Sunday, February 7, 2010

Thinking Back

My hands think back to the time when they first learned to split a rock. A musician friend of mine Peter Cardy and I had been hired on this particular day as 'mason's helpers'. I was fortunate enough to start out that first morning with the master mason showing me how to actually split fieldstone with a large hammer and chisel, while my friend Peter was given instructions on how to mix mortar and pick out the stones they needed and bring them over to the job site in a wheel barrow. From that day on Peter only mixed the mortar and brought stones while I had the opportunity (for the next twenty-five years) to learn that plus almost every aspect of structural and restoration stonemasonry.

My hands remember that momentus day, holding those simple tools for the first time, and being shown how to 'trace' a line around a particularly large round hunk of granite fieldstone, and being instructed to forcefully hammer the chisel over and over again along that line (and occasionally turn the stone over and hammer a corresponding line where the stone was supposed to break through, on the other side) until by some kind of masonry magic I should expect to see the rock split apart to produce two flat faces. I kept working at that granite rock for what seemed like over an hour. Nothing seemed to be happening. I thought my hands were thinking they wanted to give up. The mason who was teaching me would come back now and then, to see how I was doing.

"Keep at it." He said "It should open up pretty soon."

Sure enough after another 100 hits or so the stone started making a different sound. I could see a faint crack beginning to appear along the pulverized groove I had inflicted around the entire circumference of what now seemed to me like my very own personalized boulder.
My masonry instructor came over to see how I was doing again.

"Don't hit it anymore in the places where you already see a hairline crack has formed" he explained "but keep chiseling where the stone doesn't appear to be splitting yet."

I kept at it, chiseling these, as yet, unformed cracks , until amazingly enough, the stone split right down the middle, magnificently, like some stale, pre-sliced, over-sized hamburger bun. Two sparkling faces, never seen before by human eyes, appeared staring back at me.

I immediately forgot how numb my fingers felt. I wanted to shout out, 'we did it, we did it ' ! This was my first successful collaboration of mind and hands over matter - ie stone. And yet it wasn't at all aggressive. For all the pounding and effort, the actual event seemed amazingly natural. There was no sense of any violation done to the stone. It was more like a freeing or releasing of it into the world.

I immediately learned how to shape the halves I had made into cube shapes, basically by chiseling four straight sides around each face where there was only a circular shape contour before.
When I was done, my two chunky squarish stones lay beside all the other shaped stones, waiting to be put into the stone foundation being built by the company I had been hired to work for. I had split and squared my first small granite boulder. My hands already were eager to get started on the next one.

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