Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Storing Stones

Aren't you glad stones don't have a best before date? Unlike most everything else, you can store stones indefinitely until you are ready to use them.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Building a lot with character

Sandra Piller is building a wall at the front of her lot in Brighton Ontario. She took a workshop at the Dry Stone Wall Festival we held in Cobourg three years ago. Norman Haddow taught the course. Apparently people stop by every day to ask her questions and take pictures. I was told about her wall and decided to drop by one rainy afternoon.  I liked the wall and told her it had a lot of character. She told me of her plans to do 60 more feet of wall yet.  I wrote her the next day and asked if I could do a blog post about her bold walling effort. This was her reply.

Dear John:  It was fantastic that you took the time to stop by yesterday and comment on my dry stone wall in progress.  I appreciated your comments and encouragement.  It was unfortunate that I was late for an appointment with my daughter and that we were in the middle of a deluge, however, as I would have liked to have chatted longer and to have asked you a few questions.   By the by we have a creek in our back area that sure could use a stone bridge, something that far exceeds my meagre abilities.

By all means use the photo if you don't think your members will think my wall has too much "character."  Some people might be interested to know that I'm making these walls on my own.  I've noticed that most of your photos show men making walls and women should know they can do this too.  Much more productive that going to the gym.

My main problem with the Madoc stone is the size.  I had been assured that they would be no larger than a bread box as I requested but as you can see some are considerably larger. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

For the good and profit of all.

St. Christopher House is a neighbourhood support centre at Ossington and Dundas in the west end of Toronto. The volunteers work with diverse individuals, families and groups to promote personal and social change in order to achieve a safe, healthy and accepting society for all. Some of us at Dry Stone Walling Across Canada were honoured to be able to come and help rebuild the walls in the garden courtyard this weekend. 

Thanks to Kathy,Beverly,Sean,Kate and all the people at St Christopher's for accommodating the volunteer workers Bill, Brent, Caesar, Judy, Shelagh, Jeffery and Richard who came to learn the craft of dry stone walling, as well as make a valuable aesthetic contribution to the premises of this care-giving organization. Thanks too to DSWAC members Fraser Sinclair and Evan Oxland who gave up their weekend and helped with the rebuilding of the cloister walls.

Bill Cheng is understandably very proud of the section of garden wall he and Jeffery helped rebuild.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Waller's Muscle

 Zach Goebelt of showed me a bulge on his arm which he calls the "waller's muscle" that appears on his wrist when he flexes it. He recons anyone who builds walls a lot and is working lifting up big stones every day will be exercising this particular muscle a lot and gradually developing a bump here. I hadn't noticed and was surprised to see I had a somewhat pronounced muscle thing happening on my wrist too. Jared Flynn who was dining with us that evening added that this was the 'real' waller's  muscle and not to be confused or compared with something else. Hmmm. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I will always be able to find fault with my work.
In a way it makes me careful not to criticize other people's work .
It is important to remember there are limitations and varying circumstances related to the building of any wall.

The choice of stone that you have available to work with puts enormous restraints on any project.
Even so, good wallers will usually make good choices with the materials they have at hand.
These choices might not be the same ones another waller would make, but we should not be too eager to say they are the 'wrong' choices.

Time constraints may be an unavoidable factor too.
If you don't have to rush you usually do a much better job.

This wall happily got built just in time for Christmas 2011.
I enjoyed building it applying a very strict coursing from top to bottom.
I had the time, I knew the rules and how to do it properly.

I revisited it on my way back from Vermont yesterday.
I thought you might like to see it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What do stones like?

Stones like to be handled. They like it when we gather them up and neatly nestle them in rows to make nice walls. Their absolute arch favorite thing to do however, is to get us to put them into dry stone arches and bridges.

That's what we did here. The photo was taken at a DSWAC planning meeting and barbecue in Whitby Ontario a number of years ago. We played several stone related games afterwards. One was to build the tallest arch you could with no help from anyone else and not use a form to rest the stones on.

It was fun. The stones loved it too.

You can almost see their excitement in the picture. They are literally jumping around the lawn. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Undulations Part 2

'Interfingering' in geology refers to a marbleized mixing of two types of layered rock material, where the visible distinctions partially merge into each other in well defined wedge shapes. I like to use the term to include the geographical meshing of hills where erosion has caused a zigzagging pattern. Perhaps it should be called inter-knuckling. It appears to be locked together like a large scale zipper. There is a very human element to the way the land 'meshes'.

This kind of connectivity is pleasing to look at. When stones are fitted together meshing like this it maximizes the strength of a dry stone wall too, in much the same way dovetailing works on the corners of a log house and in the wooden drawer joints in wood cabinetry.

I think it would be interesting to do a dry stone installation which incorporates the look and feel of a landscape of intersecting mounds. The domes would naturally knuckle together to create an undulating pattern with one or two meandering valleys running through them.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Undulations Part 1

(This link may take some time to download before the video begins )

We are creatures in an undulating world.
The hills and valleys on the surface of the earth are merely the evidence of a once fluid geology below, which has now become suspended briefly in time and space. We can almost imagine these swirls and curves as being the folds in some huge extended blanket covering the contours of many large creatures about to rise from sleep. We see gestures of invisible bodies which appear to have caused the bulges and dips that extend in every direction below the ground and which make up the varied landscapes all around us.

Dry stone walls can sometimes become contour lines that help define these mysterious forms. As we follow the lines of stitching we appreciate the underlying 'living' influences which give form to the risings and fallings we see off in the distance.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Solar panels in a dry stone compound.

It was amazing to see the contrast in technology here on the island of Menorca. There are huge arrays of solar panels covering acres and acres of land along the north west region of the island where primitive dry stone huts still dot the landscape.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Star in a Stoneboat

Robert Frost - A Star in a Stoneboat

          For Lincoln MacVeagh

Never tell me that not one star of all
That slip from heaven at night and softly fall
Has been picked up with stones to build a wall.

Some laborer found one faded and stone-cold,
And saving that its weight suggested gold
And tugged it from his first too certain hold,

He noticed nothing in it to remark.
He was not used to handling stars thrown dark
And lifeless from an interrupted arc.

He did not recognize in that smooth coal
The one thing palpable besides the soul
To penetrate the air in which we roll.

He did not see how like a flying thing
It brooded ant eggs, and bad one large wing,
One not so large for flying in a ring,
And a long Bird of Paradise's tail
(Though these when not in use to fly and trail
It drew back in its body like a snail);

Nor know that be might move it from the spot—
The harm was done: from having been star-shot
The very nature of the soil was hot

And burning to yield flowers instead of grain,
Flowers fanned and not put out by all the rain
Poured on them by his prayers prayed in vain.

He moved it roughly with an iron bar,
He loaded an old stoneboat with the star
And not, as you might think, a flying car,

Such as even poets would admit perforce
More practical than Pegasus the horse
If it could put a star back in its course.
He dragged it through the plowed ground at a pace
But faintly reminiscent of the race
Of jostling rock in interstellar space.

It went for building stone, and I, as though
Commanded in a dream, forever go
To right the wrong that this should have been so.

Yet ask where else it could have gone as well,
I do not know—I cannot stop to tell:
He might have left it lying where it fell.

From following walls I never lift my eye,
Except at night to places in the sky
Where showers of charted meteors let fly.

Some may know what they seek in school and church,
And why they seek it there; for what I search
I must go measuring stone walls, perch on perch;
Sure that though not a star of death and birth,
So not to be compared, perhaps, in worth
To such resorts of life as Mars and Earth—

Though not, I say, a star of death and sin,
It yet has poles, and only needs a spin
To show its worldly nature and begin

To chafe and shuffle in my calloused palm
And run off in strange tangents with my arm,
As fish do with the line in first alarm.

Such as it is, it promises the prize
Of the one world complete in any size
That I am like to compass, fool or wise.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Grooming the wall

The wedding took place without a hitch. Except I guess, the moment just before the bride strolled down the aisle, when the groom and the best man, the ring bearer and all the ushers climbed up on the dry stone church folly I had been asked to build for the occasion, to get their picture taken.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Question Bench

There was some question (?) as to whether we would get the number nine-shaped seating bench that students were building in Lindsay Ontario this weekend completed by Sunday evening.

This was just one of two projects everyone worked on over the weekend in memory of Rachel Spearing who was a member of the Lindsay Rugby Club where the workshop took place.

 "Cheers" to # 9 - Rachel Spearing 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Workshop Photos

The students at the first day of the Rachel Spearing memorial wall workshop being held this weekend at the Lindsay (Ontario) Rugby club were just standing around when I took this shot from the bucket of the bobcat.

I told them to get back to work!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

John Scott and I were in Asheville North Carolina last month while attending the annual masonry heater convention. It's a lively town with plenty of artistic influences. 
It has very West Coast feel to it. We were there on Earth Day which seemed to be the best day to see Asheville at its ecologically 'trippyest'. We got to hear some great music , see some amazing stone and brick structures and ponder many different life styles.

This sculpture (above) which is right in down town Asheville depicts the two contrasting hard-and-soft aspects of stonework which artisans working with this material need to be aware of and be competent enough to harmoniously merge the two.

On our walk through town John and I took in the impressively tall Vance Memorial which was named for native son Zebulon B. Vance who was a forward thinking politician and a staunch supporter of justice, individual rights and local government. 

Franklin Smith 
lives in Banner Elk North Carolina and is the owner of Living Stone Masonry. 
He has a blog with the same name.
He wrote recently about the stone symposium/workshops that are going to be held in Asheville North Carolina this August September

I am reposting his entry for April 15th

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting with a group of Asheville 
stonemasons and Tomas Lipps, director of the Stone Foundation 
( in anticipation of the upcoming 
Symposium this fall.  Topics we discussed were lodging,
 transportation, workshop projects, catering, etc...  
We are all very excited to be a part of this event, which
 brings stone masons and stone enthusiasts from 
all over the world together for education and camaraderie.
Here we after meeting for tacos and beverages at the White Duck Taco Stand in Asheville's River Arts District.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stone crop

It is a sure sign of spring when exotic 'stone flowers' start appearing everywhere. Working with rocks every day increases the likelihood of finding some unusually specimens.  I plucked this beauty yesterday from a fresh crop that we got to pick over where we have just started working building stone terraces . Sometimes the bigger lovely shaped ones are just lying there waiting to be found. Smaller varieties however, like this one, are more likely to burst into bloom as they go spiralling through the air, off the edge of a rock or stone that gets hammered too vigorously. I may just try to pick a bunch of these from the ground next week and bring them home in a quartz basket.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Flora with stone borders

A garden grows better when it has stones to keep it company; when it has walls to protect it and stone gates to stand guard over it.
This garden north of Cobourg Ontario was planted four years ago. Not long after it moved in and put down roots, it made friends with the dry stone borders.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rock Gazing

copyright John Shaw-Rimmington

"A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it."
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The work of a Giant

Pablo Castellary a marger in Mallorca who we met, wrote to me recently...
It has been great for us to meet you and share some hours with you walking around the Tramuntana Mountains, so I would like to send you the trailer of a recent documentary/film called "The work of a Giant", in honor of the Tramuntana Mountains and the stonemasons (margers)  who have worked for centuries in this great work anonymously, declared recently UNESCO World Heritage Site

Friday, May 4, 2012

Built-in appearance of decay

It was back at the 2004 Canadian Dry Stone Wall Festival that Norman Haddow and some members of the DSWAC built the gothic arched structure called 'Vestiges' at  Hill and Dale B&B in Port Hope Ontario.

This time the international crew of festival wallers included Dan Snow from the States and Dieter Schneider from Switzerland. During the three days of the annual festival we combined our skills to again build something that had never been done before in Canada.

Dan took the instructions quite literally when I explained I wanted this dry stone 'folly' to look like an old ruins. He built his section to include a very realistic looking, tumbled-down area that appeared to have stones missing. It was however quite 'structural'  and the gap has never shown any signs of shifting at all. 

To this day (seven years later) if I take people to see the ruins and I see their concerned expression when they look at the gaping hole, I find I'm compelled to have to explain that the stones have not fallen out but that it was purposely built that way to look fallen down.  

The fox who is a regular to the property and must live nearby has no trouble with the hole idea, or any of the other parts of the ruins for that matter.

I have a series of photos where he can be seen posing in and around and even on top of the folly .

I will post some of these photos tomorrow.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Improvements by the town

We live at the end of a cul de sac. It's a bumpy, pot-holed road that really needs a lot of fixing.  There is a dry stone wall we built eight years ago there at the end of the road, to mark the west extent of the property. Before, there was nothing to indicate the road stopped at our yard except a rusty old checkerboard sign put up by the town before we moved here. I figured after the wall was built the sign wasn't even needed, with the wall so clearly marking the end of the road, and especially since it was such a big improvement to the view. The town responded accordingly, and not long ago the old checkerboard sign was replaced with a new one. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tree bark wall pattern # 5

It was May first yesterday.
I though about Maypoles. 
The bark of this tree has strange strips of bark standing out from its tall straight trunk. Are these the remains of ribbons which the children of the forest held as they danced around it?
I thought too about how customs come and go, and how sometimes new traditions gradually begin to take root in a culture. 

This dry stone tree has no ribbons. It has long stones which jut out forming its short stone tree stumps. 
It may not make the best Maypole. 
One day however I may take it down and use the stones to build something else. For now I will leave it as a whimsical example of how stones can imitate trees. Perhaps next spring I will re-stack the stones into a circular wall for children to sit on and perhaps they will dance around it too. Maybe the taking down and re-stacking each year will become an annual thing.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The shadow knows

Photo by Ryan Stananought

Perhaps, with the help of shadow hammers and chisels, it's our shadow hands that make the shady contours that we see around all the real stones which our real hands fit into the wall. Perhaps all the shadows in the wall are what create the secret 'glue' that keeps the wall together. Maybe its not what we bring to the wall that makes it a wall at all, but what we take away. We take away the light. We obstruct the sunlight and leave a pattern of shadows and end up with nothing else but some interesting reflections on what walls are made of.