Sunday, January 10, 2010

Handing It Down

Handing down the knowledge of how to build dry stone walls is a fascinating subject in itself. Im just thinking about the phrase 'to hand something down' and how it relates to expressions like 'grasping the concept', 'picking up some pointers' and 'trying our hand at it'. Many of us have learned how to work with stone with the help of someone who has not only had the time and patience to show us the things we need to know, but has 'held our hands' in order for us to get some of the concepts. In a way it's a skill not 'taught' so much in theory, but literally 'passed from one hand to another', almost like passing a baton. It is our hands that pick up much of the kinetic information and learn how to make skilled motor decisions, there-by making the learning more about how to register and store the information in our hands subconscious so to speak, rather than just in our heads.

Stone tradition doesnt change the way many modern skilled professions like computer technology and programming languages do (and the various technical innovations associated with the way we build new machinery and buildings) There is little time to reinforce these modern skills before different skills are required . By contrast the tradition of splitting and shaping stone that we have been learning over the last few days here in Ventura has not changed for thousands of years. Suminori Awata from Japan is teaching us, at the 2010 Stonefoundation Dry Stone Workshop in Ventura California, how to use a selection of different size points to make a series of rectangular pockets in a rock in order to then fit special wedges in those holes to break it along a straight line, and so make a flat face. We will not be using electric drills or saws. As I work away on my first hole with the tools he has provided I gradually let my hands get comfortable with the technique Suminori has demonstrated. I work for over an hour to drill 5 holes. It takes time, too much time one might argue, to split a stone this way.
Is it a waste of time? Why not just use power tools instead of hand tools?
Because, there is an inexplicable satisfaction that comes with patiently letting the hand coordination and skill sink in. It is quiet and contemplative. The mind and the hands both have time to think. As for the hour it took me to split this stone, that's not time wasted. I could have been sitting in traffic for that hour.

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