opposite each other repairing the wall for a long time until the first one spoke up .

"I'm going crazy."

"Yes I know that ." said the other in a Cumbrian drawl.

"No seriously Mitch. Just before you came, I went and found that triangle-shaped stone" he said, pointing to Myron " because I was sure I heard that square stone over there describe where it was. "

"We're you looking for a triangle shape?" asked the second waller.

"No, in fact I needed a couple of flat stones at the time."

"Well what good is that then? If the stones are going to speak to you they might as well be telling you something useful."


The Squire had an idea. "So, where do you think Michael and Hannah are?" he asked winking at the other two stones.

"The pair of flat stones got tossed into that big pile of hearting, I think. " said Myron in a loud voice.

The waller looked up. "Did you hear that?" He got up and began walking over to the pile without waiting for an answer.

"Hear what? You know, I think building dry stone walls on these hills, year after bloody year has finally gotten to you, Andy."

The Squire leaned over and shouted. "I see them - the two grayish stones over near your tools."

Andy searched and found the pair and carried Michael and Hannah over to the others and then looked quizzically at the five of them.

"What's going on now?" asked Mitch. "Did the rocks tell you where to find the flat stones you were looking for?"

"These rocks are alive! They are speaking to me, Mitch."

Andy stood up quickly and walked around in a circle. Then he sat down on a bucket by the wall and ran his hands through his mop of dark brown hair. "This is crazy, crazy!"
He looked at the pinched finger. The blister had popped. He grabbed his gloves from off the wall, put them on and stared at Mitch.
He composed himself and took a deep breath. "You're right. This job is getting to me."

"Thanks for saving us" said Michael to the other stones, "we would have been broken up into rubble for sure if we had been left there.
"We didn't save you. All we did was discuss the fact that you'd ended up in the hearting pile." answered Rhonda
"You mean none of you 'humanipulated' the waller to come over and find us?"
They all three rocked sideways, " No."
"That human seems to have actually overheard us and went looking for you. " said Rhonda.
"Here he comes now."

Andy very methodically walked over and picked up the cube-shaped stone, looked it square in the face and said to it, "So, tell me, very square-shaped stone, if you can, tell me how you became so square."

"I was shaped this way by a prisoner along with a lot of other granite in Dartmoor over a 200 years ago." The Squire answered excitedly.

The waller waited a long time. He sighed and then gently put the stone down, and walked away.

"So what did it say?"

"Nothing. I heard nothing."


The two humans went back to walling. They worked silently in the drizzling rain for the rest of the afternoon. The Squire and the four other stones watched as Andy did his magic putting stones in the wall, listening to each stone, but not the way he had that morning, when he had clearly heard their voices, or so everyone thought.

Just before it started to get dark, Andy took his gloves off, put them on the wall to dry, and headed back to the pub with Mitch.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Stone Story part 20


The two wallers finished for the day. They made their way back down the valley towards home.

Though a significant section of wall had been rebuilt that day neither Rhonda nor the Squire had been put into the wall yet. This was partly due to their having become distracted with all the talk about the possibility of the waller being able to hear them, and partly due to their unusual shapes. The other two builders, who had been lying next to them (that is, the younger rock, and the builder-stone whom the waller had supposedly 'overheard' ) had been fitted beautifully into the dry stone wall. The first gap in the wall caused by the landslide was complete and the new repair merged cleverly with the older undamaged section of the wall. The slight change in colour, due to different less-weathered faces of the stones being exposed, gave the only indication that it was a newly repaired section of wall.

The next morning only the one waller returned. He began work by moving many of the stones he had not used along the wall to a toppled section he had not started on yet. Rhonda was impressed to see that the stones were not tossed. He carried most of them and put them down carefully. He placed Rhonda and the Squire out on the ground separately.

"He's not wearing gloves this morning" she said "His finger must be better."

"I think we should concentrate on being placed in this wall today." the Squire said. "I like this chap and he's doing some superb gapping."

"Yes I suppose you're right. That other wall we were going to inspect seems so far away now and who knows what's happened to the pyramid-shaped stone who was going to show us how to get there."

"I think he may have got buried over there" answered the Squire.

The waller looked in the same direction. He walked over and stepped carefully up onto the mound of nearby rocks,( most of which had slid down the mountain the day before and had not yet been sorted) and began searching through the pile.
A few moments later he retrieved the very stone they were talking about from the pile.

"Myron" shouted the Squire . "We're over here."

The waller carried the pyramid-shaped stone over to the other two and stared at the three of them.

They greeted one another enthusiastically. " Look at you, Myron you're all muddy."

The waller brushed off the mud from Myron.

They stared at one another in disbelief.
"Goodness" said Myron, " It's as though he actually heard you. I didn't give him the notion to pick me up and carry me over to here, did you?"

"No" said Rhonda and added. "This is very strange."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Stone Story part 19


For the rest of the day the Squire and Rhonda (the round stone) discussed the likelihood of a human ever being able to 'pick up' rocks having conversations with other rocks.

"I say it's possible." said Rhonda " A really good waller, say one who has had years and years of experience understanding our ways, and has built miles of walls, and unconsciously knows how we need to be fit together, could conceivably get good enough to actually begin to hear what it is we are saying."

"I think you're right Rhonda - not just having a capacity to know what we want, but hear us speaking to one another. What an exciting thought. " Said the Squire. "And this chap is very good. I'd say he's one of the best I've seen in a while."

"I thought he was a perfectionist at first " said the builder, " but he is a craftsman. "

"He has flare." Rhonda added.

Flare is a wonderful gift to have as a waller. It is that unique talent that sometimes comes with experience that enables one to choose a random rock, hold it it for a split second, flip it and place it securely in a wall the first time, and know that it is right. It's a confidence, a bravado that turns walling into a dance, an aesthetic event, a flowing display of kinetic art. Flare is what makes one bold enough to leave a stone placed in the wall, even though it doesn't look right and won't until the other spaces have been filled in. It is being willing to risk not doing the obvious, not insisting on uniformity, if it sacrifices structural innovation or aesthetic creativity. It's having seen the big picture, letting the stones have their way and not try to control them. Without flare a wall is dead. It may be sturdy and look correct, even to a formally trained eye, but the stones have not been allowed to sing, to breath and be free. Those with flare see beyond the inherent attractiveness of the stone material to uncover it's deeper function.

Stone is the rawest most compacted form of creativity. From this material flow all other manifestations of artistic and structural expression. It's effect on civilization can be traced back to the earliest collaborations between man and stone. Since their beginnings on this rocky planet men have been, and still continue to be, influenced by this strange enduring substance.

A waller may never experience their latent capability for flare. He might only choose each stone based on how he can fix it, shape it, and employ it disregarding or discarding the likleyhood of it having any higher creative potential. The universe not only allows for extravagance and frugality it allows itself to be wasted. A waller with flare sees a universe of possibilities in what has been provided. Even though he knows he doesn't have to try to use the limited choices lying around, that are immediately available to him, he still believes he can do magic with it.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stone Story part 18


"No no, that's just an expression they use," said the Squire."They don't actually hear us. They pretty much have no inkling of what's going on in our world. Their world of only 5 senses is pretty limited. The universe is still a big mystery to them. Even with all their technology they're barely able to detect anything beyond the electromagnetic spectrum. And as for understanding the way we elements interact, I dont think they will ever be able to understand basic 'Entangled Particle Communication' "

"Shhh" said Rhonda.

The human approached. His finger was bandaged now and he had put on a pair of gloves to protect his hands from any further injury. He said something to his co-worker and then pointed at the builder-stone next to the Squire, the square stone.

"I don't believe it?" said Rhonda.

"What?" said the Squire impatiently. Though his mineral composition put him just above a seven on the Mohs scale of hardness, he was nevertheless quite 'hard' of hearing.

"He says that when he was walling just then, and really trying to let the stones speak to him, that he clearly heard a rock say that it thought it was going to be next in the wall." she said, turning to the builder stone."That was you."

"That's impossible" said the builder.

"Amazing" announced the Squire.

"See I told you they could hear us." The young rock shouted.

"No you didn't. You merely wondered if they could." said the builder." There's a difference."

"Never mind you two" said Rhonda " Let's see if we can get him to hear what we are saying again now."

It is true that while fairly experienced rocks had over thousands of years found ways to influence humans to have them do their bidding and building for them, humans never actually heard any audible rock-words. Communication was mostly in the form of constructive suggestions to their subconsciousness.
If the waller had overheard a conversation between stones, this was something extremely unusual, in fact, unheard of.
They tried talking to one another again, louder than normal this time, in a slightly forced tone of voice.

"Do•you•think•he•can•still•hear•us•now?" the Squire in a jerky voice. It sounded strangely rigid and quite stiff even for a stone.

"If he does you would think he would try and let us know it." Rhonda replied in mono syllables.

"Hey you, human! Knock three times if you can hear us"

The others cringed when they heard this outburst, and all three of them turned and glared at the younger rock.

The waller did put his head closer to one of the rocks, as if he was trying to hear better.
But he didn't knock.
After about a minute he resumed working.

The rocks continued talking and watched and listened, waiting for any indication that the waller had indeed been able to hear them speaking, but in the end decided it must must have been a coincidence.