Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Years Reservations

Photographer/artist Alain Bernegger created these amusing stone people.

The three of them look a bit nervous about having their New Years photo taken.

What might they be thinking, I wonder?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thinking with Hand Signals*

Hand signals are extremely important. Our words may not be heard.  They may be misunderstood. There is no language barrier when you know the language of the hands.  

The heavy machine operators can't see the huge stones they are moving. The machines are often too noisy. Conditions like these require the hands to move into action. 

The quarry man is the conductor. He has an invisible score and his hands have the task of conveying precise spacial decisions at every moment of the operation so that the large chunks remain undamaged and fall properly on a cushion of rubble, landing in such a way that they don't break.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rock Jumping

Hikers trying to get rid of a hangover near Hardanger Norway

My grandson Andrew practicing flying off the walls outside, instead of inside.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Disappearing impossible stuff.

Below is a fun 'mind-bender' for some holiday fun.

I need this sort of stuff to ponder when I'm off work and my hands are not actually thinking about placing odd shaped stones in walls

Where did he go ?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Farley's 2014 Christmas Video

Farley has been with me a full year now. He has come to work nearly everyday. Somehow he's convinced me to do this Christmas video about all the projects he's been involved in 2014, presumably for all his fans to see.   

So please enjoy. 

And Merry Christmas to all of you who regularly drop by to read 'Thinking with my Hands' 

We appreciate you!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Shouldn't all the days be getting shorter?

It's no longer just around the corner. Winter is suddenly here!

And remarkably, Christmas is 'just around the corner' now. 

And yet Spring seems even further around a much wider longer corner. 

Surely Spring would get here a heck of a lot sooner if all those days between then and now were actually getting shorter ? 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Building Block Christmas

This year is a building block Christmas 

Decorating the mantle with balanced block letters took a while.

The 'S' needed a bit of a different treatment. 

Making the 'Y' shape was definitely a design challenge. 

(I'm glad Christmas isn't spelled with a P)

Inspired by some of the amazing Kapka structures I saw on Youtube , I 'put up' a tall building block Christmas tree in the play room yesterday.

It took a while.

Circles of blocks built on top of one another, diminishing in size until they close over the opening to form a cone tree shape. 

It's almost five feet high and very delicate.

Has to last until the grand children arrive.

Hope the cat doesn't try to climb it before then.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Constructive Christmas Gift Suggestion

Here's a really great Christmas gift idea for that up-and-building dry stone waller in your family. I got this set for my birthday. The box contains a thousand pieces.

Talk about thinking with your hands ! 

These blocks are a terrific resource to experiment with, creatively using the same simple principles of physics we wallers use everyday. Like dry stone walling, these Kapla blocks are intended to be stacked and remain in place only using gravity. They do not have snaps or interlocking parts and are not meant to be used with glue.

The blocks are precision cut to a single size and shape, which assists in the stability of larger constructions. Each block is a cuboid in the ratio 1:3:15. The length of the longest side is 12 centimeters (4¾ inches). The blocks are certified green from renewable forests of Marine pine near the Bordeaux region of France. The blocks are not varnished or treated. Colored blocks are stained with non-toxic water based paints of six different hues.

Here's a simplified lookout tower idea I'm experimenting with that I'm hoping to build out of stone next year.
In French schools and kindergartens the blocks are used as educational toys. There are many videos on the Internet of large and tall Kapla constructions built by adults. Here's one of them.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Tarping and tenting

Tarping and tenting - Five birds-eye photos of various stages of the latest project and our attempts, over the last few weeks, of trying to stay one working day ahead of the weather.

We pulled the flap back on the tent yesterday in order to begin to join the higher wall with our inside work.

The walls will enclose a raised garden.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Stone Selfie

Some stones have a lot of ego. They pretty much always want their photo taken and so often there's no one there to take their picture.

The answer, of course, is the selfie.

Here's one I just found on my iPhone. 

I'm sure I didn't take it. Hmm.

I guess it's bound to happen when you leave your phone and a geocentric stone together in the same place for too long, unattended.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Overall Value.

I have a friend who likes saying that 'Everything is a conversation between positive and negative space'.

Indeed dry stone walling is a very spatially oriented sport and thus very much supports his generalization. 

Much of the satisfaction of building dry laid walls (and looking at them) comes through appreciating these 'spacial conversations'.
It is true too that if the negative spaces are not fit together properly (that is, converse in a logical manner) with positive ones, the thing will fall apart. Well built, well fitted walls just make sense.

But to find ways to make stones and spaces agree, and at the same time look more pleasing, requires a special intuition not found in any official walling handbook or necessarily 'obtained', even by successfully acing the requirements of some dry stone walling examination, no matter what level.

What else does it take to build something aesthetically pleasing? There has to be something more human going on in the process of execution, which the more skilled walling artisans have learned requires letting themselves be guided intuitively. He or she knows that the work (and others who see it) will benefit more by having allowed another 'conversation', other than merely providing a platform for the filling of negative spaces. 

It is the conversation in (and about) values.

The video below shows enthusiastic hands sorting out a puzzle that has no defined pictorial image. Finding the pieces that go together is helped only by their closeness in colour value. The task, though still about shape and space, involves honing one's appreciation for the diversity of subtleties in the tonal mix.  There is a discovering of how things 'blend in'. 

The participants are not relying on things connecting clinically merely as many separate components. They are letting themselves experience the diversity of values available in relation to the whole. 

So too, given a pile of random stones, ever so gradually, we begin to sense the subtle differences of value within the entire range of viable options. As in many things in life we cultivate this ability through experience and learn to appreciate the value of the options presented to us.  

If the puzzle 'picture' was merely a random chaos of colour, or a completely white blank page, (to be solved spatially, with no other options) the hands still would likely find how all the pieces snapped together eventually. (Maybe not in the allotted test time). No doubt, when it was completed it would meet the 'standard' of what any 'correctly' completed jigsaw was, in that all the pieces were fitting properly. 

Working on the puzzle, and even after having put it together, the person may feel like it was worth while and even an admirable thing to have done, but would it necessarily be pleasing to look at? 

Conversations between positive and negative spaces can sometimes turn out to be arguments. 

I think it is more important to see the value of 'values' and allow for creative comparisons. 

Certainly, the activity of putting a puzzle together, and the process of building stone wall, are both more pleasing 'positive' occupations if the people who 'do' them have their values right.

Creator Clemens Habicht says the idea for the puzzle "came from enjoying the subtle differences in the blue of a sky in a particularly brutal jigsaw puzzle, I found that without the presence of image detail to help locate a piece I was relying only on an intuitive sense of colour, and this was much more satisfying to do than the areas with image details.

What is strange is that unlike ordinary puzzles where you are in effect redrawing a specific picture from a reference you have a sense of where every piece belongs compared to every other piece. There is a real logic in the doing that is weirdly soothing, therapeutic, it must be the German coming out in me. As each piece clicks perfectly into place, just so, it’s a little win, like a little pat on the back."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A proper wall is at least 13 hands high.

The standard way of describing the height of a horse is by measuring how many 'hands' high it is. At first this way of measuring may not have been absolutely accurate. Somewhere back in history however it was agreed that a hand should be standardized as 4 inches. Anywhere above 16 hands is considered a pretty tall horse. A pony is under 14.2 hands high. On the other 'hand' the horse is 14.2 hands high and over.

A dry stone wall that is below 4 feet (12 hands) in most cases is not that impressive. It would be more like a pony than a horse. A tall wall looks elegant. It looks like it has a purpose other than to be sat on. A short wall looks like people were afraid to build any higher, or that it wasn't finished yet.

The taller a wall is built the more of a statement it makes. We have to take every opportunity to build proper tall free standing walls when ever we can. It may mean really taking the extra time and energy to educate people about the merits of building walls that have this traditional height based on them being a type of barrier for livestock containment. If it can't hold grazing animals in, it isn't being honest to its roots.

Even a retaining wall needs to have some height to it to look good and more importantly for the physics of it to work in terms of it having mass and being able to act like a dam to hold back the soil. A short dry stone retaining wall along a driveway definitely doesn't have as much impact or as much 'curb appeal' as a tall one.

In any case life is just too short to go round building short retaining walls.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Granite and Limestone

This is a section of Toronto mason Gus Butterfield's dry stone work up near Alliston Ontario. You can see his masonry skill permeating the look of the wall. Masons can make great wallers. Their stones are generally more close fitting at the surface of the wall. Being so exacting can take a lot of time and is probably the reason not many masons turn to walling. 

The occasional large split granite rock mixed in with the shaped and well fitted limestone material gives this wall an artistic feel. Granite and limestone can be found together in the lime mortared stonework of many of the foundations of older houses in this area of Ontario. I don't think that the masons back then did it to be 'arty'. They were just using the field stones they collected off the property.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Haltered 3D Image

Have fun with this digitally altered horse photo

Simply print these How To Your Own 3D Glasses instructions on a piece of cardboard and then cut out the pattern and glue on some red and blue coloured gels.

After you put the glasses on, look at the photo again.

It should look like this !

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Green and Greener

I took this photo of neighbour's horse Windchester on our property yesterday. He came over for a surprise visit and began munching. 

I presume he imagined that like the proverb says, 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence'. 

Clearly, in this photo, it does appear to be true! 

But wait a minute, is that because I'm taking the photo from my neighbour's side of the fence?  Hmm.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Muskoka Walling

The previous wall

Building the new wall

It's wintry now and walling is cold work and the days are short. 

I'm remembering the nice long warm summery days of walling in Muskoka and hardly remember the bugs and the humidity !

Landscape gardener Shelagh Lippay and I worked together on this project. We took down the previous wall which was slumping and in need of a complete rebuild. We used all the original stone plus two pickup truck loads more of local crazy shaped, beautifully coloured Muskoka granite. 

After we finished the wall Shelagh replanted the raised garden with a lovely selection of flowers and ground covers. The photo above shows how it looked the day the job was completed.



Norman Haddow and I went up and revisited the site with Shelagh last October. The wall and gardens were looking splendid.

Monday, December 8, 2014

On being moved by boulders.

Yesterday I walked by a job site where these magnificent creatures were huddled. They must have been buried where heavy machinery was digging the foundation. Like so many other ancient glacial boulders (many of which still lay sleeping underneath the thin surface of this our shallow layer of humanity) these specimens were perfectly preserved in a dense womb of sand and clay until being dug up by a backhoe operator. 

Erratics often lie waiting, unexposed  and undetected for eons in the thick geological strata of sandy soil that covers much of Southern Ontario. 

The moment of 'coming out' for these four boulders probably arrived abruptly. Having existed an eternity under the earth, they emerged and were unceremoniously pushed off to the side of the corner lot.  That they will eventually be trucked away from this their ancestral turf, or worse, just shoved into some artless arrangement here beside this hurriedly built edifice of wood and concrete seems wrong. 

These strange lumps of matter with their impressive size and great age - may be unappreciated in the mundane muddiness of the construction going on around them. The wonder of their existence is easily overlooked by the busy contractor who having unwittingly uncovered them, merely needs them 'out of the way'. 

Perhaps later when the job is near completion the 'better looking' ones will be relegated to a convenient location where they will have to 'fit in 'with the rest of what will likely be a quickly landscaped property. They will serve to compliment a building that will not last a micro fraction of the geological time span the boulders have already embraced!

I believe a thoughtful, more artistic, Zen-like approach 
needs to be encouraged amongst developers, homeowners and landscapers, concerning these inspiringly mysterious visitors from down under. 

We could own all the earth moving machinery on earth but it would still not equal the power of a single boulder to move the human spirit.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Honest Wall Building

So Friday we unwrapped our frosty tarped package and continued building more section of wall with the stones present.  (see previous post

This freshly built, fast frozen, freeze dried, portion doesn't pretend to be anything except what it is - just part of a larger dry stone gate entrance we are working on near Buckhorn Ontario.

The week before.

Who knows how far we will get before the real winter sets in.
The structure now seems to be bracing itself better for winter than we are.

It is an honest looking wall, built without the use of glues that would need to set in above 0 temperatures - without mortar, and the risk of fresh cement crumbling in the sub zero weather - without clumsy finger-numbing mechanical fasteners, bolts or rebar. 

These stones huddle in a permanent holding pattern out there in the cold, held together by their own weight and friction, unaffected by the lack of heat, while we go inside the tent to warm up.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


We gathered rocks from icy hedgerows last week for building walls with. We wrapped them so they'd not be all caked in snow when the time came to try to use them.

Yesterday morning we returned, and it kinda felt like Christmas. 

We both got excited when we saw the wintry 'gift' pile of rocks lying in the snow, waiting for us to unwrap and start playing with.

It's little things like this that make off-season walling a wee bit magical.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A dry stone wall is what it is

There isn’t a property that can’t be improved by adding a dry stone wall. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be a 'retaining wall'. It can be any number of other structures.

Stones can serve many purposes other than just holding back dirt. There are countless things that can be done building only with stones, fitting them together in the dry stone method. The more you work with them, the more you discover what can be done, or more importantly, what stones can do.

A dry laid wall, made only of stones (without using mortar) doesn’t have to ‘do’ anything at all. It can just be what it is - a free-standing structure that merely looks beautiful, the way a tree or a sculpture or a flower garden does. 

This is not just ‘decoration’. The walls I am talking about are not 'ornamentation'. Veneered stonework by contrast is basically only for 'show'. The stones are all held in place in most veneers to look pretty without regard for their inherent structural value.  

A well built dry stone wall will always have a more genuinely pleasing 'form'. This is because the wall inherently has cohesive 'function' (the stones in it have been utilized structurally) 

This functionality can be extended to include purpose, as the proper walling method is combined with good design to create a formal or rustic feeling on any property. The dry laid elements can be whimsical installations, artistic expressions or have more specific applications. 

A wall feature can be set into the garden to enhance it, or partially built around it, to give a feeling of enclosure. Even a small section of wall can create the sense wholeness or expansiveness. A wall can inspire our imagination, or suggest to us a different time period, or some far away place - a place we have seen before perhaps, or one we have not yet visited.