Friday, April 30, 2010

Is cracking annoying if it is on purpose?

As much as we might want to still use a 'cracked stone' in the dry stone wall we are building but use it like 'two stones', because it is still the best fit we have to work with - and as much as it still is keeping to the rule of 'one over two and two over one' - as much as the combination is still structural, and the cracked stone is doing exactly the same job as two different stones would do - and as much as it would be really convenient to not have to look for a different solution and we know there are no stones that are going to fit as well - as much these things shouldn't matter at all and we say to ourselves 'who is ever going to notice anyway?' - it does matter and most people will notice, maybe not consciously but in some strange way a wall with even one purposely laid 'twin stone', unless it is a split stone with 'mirrored halves' laid together, not 'two ends' of a the same side of a stone, it is always going to look wrong. Don't ask me why, but the crack will not be seen as a normal joint. Maybe its because the crack will always be perceived as having happened after the wall was built and therefore it is sending a message to those studying the wall that something has moved and there are some uneven stresses on it. Maybe it is because the stone is giving away the fact that it has been laid along the wall not 'into it'. Anyway it is about as annoying to look at as it is to listen to someone cracking their knuckles. You can't really tell them why its wrong, but it is.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


What are the things we should think about before we 'dive in' to building a dry stone wall?

When building with a random selection of stones it is important to think 'restraint'. You will want to save stones for the top copes and the ones with any length for the ends of the wall (cheek-ends). Flat stones are valuable for bringing the wall up to level before you add the coping too. Stones with good shapes are likely to be the ones you want put in the wall before any of the awkward looking stones, but by not using these “good ones” right away you will have a nice selection throughout the extent of the wall. It is often a good idea that you lay out your stones in distinct piles; normal building stone, coping or flattish stone, through stones and hearting so you get a feel for the variety of sizes and shapes you have to choose from, and that you don't use up any good corner stones or the longer flatter stones to quickly.

When working with others on a large stone wall project it is important to communicate and agree together to save these valuable (and sometimes scarce) 'well-shaped' stones. This way, working together or even alone, we not only get a well built wall but we learn the value of restraint. Using or re-using local stone instead of insisting on having expensive stones trucked in is another form of restraint. A willingness to refrain from rushing, but rather take a little longer to fit awkward or challenging stones together, can often make the difference between a good looking wall and a bland wall. It is this exercising of restraint, even on such a small thing as building a dry stone wall which carries over into our daily lives and then perhaps into the larger areas of concern, including the ecological well-being of this planet.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Let's give a big big hand for creativity.

This is something I did in Victoria BC a few years ago before I knew about Sue Lawty or her vision for a world-wide hands-on community of art installations.
The 'world beach project' seems like a really cool idea.
It gives everyone a forum to be creative and an opportunity to share their stone creations with everyone else. No one has to be a star, just a participator.
This is what thinking with our hands is all about.
We hold hands across creation and we behold what our hands have created.
Let's join the hundreds of others and do something the next time we go to the beach.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A helping hand in the dry stone wall business.

Where would we be without Donny the truck driver? He is on the road most days delivering random dry stone now that walling has started to take off here in this part of Canada. . He has arranged his driving routine so that he specializes in bringing quarried stone for many of the walls DSWAC members build in southern Ontario. He always tries to make sure he brings exactly the type of sizes and variety of shapes that we need. We not only get the stone we need we also get a lot of news from him about the other wallers and their various projects. I think he kind of likes this dual role he has, but he says he mostly enjoys returning and seeing the kinds of things we build with the loads of material he brings us.

Other drivers might not take such an interest but Donny tries to tune in to the the kind of stone structures we build with our hands so he can keep bringing the right material. He has found a way to make himself indispensable. If we need a special load of random material we know he will drive many miles to a quarry, tell the loader guy to move over, load the truck himself, and then drive several hours to our job site, and often be there the same day we call him. He knows that whatever stuff he dumps there for us, it's going to have to be all used up. Twenty four tons of random material - you wouldn't want to get it wrong. We pretty much trust him that it isn't going to be full of 'fines', or too big, too small or have way too many weird shapes.

It has occurred to us that he has as much input into the kinds of walls going up over much of Southern Ontario as any us wallers do or the landscapers and architects we often work with. The stones he chooses to fill his truck with pretty much determine the look and style of all the walls we build. So Donny has a big hand in what we do.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Warming Our Hands

Here we are warming our hands around the fire pit which we completed this weekend in Guelph Ontario. It rained most of the day. There may not be a fire. That doesn't matter. We are warmed by the camaraderie and the sense of accomplishment.

We are also hot from having just moved a lot of stone. Not just the ones in the wall but all the other ones that we didn't use that had to be cleaned up so that the surrounding area looked tidy for this picture to be taken. A couple of guys Byron and Keith had to leave right after this picture was taken, to drive all the way back to Ottawa. They had nearly a six hour trip ahead of them.

We anticipate in years to come there will be a lot of telling camp fire jokes and singing of camp fire songs around here. This already feels like a kind of age old meeting place of stones and fire and people. These three are always interacting and affecting one another.

And hands and hearts will be warmed by many real fires that burn here in the future, in this stone-enclosed circle, but what was learned here will kindle more dry stone projects too, (for the hands who showed up to participate in this workshop) and so hopefully more and more hands will be warmed in an ever widening circle.


This is the 'hand check' at the end of a day of working with stone. Most of the fourteen tons of limestone material brought in for this workshop has been already carefully sorted and moved and lifted into place, as we spend the day creating a small circular fire pit sitting area. Many irregular chunks have to be chiseled and shaped by hand. So it's good to count to see if you have all your fingers at the end of the day.

It's good too, to look at your hands and appreciate what amazing appendages they are. Can we grasp the latent potential remaining in our collective grip even at the end of a hard day of work. It is inspiring, almost unfathomable. There is so much more constructive creativity contained in these hands. They will go on tomorrow, and the next day and the next, constantly being used to create things, with what ever it is they are given to work with. The hands have a boundless propensity for accomplishing. They will over come.

Prehensility is the quality of an appendage or organ that has adapted for grasping or holding. The hand is a prehensile multi-fingered body part. Prehension is the act of grasping.

Apprehension is consciousness. If something is full of apprehension it is 'grasped' by something. We have grasped a lot of stone today. Randomness and disorder better look out. The elements of chaos may well be apprehensive at the creative grip that our hands have on things. It may cause anxiety, worry, unease, nervousness, misgivings, disquiet, concern, tension, trepidation,perturbation, consternation, angst, dread, alarm, fear, foreboding, butterflies, jitters, the willies, the creeps, the shivers, the heebie-jeebies to anything that stands in the way of improvement.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Compounding the problem.

Is it ironic that the work I most enjoy doing has nearly the same description as the thing I enjoy the least? Dry walling can never be as much fun or feel as creative as dry STONE walling. However a number of uninformed people don't even seem to be aware that there is in fact a difference. On more than one occasion someone seeing the website has called me up figuring I did dry wall and asked if could do their basement. I have to admit I was tempted to say that I did just to see how much of a wall I could actually get built in someone's basement before they started getting upset.

While I admit that good dry walling takes a special ability and when its done right is pretty impressive, it will never be a substitute for the satisfaction that comes with seeing or building a good dry stone wall. So why are there so many substitute products? Every year in fact more wacky faux-stone products come on the market . New stone impostors made from not only from pre cast concrete material but also extruded plastic and polyester resin material are forever being introduced at trade shows and building supply stores . How anyone could ever be fooled or satisfied by anything that isn't made from good old natural stone is beyond me.

It is a great shame if people continue to have less and less access to such a simple and wonderful natural building material as stone.
To think that modern technology needs to try to improve on or reproduce real stonework, (whether it be dry stone or mortared ) only compounds the problem.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Stones have been laid upon stones since the beginning of time. We see evidence of this in every land and continent. These ancient stone structures only last because they are made of stone, a material more impervious to change than any other readily found substance on earth. The observance of important dates and events in the heavens are measured and anticipated because of a most ancient reliance on this unchanging nature of stone. We would do well to recognize this archaic association and learn to appreciate the continual relationship between the seasons and man made stone structures of the past.

Our perspective, our well being, our inspiration and hope ‘hinges’ upon our being able to perceive change. The very change that stones resist, allows us to see ‘difference of time’ for what that it really is. Civilizations have erected austere and wonderful monuments, stone edifices elevating the concept of ‘change’ to that which is celebrated, rather than feared. The megalithic ‘standing stones’ of Britain and Ireland are ‘understandable’, if only for this reason. As we contemplate the jutting of large stones silhouetted in some lonely place, we become aware of the distance that change alone has put between who we are and who we were, not just as individuals but collectively. It is not at all incongruous to consider that, apart from change, everything else about us has stayed the same.

It is this same predictability, this equivalent ‘sameness’, that makes it self- evident that wherever there are stones, there will be people who will align them together into structures, and for no apparent reason. Who has not at some time, while wandering through the countryside, discovered an interesting man made configuration of stones. Upon discovering such an ordered pile of stones resting ‘immobile’, one upon another, we ourselves may be inexplicably ‘moved’. Though our experience is personal, there is a experimental knowing, which is universal and suggests a uniquely common identity. The single enduring property of those monuments of stone, though motionlessness and seemingly inert, becomes the catalyst for a variety of creative human responses. Our shared humanity seems somehow locked in the past; a past of stone. We realize that we are not only ‘here and now’, but we are all so very far away, and very taken back, by time.

Leviathan bones, lost relics, latent fossils tell very little of the story. It is the carefully stacked stones themselves that speak volumes to the human psyche. They read us like an open book. These hard lifeless(?) stones tell us we have been here before, because we are here now. And by the hardness of reason, we realize there is very little distinction. It is as though we have discovered our own unique remnants in some great prehistoric Thesaurus. Contained within this revelation is the possibility that we are all actually on the same page! Not only are we having ‘our present’, but we also " had ‘archaic’ and ‘dated’ as well ", thus closing the distance between preceding and proceeding moments of time in space.
Similar to Roget’s original intentions for ordering words by definition, rather than alphabetically, our propensity to move (and be moved by) stones in their various configurations and constructions, defines who we are. The grouping experience is merely the making of constructive connections between like concepts. Rather than feebly clutching to the randomness of our surroundings, we are recognizing the solid associations these stones provide.

Stone configurations act as our GPS receiver, to help us find our location, in much the same way they have always done throughout the ages. Our ancestors erected monumental landmarks to connect the dots for us. They laboriously drafted detailed charts of the stars in the night sky, quarried, shaped and maneuvered huge stones into position, for us to know, not so much where we are, but who we are. The kind of effort and extravagance historically distant peoples infused into their self-imposed undertakings in stone, may seem completely illogical to us now, locked in our technological , chronological universe, but the importance of what they left behind, though very much a mystery, is surely not wasted. The significance lies in how connected we still are to stones, not how old the structures are or even how on earth they were made. And it doesn’t matter much if they are enormous ancient landmarks or comparatively recent structures of free standing stone, our response as human beings is fundamentally the same. It seems that something profoundly important 'hinges' on our being able to understand why this happens.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

'After-hand', rather than, 'Beforehand'

If I only thought with my brain, I'd say that some things that are basically 'preventative' could conceivably be good ideas. If Im thinking with my hands I tend to be a little more skeptical. The claims people make about certain products in the world of medicine and nutrition are so dubious and subjective that they can never really be proven, such as: if I eat such and such I will live longer, if I take this vitamin I wont get a bad cold, if I do this kind of exercise I wont have back problems, etc. It's pretty difficult to be our own self-controlled case to find out what really works. There is no parallel universe we can observe ourselves in, for us to be able to test abstract preventative products or theories out on ourselves.

My hands look for the tangible. They are wallers hands. They feel for the thing that fits - the fix that addresses the immediate problem. That's why I like remedies; things that work after the fact.

It's no good telling me that a particular medicine would have worked had I only taken some or applied some 'before hand'. When I bruise my hand under a big rock or sprain my ankle, it's silly to be saying to myself I should have eaten more broccoli. Im looking for something that's going to help heal the problem and help take away the pain right then and there.

That's why I like Arnica. It's an ointment used for bruises made from Arnica Montana, an innocent little yellow flower that grows in nutrient-poor soils throughout Europe (but ironically nowhere in Montana) . The day I decided to give it a try, after several herbal friends kept telling me that it really worked and I should try it, was the day I discovered that alternative medicine wasn't as wacky as I had supposed it to be. I still think the weird preventative homeopathic stuff is a bit of a hit and miss game, but you can't knock something that does the job after the fact.

Arnica has some unique ability to make bruises less painful and more importantly, to actually make it feel like the natural healing process is beginning much faster. I dont want to get all spooky about it, but this stuff seems to work! All I can say is 'try it' next time you whack your hand with the hammer. But probably it wouldn't hurt to keep eating your broccoli too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Voting with your feet

There is an inherent problem with voting with your feet. It is basically defeatist and negative. While voting with ones hand's doesn't seem as spectacular or quite as 'cool' a thing to do, it does exude a certain calmness and demonstrate a willingness to stick around and make things work. When you vote with your hands there is generally a higher degree of maturity demonstrated. It is a show of patience and openness to the democratic process. Sure I can walk away from the discussion but it really isn't voting, is it? It's just quitting. And what are the chances I'll vote with my feet again and again every time someone steps on my toes.

Hands that choose to vote, on the other hand, can always vote and make improvements. If there is a consensus demonstrated by a show of hands then there can be lots of improvement. If not, there is still usually a way of making some sort of improvement. A dry stone wall is kind of a structural 'show of hands'. It can and does make an improvement on the look of almost any property. Many hands working together get more things done in the way of dry stone improvements than just a couple of hands. It's really hard to build with one hand. It's even harder to build with your feet.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Many new parents feel a pressure to have their baby's seat or bouncy chair cluttered with all sorts of interactive plastic 'mobile' toys. This is a modern phenomena that needs to be seriously challenged. We can't have kids growing up with plastic being the only thing they interact with at such an early age. All the fuss about 'imprinting' should make us aware that if a child is going to grow up in tune with their planet it is important to introduce them to natural materials, at least at the same time in their development as they are bombarded with the many plastic manufactured products which have flooded today's 'baby market'. There ought to be an emphasis on introducing infants to things like wood and stones at a very early age so that they don't grow up feeling that plastic has to be the norm and needs to be the predominant material of their existence. A simple stone attached to a baby stroller or seat will give the child equal time with a material that can inspire their imagination and enable them to explore other aspects of the real world other than the bland, clinically sterile, shiny, primary colour world of plastic. After all, the importance of, and the responsibilty to be , 'thinking with one's hands' (and not just the mind) can begin at a very early age.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dust in the Windex

With the ash cloud continuing to shut down air travel in Europe, airline companies are talking about having to let go of some of their employees in the next few days. While all that rock and stone which first melted, then exploded and then pulverized into tiny dust particles in the atmosphere may have left travelers stranded, and airline companies scrambling, for those who know how to adapt, there is no need to be alarmed, there may well be new areas of employment mounting up in every corner.

In opening up the earth's crust and scattering all that dust everywhere, Mother Nature has in fact opened up a lot more opportunities in the house cleaning business. Flight attendants who find themselves out of a job, even temporarily, may be able to fill an ever rising demand for efficient, competent people, both in the private and public sectors of the cleaning industry

There will likely be, in the next while at least, a highly qualified work force available to address the growing need created by this international cleaning emergency. Hopefully flight attendants will be able to fill the 'vacuum'.

What sort of safety-conscious, service-oriented, hard-working cleaning ladies (and cleaning men) will they be?

Before we run way ahead of ourselves, let's sit back and relax and try to imagine where all this might take us.

As you try to 'takeoff', the steward or stewardess will stand in the front hall of your house - they will insist on calling it a 'cabin' - to review with you the various cleaning safety instructions and demonstrate among other things: how to secure and properly store various articles around the house, how to use the oxygen mask if the dust is particularly bad, and point out the building's emergency exits.

Their instructions may include many of the items below.

Younger children should be buckled into a child restraint seat or locked in their rooms.
They should not be allowed to run through the cabin. Ample diversions must be provided to keep them entertained.

The pre-wipe instructions will begin with some information about personal belongings.

Residents will be directed to stow their possessions in their proper locations and be reminded to make sure that these cupboards and compartments are securely shut, since things can shift around during vacuuming. If there isn't room in the overhead compartments, occupants are instructed to stow any extraneous articles and knick-knacks beneath the furniture in front of them.

In case of an emergency landing (or balcony) anyone sitting near an exit door will be expected to open it for others.
This will only be necessary in the event of a complete evacuation of the building.
Those coming back in afterwards will be asked to take their shoes off.

Except for the equipment being used by cleaning attendants, all other electronic devices are not to be used during cleaning. Certain devices are barred from use throughout the duration of the operation; these include cell phones, CD players, MP3 players and iPods mostly because you won't be able to hear them over the sound of the vacuum cleaner.

In the event that the appearance of the main cabin has become like, a stable, dust masks will be distributed to everyone in the vicinity and all 'passerbys' are asked to fit them over their mouths and to breathe normally. A routine de-icing procedure for the freezer compartment is provided for all first class clients.

Residents are instructed not to smoke during the duration of the cleaning, and are reminded that they are prohibited from tampering with smoke detectors in the washrooms.

Between the dusting of flights of stairs, shelves and the 'airing out' of the cabin in general, attendants will be coming around offering a choice of tea or coffee. Before they leave, the cleaning staff will come by to pick up any garbage and unwanted newspapers.

Your chairs should be restored to their proper upright positions.

Just before the attendants disembark, you will be courteously reminded to.
"Please check around inside that we haven't taken any of your personal belongings."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

If this is the Trailer, the Motion Picture should be fun.

Now and then a dry stone wall idea comes to mind that is worth trying to illustrate.

It's way better than one of those fancy new 'Mortar-Homes'?

It comes in a Mobile-stone-Home Kit.
Some assemebly required.
Just 'Rock and then Roll'

Gets good mileage on the thru-(stone)-way.

Stay the course.

You'll want to 'Dodge' this 'Caravan'

Let's all 'pile in' and drive home.

And the fourth little piggy said nuts to this and built his house out of stones and put wheels on it!

( Submissions for other captions for 'U-Haul Walling' can be posted in the 'comments' section below. Thanks. )

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Handmade Craft

The term 'stone boat' refers to a flat farm implement used for moving heavy rocks and stones. It was usually pulled with horses by the Canadian settlers hauling huge stones off to the sides of fields of newly cleared sections of farmland. The device looks like a low-profile sled. They were usually made of wood, but some flat metal stone boats were used too. The word 'stone boat' is not exactly an oxymoron but nevertheless it does combine two somewhat contrasting concepts.

In Port Hope the 'stone boat' has come to take on a different meaning altogether. It was here in 2006 during the annual dry stone festival in Canada that a structure was built by a team of enthusiastic wallers to commemorate a book by the internationally acclaimed author Farley Mowat, who has lived here in Port Hope for many years. His book 'The Farfarers', about a Pre-Viking people who came to Canada in search of walrus hides and tusks, was the inspiration for a dry stone boat which replicated the shelter made by Alban people who wintered over in parts of Arctic Canada by building dry stone enclosures and roofing them with their up-turned double-ended ocean going crafts.

Today, four years after its completion I needed to do a minor repair to this stone boat. It took five minutes. As the simulated walrus skins of the hull fade it has started to look even more authentic. As a point of interest in town it has started to take on a history of its own. Thankfully it has not been subject to any vandalism even though it is not situated in a prominent section of town. Even the ropes, with heavy stone weights stretched across the hull to simulate the boat's needing to be held down against strong arctic winds, have never been tampered with, although they are not secured in any way to the structure.

This temporary boat 'dwelling-place' with a foundation of dry stone is a surprising thing to come across in a small Canadian town. It stands as a public monument but is situated in a private setting. It is an enigma. This rugged looking craft, a hand-made structure of stone - is it a building, a boat, a sculpture, a monument, or a reproduction of historic fantasy?

Friday, April 16, 2010


Volcanic ash is made up of small particles of pulverized rock created by a volcanic eruptions. There are three ways this rock dust is formed, the one most common is the ejection of entrained particles during steam eruptions causing phreatic eruptions. The violent nature of volcanic eruptions involving steam results in the magma and solid rock surrounding the vent being torn into particles of clay to sand size.

Pulverized rock shut down flights across Europe yesterday and is likely to interrupt air travel for many more days. Who would have thought a pile of tiny specks of rock could have such a far reaching effect?

Every time we split a rock a tiny amount of dust is created. A smaller rock is created too. The masonry world is a huge industry devoted to making smaller and smaller rocks, and a lot of dust.

New rocks are not being made anywhere and the old ones are not getting any bigger.
Unless of course you count the new lava rocks being made by volcanoes.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Duty is in the eye of the holder.

Watt's the difference between a rock and a stone?
Bobby Watt of RJW Stonemasons in Ottawa defines a 'rock' as being 'an unemployed stone'.

The image comes to mind of a lot of random rocks all hanging around in a quarry somewhere waiting for someone to come by and put them to work. They spend a lot of time waiting. Hopes are raised and then dashed as masons come and go from the quarry looking for good stones. If only the rocks could have the opportunity to prove themselves. If they cant work for quoins or piece work then maybe for some sort of 'accommodation'. If only they had a construction job or some sort of duty holding something up. Hey, they could be good for something, surely?

Big trucks arrive but the rocks are only going to be used for land fill. Other trucks pull up and load up to take rocks to be dumped along the side of a ditch to stop erosion.

Then a smaller truck drives into the quarry and some enthusiastic dry stone wallers clamber out and scamper over the rocks getting really excited about what they see.

They roll a few over and pick one or two up in their hands.

" Wow, these are really great stones! They will work fine in the wall. What kind of stone do you think it is?"
" I dont know it looks like mostly granite to me."
" Lots of different sizes and shapes, and so much hearting too. What a great find!"
"And they are practically giving the stuff away."
"Yeah, they told me the stuff is good for nothing."

They get the big quarry loader to scoop a pile of the 'sandstone' into the waller's truck. And then they happily drive off with rocks that are about to become stones in a dry stone wall, and the rocks dont even mind being taken for granite.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Come on, put your hands together.

As I'm on the subject of the our hands being tied and not being able to touch things at the Art Gallery ( blog entry for April 12 ) I think it's worth noting that essentially the same problem exists when we go to a concert to hear a performance of classical music. No matter what, you are not supposed to clap until the end of the last movement. This is sometimes a bit difficult (even embarrassing) if you dont have a program and dont know when the last movement is. It is also difficult if you are really enjoying the excitement of say the first movement of Beethoven's "Emperor" which almost demands that you jump off your seat clapping and shouting.

Yesterday I read something by Alex Ross in the Guardian about this whole subject at

It seems the no clapping rule is a relatively new custom started in part by Wagner who asked people to hold off clapping at his premiere performance of 'Parsifal' . The audience was told this so that the 'impression' created in act two would not be spoiled. The audience didn't understand though and never clapped at all, even at the end of the piece. A few snobby 20th century German composers later pushed for silence between symphony movements, and 'voila', the no clapping rule got strangely 'cemented' into the classical music culture and is the rule of thumb even to this day. If you attend the concert scene you basically have to sit on your hands and be careful not to show any emotion.

Jazz performances, on the other hand, allow for clapping as a show of appreciation for each musician after he or she has completed their improvised solo within any jazz performance, and of course people also are allowed to clap at the end of each piece, even if the selections are arranged in movements as in Oscar Peterson's beautiful theme piece entitled "Canadian Suite" which has several movements.

In art and music it's not just the artists hands that need to be involved. The members of the audience have hands too; hands that are more than willing to get involved. Unlike just plain thinking with your mind, to think with one's hands involves action and movement.

At our Canadian walling festival, Rocktoberfest, Rocktoberfest 2010 the reaction of the audience needn't be relegated to a merely mental experience. There will be touching and applauding and all kinds of hands-on involvement. As in past years, our 2010 festival there will be lots of things for hands to do, for children of all ages.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gathering Moss by Hand.

I am thankful
there are occasions in my life
I have been

And, in some mysterious way
(in terms of contemplating the purpose of life)
that I may
(for some tiny space of time)
have actually
'got the point'

A brief epiphany perhaps,
during a peaceful moment spent
in some shade-drenched garden or secluded part of the forest,
as I consider
touching the lichen
gathering moss

It is in those moments
that I start to think I understand
how it must

to be a Stone.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tactile Art

The Art Gallery of Ontario has a massive permanent collection of impressive works of art. It is a museum comparable to any of the best in North America. In 2008 an exciting new redesign was completed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, and was received with international acclaim. The Galleria Italia, is particularly interesting with its long display area which is an extended enclosed facade area crafted of curved laminated wooden beams and glass which runs the entire length of the north side of the gallery. The museum has an extensive Group of Seven collection and many many contemporary works worth seeing. The collection of older works of art is a treat to come back again and again to explore.

The whole delightful experience is a primarily a visual one. Priceless works of art can not be touched unfortunately. There are signs in strategic places to remind the public of this fact. The hands have to be content to imagine what everything feels like. It is hard to resist touching some of a new exhibit of artist Wangechi Mutu's evocative multi-media collages with their complex layers of painted and decorative fabric intricately blended together with photo images of the human body.

Now and then a special gallery show may display some works where the public is invited to 'touch', but in most cases it's the artwork that does all the touching, not the other way around. And while this is legitimate and understandable, it does leave me wondering. What if it weren't just the eyes that informed the mind at an art gallery, but that if we could learn from the hands too. What if the fingers were allowed to follow the contours and textures of the artwork displayed. Imagine if the hands were free to feel with the same freedom the eyes are allowed to see. A wax resist, a complex tapestry form, a welded metal edge, the roundness of a wooden sphere, a sudden contrast of paint textures, a curiously feathery shaped object , the bends in a wire frame sculpture: these all would tell more of a creative story. They could only inspire the imagination more. The sensation of art would be more well-rounded.

There was one very tactile element in the room where the Muto exhibit was being shown. Bullet holes. They were all over the walls. These were actually random puncture holes in the plaster surface, some of them extending deeper into the concrete sub wall. They were tinted red for extra effect. It gave an extra dimension to the already disturbing element of the paintings hanging on these same walls. My daughter and I put our fingers into several of these ragged holes. Nobody ran over and stopped us.

I think I would have preferred to be exploring more positive things with my hands like interesting stone cavities and niche recesses of randomly stacked stone walls upon which the art work was actually hung, instead, but Im feeling that Mr Goldsworthy may have already come up with that idea.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Uninstalled Windows

Near the C.P.U. BUS terminal in Ambleside there is a platform overlooking an existing MS Office firewall where a user video opening is blocked. This is not just a hidden interface or a monitor screen in ‘sleep mode’, but rather a recent example of a common problem related to uninstalled Windows. If you have an older Windows application it may be set up to deny access privileges to anyone, including users, local dealers and recent hackers. This does create a certain user-friendly dysfunctionality , While it is important to have all sector gates, ICU slots and browser openings filled, in order to avoid any third party files being thrown out, and to limit the amount of troubleshooting, it unfortunately requires that the privacy option be set to ‘maximum security’, whereby the pop-up window also appears blank and other visual fields are often filled-in, which makes any object-oriented operation or imaging process impossible. Although you may see a large ‘unexecutable’ box appearing as one of the structure properties, if you boot up completely to the hardware, located near the local vector housing unit (which isn't actually a hard drive) you can download one of the latest upgrades of Windows available with a smaller free-space component, which you can then install yourself, and so reconfigure the stack overflow to open the Block Sector, if you know what you're doing.

The operation of reinstalling windows after they have been uninstalled, usually requires some sort of temporary cross platform structure for working off of.
It will then necessitate the reopening the blocked partition and repairing the existing mainframe slot. When you are making space available in the upper external firewall it is important, while you are up, not to backup completely, as you may experience a crash. To prevent such crashes and to avoid chips getting embedded in any of your installation boots, it is recommended that you use a windows manager rather than rely on unwarranted repair methods or any other unsupported hacking techniques. After you have completed the installation, make sure there isn't any missing hardware or fragmentation of any kind, as this will affect the visible ‘properties’ of any new MS Office Windows..

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The history of our Land has been played out by Hand

Hardscrabble” is a term referring to poor, rocky, often hilly tracts of land which are/were difficult, almost impossible to grow anything on.In the 1800s, when the areas of Canada that were considered 'good for farming' had already been claimed, subsequent settlers reluctantly began to appropriate hardscrabble . Beyond the initial clearing of glacial till and rocky terrain to make the land suitable for agriculture, this type of farm land required a lot more work. If they didnt know it already, land owners soon learned that hardscrabble farming required the additional constant gathering and removing of vast amounts of stones and small boulders which were forced up through the shallow soil every spring!

There was little time to do much with these stones other than push them off into the hedge rows. They were considered to be good for nothing. It was merely expedient to get them out of the way, and that was it! Miles of stones lay along the borders of properties forming at best, an indication of property lines or crude enclosures for livestock. Occasionally however, a hard working farm family would commit to building something with the profusion of stone material being harvested on their property. That these people had time and energy left to build more formal "dry stone walls" on their land after all the other requirements of running even a moderately productive farm, is tremendously impressive.

Throughout Ontario particularly, there are clusters of these walls. One is tempted to conclude that they are in fact, another historic example of 'aesthetics' winning over 'expedience' ..(along with tall baseboards, high ceilings and stenciled walls, to name just a few) ... As we look at these walls now, it may be that they seem crudely built, and given the hardship of hardscrabble farming, that is understandable, but more likely they are showing evidence of normal deterioration associated with even well built walls , which happens over a long period of time. Often however, the haphazard look of these walls is the result of abuse or lack of care which others should have given to these silent testaments of the hardworking people who went before us.

It is ironic that part of the word 'hardscrabble'- scrabble - is now the name given to an activity of 'leisure'; a board game using random letters to form words, where, back then, it would seem, there was little opportunity for such diversions ; but perhaps there was. Maybe both activities, that of creating walls from useless stones, and fitting letters together to form interlocking words, have always had something in common.In the past, working to create anything, be it essential or not, from simple materials such as stones and wood was seen as important. Nowadays we have more sophisticated, less creative ways of using our time.

Now we have more modern materials and devices to save time as well. Labour intensive walls built of stone have been replaced by easy to build interlocking blocks of concrete. Board games and activities that require imagination and clever interactive involvement have been replaced by the 'easy-to-imagine' virtual reality of video games and home- theatre systems.

Recently as I gathered rocks and began to build a new wall along a small section of farm property , it occurred to me how like 'building a dry stone wall' playing Scrabble actually is!I wonder if you have thought about it .For example...- Having to figure out, as soon as possible the big awkward letters like Q and J, and how to use them up 'against' the other pieces.- The need to 'nestle in together' (almost like hearting) the small words between the others.- Setting up words (or stones) in anticipation of being able to place others.- Always trying things out, creatively experimenting and perhaps using the material you have at hand in a completely surprising way.- Holding back some of the better material of your selection to use later on.- Swapping tiles or rocks occasionally.( by tossing them back in the pile of unused ones )- And at certain times, missing a turn and going off for a coffee.- Coming back later and seeing how things start to 'fit together' where they didn't before.

My friend Norman Haddow,( a master waller in Scotland), and I play scrabble occasionally, over the internet, During one of our games I sent him a message presenting some of my thoughts about the whole 'scrabble/walling relationship' and he wrote back...

"Yes I like the analogy .I suppose our vocabulary is the pile of rocks when we go on site. The foundation is how we play the first few moves then like walling, the rest of the game depends on how we are feeling and a on luck ,for example whether it is really cold, or nasty wet, when our hands do not seem to do what we had hoped."

To sum up, although scrabble (unlike walling) is a 'competitive' game, it is essentially still a very constructive activity. Carefully placing by 'hand' a random selection of stones or letters together to form a prescribed pattern of meaning, is a challenging and satisfying way to use your time. Like scrabble, to the degree that you give it your all you can take pride in the fact that you have been involved in establishing a network or letters (interactively) or stones (structurally) in intricate ordered relationships

Interestingly enough an article about the rules of Scrabble being changed, was posted today in the Globe and Mail

Friday, April 9, 2010

From whence cometh these ripples?

It's a rainy day here in Ontario today. Not a day for 'dry' stone walling. So many of us find other things to do when it's really wet outside, like writing and blogging. It is good to be dry. It's part of the job description. I think that before it was decided by the powers that be that we should be called 'dry stone wallers', they should have included other favourable aspects and requirements we would all like to see included in the job. How about 'content' dry stone wallers? How about patient, forgiving, generous, and warm dry stone wallers. Or how about funny, healthy, prosperous, good-looking, dry stone wallers?

In fact most wallers are warm people who usually have a dry sense of humour (even when they do have to work in the rain ) with a great capacity to see good in the things around them. They are not wet blankets, nor do they go around raining on other people's parade, especially if it is an annual parade where people have been cooperating and building together for years.

Instead of looking to find 'offense' under every stone, it would be kinder to just look to make a 'fence' whenever we can with the stones that we discover along the way. Even in the rain there is comfort in knowing we are making something structural and beautiful. It is far better to build with wet stones, even the odd surfaced ripply ones, than throw them at people.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Handy Containers

Consider the common five gallon plastic bucket. There was a day when these handy bulk containers were not so common, and a day not so long ago when they didn't even exist. It is hard to imagine how we survived without them. How did we store and transport such varied commodities as paint, engine coolant, mayonaise, ice cream, canned fruit, driveway sealer, lime putty, log house chinking compound, stucco, deep fryer grease and liquid laundry detergent? And more importantly how did they build dry stone walls without them? Did they collect and carry the small stones needed for 'hearting' in sheep skins perhaps, or wooden buckets? Did they use burlap sacks or old canvas bags?

These buckets are absolutely 'indispensable', which is funny because you see people dispensing of them everywhere you go. The dumps are full of them. Stacks of empty buckets can be found behind every commercial establishment from small restaurants to big industrial complexes, all of them just waiting to be picked up for garbage. For us humble dry stone wallers the backs of these buildings are prosperous hunting grounds for the treasured 'hearting holders'. Clean buckets are the best, but we even go with ones still containing sticky residue resins or half-dried stucco. Presumably it should all mix together with the broken stone fragments to help everything 'tighten up', and hey, any extra dry wall compound should be perfect, right?

Above is a photo of some buckets being used for hearting in the Lake District. You might say these buckets were previously loved. Zin Tec produced and stored their feed supplements for cows, beef, sheep, lambs, horses and ponies in them. The buckets now have been given a second life by the farmers who have been re-building the wall in the background. Instead of heading straight for the dump the feed buckets have been salvaged. Its nice to know in the dry stone walling business not only all the stones are saved and reused in repairing gaps and building new walls, but even the handy containers we use are all recycled buckets.

Oh, there is another way of 'reusing' these plastic buckets to make walls. You will need a whole lot more of them however, and the final look, well it might not be quite as attractive.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Handy 'Tip' with the Wheelbarrow

Often there are very big stones that need to be lifted and moved. The wheel barrow is the solution.

But if Im thinking with my hands I dont think I want to try lifting this baby into the wheel barrow. It will probably strain my back lifting it up and over and possibly crunch my fingers and pinch my thy on the edge of the wheel barrow as I try to lower it in.

The solution? Tilt the wheel barrow on its side. Roll the big stone into it. One arm on the lower side and one on the top, brace myself, and push.

Without any super human effort the stone and the wheelbarrow come to the upright position and the stone nestles nicely into the wheel barrow as it reaches the level positon. Voila!

Now I can easily transport the big stone wherever I want it along the wall.

I wish someone had showed me, or better yet, My hands had discovered this way of moving big stones in my earlier stone-moving days, back when I lifted so many big ones into wheel barrows the hard way.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hand Solo

A simple rock and my laptop both get me excited. They call out to me to be creative; to make something or design something new. There are several cool software programs like Sketchup that allow me to experiment with digitalized spaces and planes and eventually visualize new garden structures and landscape features, just as there are piles of sizes and shapes or rocks that lend themselves to experimenting with, and coming up with new dry stone features, much like doing jazz improvisations.

Both mediums are more like having a big sandbox. ( again, sand is made up of silicon the basic ingredient of rocks and my laptop.) They both allow me to mold and add to and take away from an idea or a structure that does not yet exist. They are virtual building blocks.

Every creation whether it be a wall or an entire dry stone folly is an extemporization that if built skillfully enough will last a good long time. Every choice, every placement of every stone, is a creative act. The computer can barely match the potential waiting to be uncovered in a random pile of stones!

Every day, the resulting work of my 'hands' can be a unique installation. Because I work with random material all day and not modular prefitting maunfactured products, it requires that I extemporize and constantly problem-solve. This is not like laying blocks or fitting computer parts together. The stones can not be conveniently locked together in a dead mass of concrete, but will require skill so that they fit utilizing their inherent natural shapes.

This kind of dry laid stonework is an event. It can even be a spectator sport . For those involved, it's a hands-on full-participation happening!

Certain wall projects can be like a kind of jam session in stone. Most dry stone walling is 'performance walling'. Instead of musical or comical or theatrical improvisation it is a 'stone improvisation'. Though you dont often have an audience (until after you've finished perhaps) you go out in just the same way and start stacking, not knowing how or if all the pieces are going to actually fit together, or what exactly it is going to finally look like.

With a random pile of stones you are always taking a risk. This is not like building shelves from a plan in popular mechanics.

Every wall I build is a 'hand solo'. It has never been done before. There are no instructions, no repeating, no rehearsed lines or actual detailed script. My hands discover a way for the shape to get out.

This is why it captures the imagination. It is an evolving process, a building upon itself

After all, if Bobby McFerrin can do musical improvisations with his voice. Why cant we do it in stone?