Friday, April 30, 2010
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
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
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
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.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
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.
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
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
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
Monday, April 19, 2010
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.
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.
Just before the attendants disembark, you will be courteously reminded to.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
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
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.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
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.
" 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
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
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)
'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
It is in those moments
that I start to think I understand
how it must
to be a Stone.
Monday, April 12, 2010
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
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
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!
Friday, April 9, 2010
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
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.
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?
Monday, April 5, 2010
The creative potential contained here in the palms of each hand is immense. The new ipad and the common stone may seem to be random unrelated objects that have absolutely nothing in common and yet if you really start to think about it a peculiar parallel starts to emerge. The computer and the rock both can, and have been used to, process and store information, inspire, calculate, control, direct, predict, build upon and channel all the fundamental elements of human culture as well as focus and transform all our creative impulses. The element they both have in common is silicon. Silicon (Si) is a nonmetallic chemical element occurring in several forms and found always in combination. It is more abundant in nature than any other element except oxygen, with which it combines to form silica: used in the manufacture of transistors, computer circuitry , solar cells, rectifiers, and silicones.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Thinking with my hands, which has turned out to involve a higher level of commitment than I first realized, is nevertheless proving to be a rewarding experience. It is gratifying to have followers write to say they are enjoying the blog and that they find it funny and sometimes moving. Im glad to hear that it is reaching people and that I have 'touched' a chord with them. I like to think I am in my stride now, and that there is lots more to 'touch' on in the future months.