Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Newly Repaired Section of One Hundred and Fifty-Seven Feet of Old Wall

Six of us had a great time rebuilding 157 feet of wall last week.
This added to the 120 feet we repaired last year.
We all enjoyed working together despite the poison ivy and the crazy weather.

157 feet of original wall repaired

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mystery Walls of the East Bay

There are remnants of ancient stone walls all over the East Bay, and no one knows how old they are, who built them, or why. Though people have been pondering the enigma of the Berkeley Mystery Walls for well over a hundred years, no conclusions have been reached, and despite wild speculation, no serious scholarly study has ever been undertaken.

Stretching for over 50 miles, the East Bay "Mystery Walls" are found up and down the hills of the East Bay from Berkeley to San Jose. The stone walls are up to five feet tall in places, and are constructed from boulders of varying sizes, some weighing up to a ton. The walls run in broken sections, anywhere from a few meters to half a mile in length, and are placed in unlikely and inaccessible places. They seem to serve no known purpose. They are not continuous or high enough to act as an enclosure, or measure of defense. They are clearly, visibly, very old. The heavy stones have sunk deep into the ground, and they are overgrown with lichen. After meandering throughout the Oakland hills, they head inland towards Mt. Diablo where they lead to mysterious stone circles, up to 30 feet in diameter. In one place the walls form a spiral 200 feet wide that circles a large boulder.

The Spanish settlers in the area reported that the walls were already there when they arrived, and when they asked the local Ohlone American Indians, they said the same thing. In 1904, the founder of the Contra Costa Club said the walls were clearly of prehistoric origin and could be evidence that an advanced civilization had once settled in the East Bay. Also in 1904, the professor of Oriental languages at UC Berkeley declared that the walls were surely the work of settlers from Mongolia, as the Chinese tended to wall in their cities, and the mystery walls were reminiscent of the Great Wall of China. Others have theorized that they were built by the early Missionaries, and still others wonder if Sir Frances Drake did not leave colonists behind at the site where he completed the circumnavigation of the globe. While speculations abound, the "Mystery Walls of the East Bay," or the "Great Wall of California" remains a mystery to this day.

Visitors can investigate the Mystery Walls for themselves at several East Bay parks including Tilden Regional Park in Orinda, Ed. R Levin County park in Santa Clara, and Mission Peak Regional Preserve in Alameda County.

Reblogged from

Mission Peak toward Mt. Allison  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gravity and friction make the best Bond

Who needs 'Premium Polyurethane Construction Adhesive'?

We wallers have a 
Secret Bonding Agent

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Maddy was ten back then

The first time we saw the historic walls at Balsam Lake road Maddy was ten years old. (she's now 21) We took our bikes and cycled nearly a kilometre of road with beautiful old dry stone walls, sometimes on both sides of the road. I was thrilled back then to see that many dry stone walls so close to the road in Ontario and all in one area. I found out the walls were originally built by Canadian railroad tycoon George Laidlaw. The story goes that he imported a Scotsman by the name of Mr Scott to build several kilometres of walls to contain Mr Laidlaw's cattle on the ranch property he bought near Kirkfield back in mid 1800's. Much of what Mr Scott and his men built has disappeared but there are still some walls standing that are in great condition. I saw that sections obviously needed repair and inquired about fixing them. A year later I organized a wall restoration workshop there. 

I taught about 8 students including Dean McLellan (in the orange raincoat) and two of his co workers, the basics of dry stone walling that weekend and we fixed about 20 feet of wall over the two days.

Just last week I walked by that part of the wall we repaired back then and I took this photo. Twelve years later and it still all looks to be in good condition, just like the day we built it.

There was a second workshop the next year at Balsam Lake which Maddy and Dean helped with.

Last week I visited that section of wall too, and there is no indication that it has moved or will need repair again for another 150 years.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Tree versus wall

Photo John Shaw-Rimmington 2001

I've photographed this lovely curved section of original dry stone wall on Balsam Lake Road several times over the years, partly because it's in such mint condition, partly because it's such a beautiful shape. The wall is over 150 years old.  

Photo John Shaw-Rimmington 2014

Here's a photo I took last year when we were repairing walls further down the road.

The image of the curve was used for the original Dry Stone Wall Association of Canada t-shirt logo before we became Dry Stone Walling Across Canada

When we returned to do some more work here this spring I was very sad to see that a huge tree had fallen on the wall. 

Walls don't last forever, neither do trees.  But then, walls can be rebuilt.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Dream Team

Mark Ricard, Sean Donnelly, John Bland, Kenny Davies

Exactly one year later the 'dream team' arrived again at Balsam Lake to do a complete rebuild of  another 150 foot section of vintage dry stone wall north of Lindsay Ontario.

Despite poison ivy everywhere, and cold, rainy, snowy, windy weather most days, we have managed to do some amazing walling this week. By the look how much they are getting done Kenny and John B are  obviously in the 'stone predna-Zone'. The rest of us may be joining them by the end of the week.

A good relax in the hot tub at the end of the day helps sooth those achy muscles.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day

While we all go through phases of light and dark, no matter what day of the month, it is always a full earth.

This Earth Day, like every other day we live on this beautiful planet, each of us needs to continue treasuring that 'fullness' and endeavour to enjoy its bounty without squandering it or allowing any part of it to be destroyed. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Poison Ivy

Dry stone wallers have only a few natural predators. Apart from power wielding town planners and permit officers, who make sure that only concrete contractors get any approval for municipal projects (in their continuous regime to eradicate dry stone walling and wallers in their natural habitat) the only other thing that poses any dangerous threat to the existence, and well being, of wallers is the looming presence and insidious incursion of the ominous plant species known as 'toxicodendron' in Latin, and commonly referred to as 'poison ivy'.

This dreaded 'weed of prey', if allowed to prowl unchecked and attack indiscriminately, can render an unsuspecting waller helpless, turning them into a writhing mass of itchiness within two days of exposure to its venom. In many parts of Canada wallers put themselves at risk anytime they are working in any area where there are rocky fields or overgrown farmland. Essentially the plant thrives in the same environment as most wallers do.

If it is hot day and a waller walks through a patch of the mature plant wearing shorts, or rubs against the plant with their bare arms, unless he or she has an immunity to the toxin, the poison ivy will affect them in an adverse and potentially disabilitating way. Contact with poison ivy can make skin bubble and fester and cause itchiness of unparalleled magnitude. Gasoline applied to patches of inflammation, if discovered early enough, can sometimes reduce the extent of the irritation. Prednisone and various special creams will often help the irritation to eventually subside in more severe cases.

Here we see a picture of the dreaded flora lurking about masquarading as a harmless broad-leafed plant amongst the grasses. Patches of the tender ivy are unobtrusively snuggled up to this small boulder, leaving any unsuspecting waller at risk who may be attracted to pick up such a rock and use it in their wall. Moving the stone, even while avoiding any skin contact with the actual poison ivy plant may still yield nasty skin irritation, just from handling the stone itself, which may have been 'primed' with toxic residue from the plants growing adjacent to it.

Thinking hands need to maintain a 'hands-off' strategy when working near this exploitive and sinister species of vegetation.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Timbit Break?

Many of the smaller stones I'm using inside the wall I'm building look yummy, almost good to eat, I think I'll take a break .

Saturday, April 18, 2015

An exciting project

A sturdy looking, well fabricated, preponderantly structural, curved dry stone wall now marks the entrance to the Northumberland Hills Hospital in Northumberland County, Ontario, very near to where I live.

Congratulations to all the men who worked so fast to get it built. Beautiful random shaped pieces of quarried chocolate limestone from Madoc Ontario look to have been painstakingly squared and fitted into a conventional coursed wall pattern typical of what you would see everywhere in Yorkshire England .

Northumberland Hills Hospital Foundation executive director Rhonda Cunningham said that the revitalization of the front garden is a perfect example of community partners co-operating to create a lasting legacy for the enjoyment of patients and visitors. 

“We are honoured to be the recipient of this exciting project, and can’t wait for everyone to see the final result,” Cunningham said.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Squaring Stone

A little Sketchup video showing how to take a rounded field stone boulder and make it into more of a cube shape stone to work into a pattern of random squared stonework. Not sure if it explains it very well.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


My dog loves archaeological digs.
This one was pretty funny.

A couple weeks ago, on the spring equinox, we told him we were going out for steak supper and we'd bring him back some bones. 

At the restaurant we weren't sure what kind to get, so we ordered something we'd never had - an American dish, apparently.
When the Salisbury steak arrived. It was kind of Plain. It had no rich earthy taste to it at all. I'll make no bones about it either. There were none.

We figured Farley was going to be disappointed when he found out.
When we returned, he was sitting up erect, patiently waiting to see us produce a doggy bag. Nothing 

But the Salisbury mistake was something he lost no time erect, and vying for our attention, he dashed out and dug up some of his more ancient dog bones and produced this tasteless visual joke.

In his doggy way he indicated to us, that to commemorate what was a monumental eclipse of his hopes, from now on every year on this date, the Dog Star will appear overhead perfectly aligned with the meat freezer.

I really think he is Sirius

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Invisible Fencing

Dry stone walling is an ambiguous occupation: Discuss. 

Well for instance, wallers talk about " completely filling the inside of the wall with lots and lots of 'hearting'" In fact they actually say  "There’s no way you’d ever use 'too many' stones!” 

- After hearing that explanation, a newbie might ask , "Does that mean, when you are building a stone fence, it would be better not to use stones at all then?  Surely you're talking about 'invisible fencing' now? " 

It seems that rather than being able to understand the idea of not limiting the amount stones to do a proper job of hearting, the description of what a dry stone waller does has become more confused.

Let's see what else might be confusing.

"Dry stone walling seems obscure, but in fact the principles of are quite ‘transparent’
- do we mean ‘not visible’ at all, or ‘very easy to see’

"stone walling …" 
-purposely ‘hindering’ any progress, or conversely 'trying to be productive?

"is the technique of building a dry stane 'dyke' "
-ditch’ or ‘wall’

"with stones 'held' in place "
-without anyone actually ‘holding’ them there ? 

"in such a way that they 'stand' "
-that would be placed 'up right' or ‘lying down’

"in the wall with the 'joints’"
-are these ‘connections’ or ‘separations’ ?

"staggered so that all the stones are 'bound' "
-on their way ' to' somewhere or ‘staying in the same place’ ?

"and remain  'fast' and secure…"
-is that ‘without any running joints’ ?  

"Throughout the building process we're not using any ‘mortar’…"
-‘glue’ or ‘exploding devices’ ? 

"so that when it's 'finished' …"
-totally ‘fallen down’ or ‘completed’ ? 

"and when people stand 'overlooking' our wall…"
-‘peering at it’ or ‘completely ignoring it’ ?

"they think to themselves, this is 'awesome' …"
-‘beautiful’ or ‘merely frightening’ ?

"especially the more the wall 'weathers' with time."
-withstands’ the elements or just ‘crumbles’ away ? 

It’s no mystery why people think what we're doing is a mystery!

We tell people we are 'dry wallers' and then we explain right away that we don't actually do 'dry wall', and that we in fact don't stay very 'dry' either! 

It's no wonder people wonder. 

Let's hope that despite all the ambiguities of walling terminology contained in the English language, eventually people will begin to understand what it is we do.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Time Sharing

Can you remember an occasion when you were 'taken back' in time? Maybe you were inside an old stone church or visiting a place where there were stone ruins, or walking a trail bordered by old stone walls. Perhaps you were in a cemetery looking over the grave stones or walking along some lonely rocky coast. A feeling of 'another time' may have ensued at the discovery of some lichen covered stones lying beside a quiet path in the woods where you were walking. 

Many of us have experienced 'stone moments' when we've felt like we've stepped back in time. 

It is not difficult to imagine that stones could create more than a longing for the past. Might they not somehow actually bring the past nearer? 

What ever is going on, I know this feeling of timelessness which stones elicit in us is difficult to put into words  For those who are sensitive to these things, its almost as if the stones facilitate our being able to enter into a different time frame.

Stones, at the very least, provide a strong link to the past. They not only represent a long 'passage' of time, their very nature and composition alludes to something beyond the confines of this time and place. Certain primal arrangements of ancient stones are thought by some to form metaphysical portals into which a different dimension may be entered. Those who feel a connection to the past allow these stone structures and enclosures to drawn them in even 'deeper' .

There are certain places throughout the world where peculiar  configurations of large stones particularly are believed to reinforce the sensation of an altered time paradigm. Often these places are associated with other strange phenomena too.  Various examples of standing stones, stone circles, hinges, beacons, cairns, dolmens and other types of sacred ruins, leave many people who visit them unable to explain the attraction they have felt when they were there.  The mysterious shape and curious alignment of some of these stone structures may contribute to a belief that some higher level of cosmic energy is present. 

There have often been accounts of people visiting such places experiencing inconsistencies related to their perception of both time and space. Irregularities in the polarity of the earth's magnetic field have actually been recorded at some of these sites as well. 

While some may scoff as others continue to conjecture forever about the purpose of these ancient stone structures, I suspect that the secret may be wrapped up in the possibility of these stones having been erected long ago as a subliminal reminder to future civilizations that Stone and Time share a mysterious connection.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Celebrating Canada’s rich Irish cultural heritage

© John Shaw-Rimmington
This fall the Dry Stone Walling Association of Canada (Dry Stone Canada) will be running their third annual Dry Stone Festival.
The event will take place from September 25 - 27th 2015 on Amherst Island in Lake Ontario. They will be collaborating with the Dry Stone Walling Association of Ireland to celebrate and commemorate Canada’s rich Irish cultural heritage.
Amherst Island has one of the largest concentrations of historic dry stone walls in Canada, some are close to two hundred years old, most of them were built by original settlers from Ireland. Efforts are underway to have the site designated as a National Historic Site to officially recognize the value of this unique part of our Canadian heritage and as a way of preserving these culturally significant stone structures.

There will be a 2-day workshop on dry stone wall construction, run by Stone Foundation board member Patrick McAfee, featuring various Irish dry stone wall techniques.  The wall will represent a wall that originally ran from the Village of Stella to the Village of Emerald on the Island.

The finished wall will include a time capsule installed by the Ambassador to Canada from Ireland, Ambassador Ray Bassett.

Our concept for the professional feature involves predicting the future by creating a solar alignment at a pre-determined time and space. The feature will be positioned and built without any prior observation. 

Volunteer craftsmen are invited to attend and take part in the building of this special installation. Dry Stone Canada would like you to commit your skills to the effort and join them in creating and witnessing the spectacle!
This event is completely open to the public. 
Visit: for more details.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Oculus Eureka !

February 26th proved equally successful  !

February 27th Was Cloudy - No results

John Bland was ecstatic after he recorded on camera the sunlight coming through the oculus on February 26 and 27. The beam hit the target in exactly the right places three times in a row, on two consecutive days, just as he predicted it would. The experiment was a complete success. 

The results showed that a similar oculus 'art installation' made from tons of random limestone could be constructed and configured with a stone target in such a way that on a specific calendar day at an exact time in the future (optimally the last day of the Dry Stone Walling Festival on Amherst Island September 25-27th) the sun will be seen to align perfectly with the target wall.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Predicting and Creating a Solar Alignment in Stone

John Bland is a trained mason and an excellent certified dry stone waller. Recently he has been thinking a lot about time and space, and of course stones. He is thinking about the future. Simply put, he is looking to create something in stone that accurately predicts a unique solar/stone event to happen on the last day of a special three day international walling celebration to be held this September on Amherst Island in Ontraio, Canada.

Like the neolithic people of long ago who built mysterious  standing stone structures and stone rings John is exploring the potential of stone to be built into a kind of astronomical calculator. He anticipates being able to determine a future celestial event in stone! 

John's idea is a game changer as it moves the craft of stacking stone here in Canada out of the realm of the static into the realm of the dynamic. He reckons, as I do, that dry stone walls and features can do more than just stand there looking structural. They can point to the future, and the past. They can predict. They can tell time. They can give direction. They can attract, reflect, project, adumbrate  and so much more!

John is very precise. He has done some highly accurate testing to see if the idea is going to work. The details that he sent me last week are posted here below. 
Solar Alignment Test.

The test location was selected and the design created on February 19th 2015
The location was on a frozen lake I chose for its flat terrain and for clear visibility to the eastern horizon.

The test was set up on Monday February 23rd

The test involved aligning the sun through an Oculus 
plywood box structure and a series of targets which were recorded on another structure 20 feet away. Each target had the precise time and date which a beam of sunlight would hit. 

Three times 7:07am 7:15 am and 7:23 am for four days the test would be done on Tuesday February 24th, Wednesday the 25th, Thursday the 26th, and Friday the 27th. The times were arbitrarily picked.
The light passage, or oculus, was specifically made the same size that the sun's diameter appeared to be standing at a distance of 20' away. I did this to test for accuracy. I was able to estimate the sun's size in relation to the oculus structure at 20' of distance by putting on about 5 pairs of sunglasses, looking at the sun and estimating. 

I wanted the experiment to be early in the morning so I could test for distance. The sun's angle had to be low on the horizon. I picked 7:07 am as the first target for each day because it gave me time to get up at 6:30am make my morning coffee and drive to the test site for 7:00am. I could then drink my coffee and wait for the alignments to occur. At the precise times written on the targets I took photographs of the results.

The first test day the 24th didn't work very accurately. I was missing my line level during layout the day before so the beam of light was slightly high of each target. That afternoon I got a line level and fixed the elevation of the target structure so that it was on the same plane as the oculus structure for the next morning.

( Find out what John discovered on those next three days, two months ago - tomorrow ! )

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Time and Stone

The Imaginary Tardistone Circle.  ©John Shaw-Rimmington

It's just about time to explore the subject of ...

 Stones predicting the future, 
and facilitating various forms of time travel

Drop by tomorrow, or sometime in the near future, to read more posts about Time and Stone.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sans les mains

Gaston ... Le retour ... Oui, c'est moi qui reviens vous faire bailler avec mes histoires de levage de pierre ...

   La dernière fois j'ironisais en affirmant que cette discipline serait bientôt homologuée aux Jeux Olympiques, sans savoir que le "Harrijasoketa" existait...

Quésaco ?, C'est ni plus, ni moins le "Lever de Pierre", ... Mes aïeux !, du basque harri (pierre) et jaso (lever) et cette discipline fait partie des épreuves de force pratiquée dans le Pays Basque.
Deux concurrents doivent lever le maximum de fois des pierres de diverses manières, dimensions et poids déterminés (comme si une fois ça ne suffisait pas...).

   Et pour encore plus m'énerver, alors qu'au départ il levait des patates difformes (à partir desquelles on aurait encore pu discuter du poids exact...), au début du XXe siècle, ils ont réglementé le poids et ont créé des familles géométriques : cylindrique, cubique, sphérique et parallélépipède rectangle.

   Le Granit noir utilisée (harri beltza) provient des carrières de Zumarraga et Lástur en Espagne. C'est aussi un matériau apprécié en construction.

   L'harrijasotzaile le plus célèbre a été Iñaki Perurena qui en 1999 a atteint le record de 1 000 levers consécutifs d'une pierre de 100 kg en 5 h et 4 minutes (personnellement, j'ai pleuré en apprenant ça...).

INAKI dans ses œuvres
Et ce n'est pas tout... En 1990, il a battu le record précédent en poids en levant une pierre de 315 kg. Il est capable de lever trois fois, avec une seule main, une pierre de 250 kg et de lever quatre fois, également avec une seule main, une pierre de 200 kg.
Bien que son enregistrement du lever de pierre avec une main ait été fixé à 267 kg, il peut lever une pierre de 320 kg en utilisant ses deux mains.
Quant à la pierre ronde, non seulement ils la lève, mais la fait aussi tourner autour du cou (pour masser les cervicales...) et fait le tour de la place en courant, ainsi chargé !

Alors là, c'est Joselito
... juste avant sa fracture du crâne...

Mme aussi à les boules !...

Ben oui ! Il faut commencer
jeune ...

   Mais les basques ne sont pas les seuls à se faire mal comme ça. Il y a les écossais aussi avec leur fameux "Stone Put" (lancer de pierre) des Highland Games (Jeux Ecossais)
Une centaine de Highland Games sont organisés en Ecosse de mai à septembre ! Les plus importantes manifestations, les Cowal Games (Cowal Highland Gathering) se tiennent à Dunoon. Ils accueillent entre 15 et 20 000 spectateurs et plusieurs centaines de participants !
Mais les plus prestigieux se tiennent à Braemar car ils ont l'honneur d'accueillir la Reine du Royaume-Uni.

   A noter que les Highland Games ne sont pas organisés qu'en Ecosse, mais un peu partout dans le monde. Les Etats-Unis accueillent beaucoup de manifestations, en particulier ceux de Grandfather Mountain en Caroline du Nord, considérés comme les plus grands du monde.

   Dans l'épreuve du Stone Put, que l'on pourrait comparer au lancer du poids traditionnel ..., le costaud lance une pierre de 15 kg à partir d'une ligne en prenant un élan de 3 pas et doit lancer la pierre à hauteur de l'épaule. Si elle dépasse la ligne de départ, si le lanceur soulève la pierre avec de l'aide ou encore s'il ne lance pas la pierre à hauteur de l'épaule, "crap ", l'essai est nul.

Oui, oui, c'est bien une dame...

Bon, c'est pas facile de sourire...

Une épreuve de «pierre de force" (Pierre Manhood) existe également. Elle consiste à soulever une grosse boule de pierre du sol jusqu'à une certaine hauteur ou de la placer sur un support (tonneau, mur, ...).
Cela donne encore de belles images...

On a beau être écossais,
ce n'est pas donné à tout le monde...

Après, forcément ils ont soif...
et ils vident les tonneaux ...

   La France n'est pas en reste car elle compte aussi une équipée, l'Association Sportive des Jeux d'Ecosse en France (AJEF), qui promeut les Highland Games en France. Elle organise tous les deux ans une compétition européenne à Bressuire (entre Nantes et Poitiers).

   Bon, compte tenu de la claque que je me suis prise en découvrant ces gaillards et leurs exploits, comparés à mes modestes "sciés 6 faces", j'avais décidé de m'entraîner à mon tour avec mon pote Bébert, et cela commençait à donner quelques résultats - la preuve : ....

Bébert, ... Sans les mains ! ...