Tuesday, November 30, 2010
They point at the various gaps where the wall has fallen down. The length of the span that will have to be taken down either side of each gap is described in the arc of the wave of their hands. The pile of stones they will use to do the job is pointed to and considered. The route by which the stones will be brought to where they will be needed is conveyed by hand. The hands describe how they will do the work, and how difficult it will be, and in their gestures they try to comprehend how much it will all cost.
Then the hands warmup in the pockets of the coats of the men who now walk silently down the fence row until they need to speak again concerning more sections to be repaired.
Monday, November 29, 2010
The stones are stored in winter, stowing
Amidst the cold of winter snowing
All froze and braced 'gainst fiercest blowing
And hard they lay but hardly knowing.
They're past, they're left in blankest bleakness
Neath draughts of blasts they lay there sleepless
As proud as they are cold and speechless
In frozen brooding heaps of gneisses.
All huddled they like rocks a-herding
And bound to each inert exerting
Locked deep within and never turning
Lines of stone in toneless wording.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Friday, November 26, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Speaking of AGMs, I was asked back in September to speak at the Central Scotland Branch of the DSWA at their branch AGM which was held last Sunday afternoon. We had to drive 3 hours straight from the main AGM meeting of the DSWA to Perth to attend this branch meeting.
It was good to see some familiar faces and share with them some of the exciting things that have been happening in Canada since I spoke there last nearly three years ago. I was able to show photos of the recent dry stone wall festival we held last October in Ontario as well as pictures of similar events in Washington and California. DSWA secretary Kate Armstrong wrote me today to say that some of the members expressed an interest in arranging some sort of public event along the lines of Rocktoberfest next year or possibly in 2012.
The dry stone bridge built during Canada's first Rocktoberfest in 2004 at Port Hope Ontario
It is great to see how our organizations like ours in Canada, and the Stone Foundation and Marenakos in the States, can benefit from foundational walling knowledge provided by such organizations as the DSWA and then be able to put a new spin on it which then becomes the catalyst for new developments in promoting the craft back in Britain.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Welcome to 'Thinking With My Hands' -Where fingers can sometimes convey more than words.
Norman Haddow and I drove by a plowing match near Perth last Sunday. We stopped and watched for a while and I took several photos of a pair of horses pulling a plow. I marveled at the team in this video responded to the subtle messages sent through the reins from the man walking behind the plow. He held the leather lines in the baby fingers of each hand. 'Plowman's Pinky' is an expression used to describe the finger control used to guide the horses along the furrow in this traditional type of plowing. It is interesting to watch and to imagine how quiet and satisfying it must be to control large animals like these with such a subtle means of communication. It's also quite a contrast to hear all the tractors at the plowing match in the background buzzing like a bunch of wasps.
Above is a photo of Norman Haddow's hand. It is the hand of a full time dyker. Norman tells me the permanent curl in the baby finger is from holding the walling hammer too tightly over many years of shaping stones and breaking up hearting. Is this perhaps a wallers pinky? Norman told me it has been caused by 'trauma to the tendons'. He says he maybe learned a little too late in his career how important it is to 'Let the hammer do the work' .
His son Duncan once asked him what colour he thinks of when he's breaking stones.
Norman answered "Red".
Duncan said, "Try thinking blue or yellow".
The plowman and the waller work the field. They leave earth and stones in rows upon the land. Their hands take the material of the past and shape the future. In both strength and gentleness the horse and hammer learn their work. Their knowledge is received through hands which lightly hold them all day long.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
May I say how grateful my wife and I are to be invited here this afternoon: it is such a pleasure to be amongst you again.
What a privilege it is to be in this spectacular part of England. I would also like to thank most warmly the Northumberland Branch for hosting this week end.
Speaking of privileges, I feel it is a genuine honour to hold an office in this distinguished association.
As I enter my third year as your president, I reflect perhaps with a twinge of guilt, that I have had only pleasure and interest from this Association and no hassle at all.
This is not always the lot of Presidents who are supposed to stay in the background until something goes wrong. I can tell you I have had my fair share of things going wrong with other organizations...but not his one.
Nor is this a matter of chance. Experience teaches us that everything can and will go wrong unless there are people who labour tirelessly and with utter commitment to ensure that things go right.
I think therefore it is right to salute those who not just give their officers an easy ride but who make and keep the whole association healthy and bring a sense of vitality.
At the bottom of your program appear the words "Keeping walling alive"; how brilliantly that aspiration has been filled.
Perhaps very many people can take credit for this state of affairs; it goes without saying that we are hugely indebted to the retiring Chairman Richard Love.
In the year in which so much has happened and with memories of a wonderful International Convention still fresh in our minds, I would like to say a tremendous thank you to the permanent staff.
To Allison who has, I believe been absolutely central to the success of the association and personally a great help to me.
Supporting Allison and again pivotal to the smooth running of the office at Crooklands are Helen and Shirley.
Our warmest thanks to you both....
One final thought.
Remembering the participants at the convention who seemed to range from hands-on dry stone wallers to poets and philosophers, I thought Ii would Google dry stone walling poetry; nor was I disappointed. Perhaps you all know this rhyme by Pam Ayers:
It seems to have an element of self-parody and went like this:
I am a dry stone waller
All day I dry stone wall
Of all appalling callings
Dry stones walling's worst of all
I should like to close on a rather charming observation of the poet Alice Oswald who compared her writing to the process of dry stone walling:-
"...finding discreet blocks of words and jamming them together to make something."
The guest speaker for the Saturday meeting was Derek Proudlock, Southern Area Manager for Nothumberland National Park. His talk included an impressive analysis of the historical and structural elements of Hadrian's Wall, part of which goes through a section of this beautiful park.
Andy has just returned from a three week visit to Canada
Monday, November 22, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Saturday, November 20, 2010
This plastic sheeting is a described as a tough waterproof 'double dimpled' high density waterproof membrane that keeps soil away from house foundations. It provides the surface over the planking for us to build the wooden framing on and to then put the soil into so that we can plant the green material, probably chives, thyme and various Sedum. In this case the dimples create some friction for the roots to grab on to, and an air space between the roof and the membrane, to allow air between the damp soil and the wooden sheathing so that the wood doesn't rot.
By the end of last weekend , before I left for Scotland, we had finished applying the layers of membrane and box framing so that we are now ready for adding soil and green roof material. We were 'doubly pleased' to have got it done before the rain moved in.
It's funny about dimples. They are a depression that appears when one smiles. : )
Friday, November 19, 2010
My first day in Scotland involved some jumping around. Norman picked me up from the airport and we hopped off to see some very interesting walls including two horse jumps near Auchterarder that he built nearly ten years ago.
They were surprisingly still in very good condition. It's one thing for a wall to look good after it's been exposed to all the effects of time and weather, but quite another to be subjected to being jumped over by horses every day as well, and also crazy Canadians, every now and then. These jumps looked in mint condition. Now that's something.
I said to Norman that this was either a tribute to his wall making skills or an indication of the calibre of horses that were jumping the walls.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I'm off to Scotland to meet up with my friend and fellow waller, Norman Haddow, to work on some projects. He has warned me in a recent email that it's cold and wet and muddy where he is right now. (predictable Scottish weather) Like banging your head against a wall, it gives one a opportunity to feel incredibly good to stop doing it for the day, and come inside and get warm and dry again.
A quick fix and we were on our way. Oh that everything were that simple.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
John Henry sent me this video of a recent gathering of his friends and some strange acquaintances at his property in Rappahannock County Virginia where he has been doing some very unusual stone walls and some impressive dryscaping. When I first went there to do some stonework for him 4 years ago John was just starting out experimenting with walling. His skill has really improved over the years and now I must say he is pretty scary.
John says.." I’m the guy in dark clothing with black executioner’s hood – just in case the dragon didn’t do the job."
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Some friends of mine have decided to move from their old place in the country to a newer place, but still in the country. Last year we built them a beautiful 40 foot wall, so when I heard they were moving I jokingly asked if they were going to take it with them. He wrote back to say.
with the roads crew @ the county in the late summer that culminated in a
written demand to remove the "hazard" or they would have it removed at our
expense. By that time we had an idea that we would be moving, so we
decided to take the wall down and store it. A couple of young lads and I
stripped it down one day in September. Sometime in the next two weeks I
will be moving the stones to the new property. We will rebuild it next
year. Very discouraging work to take down such a beautiful wall (kept
thinking of the opening lines in that Clash tune: "Breaking rocks in the hot
sun/I fought the law and the law won"), but we're giving it a much better
Monday, November 8, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
I had a great time watching people from the association build the stone
walls, arches, the bridge and brick oven at Landon Bay over Thanksgiving
weekend. I blogged about it; see the link below, which includes a YouTube
video of the form removal - a terrific moment!
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Sam Bauman was flattered, and a little surprised to be notified he won this year's Dryscaping Award. Sam was awarded a cheque for the amount of 300 dollars from the DSWAC as the Canadian winner in this year's category - Dry Stone Sculpture - for his 'floating teardrop' submission. The details of the competition, which ends each year on Thanksgiving Weekend at Roctoberfest was posted on the website explaining that the work had to be a dry stone sculpture of material, of any size, made of any natural stone material. It must have been built and/or completed in 2009 or 2010. The dry stone art installation had to be permanent.
I had an opportunity to see this sculpture in person when Sam and I worked together near Cambridge early last spring. He invited me back for dinner one evening. His unusual teardrop limestone structure which he built last year was sitting in the back yard suspended on a disk attached to a strong iron bar. The half ton structure actually sways in the breeze. I was quite amazed to see how strong and permanent it is but also how 'dismantleable' ( is that a word) it is as well. Sam was pleased to show me how it came apart.
Sam's experience in walling has come through trial and error and with working with other skilled wallers. Taking the typical route of landscapers, Sam started a lawn maintenance company at 14, with a $500 oil burning lawn tractor. His goal was always to get hired by a landscaping firm, which happened during his co-op term through high school. After working for the company for his first couple years out of high school, he had an opportunity to start a company with Mark Schwarz, which was about 5 years ago.
Since then, they have been pushing themselves to do better designs and use better and more creative construction materials. Through this process they have been incorporating drystone walls into some of their designs, and the clients have always been in love with the finished project. He finds great pleasure in working with such a rigid and stubborn material, because as he says, "when it's shaped the way I want, I am usually quite pleased with the unique look that is created."