Saturday, October 31, 2015

Pushing The Shadow Back.

It will be a real 'trick' this Halloween to push back the shadow an hour, but then again having that extra hour of sleep Sunday morning will be a nice 'treat'.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A frame of reference

Stone is always a big factor when it comes to our perceiving whether a certain location has a 'sense of place' or not. Often old ruins particularly trigger feelings associated with permanence, even though they are in a state of decay. They seem to provide a more solid frame of reference for meditating on the relationship between decay and permanence. 

Even though so much of our existence is in flux, somehow coming across stone structures (like the remains of this old squared granite house I discovered still standing near Roseneath Ontario) allow us to feel more grounded.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A sense of something.

'Sense of place' - We intuitively know what it is, and often sense it, but can we explain what it is, or say why certain places have it and others don't ? 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Skate Borders

Dry stone wall borders traditionally were built to try to keep livestock in and wildlife out. Nowadays we have a special sign put up everywhere, as a kind of skate border deterrent as well. But the wild life still gets over it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Crotch Rocks

A fence near the Indian River, Keene, Ontario

Different examples of split rail fences are seen all over Ontario. They were very practical and less work than building stone walls to enclose tracts of land especially on properties where the there was more wood than stone. 

The traditional two post method isn't used in cases where the ground is too rocky, or the bedrock too close to the surface to dig post holes. 

The tripod becomes the support for the rails to wedge down onto (or hang from with wires). Sometimes the tripod was four posted (quadpod?) for greater strength. 

While the tripods create good vertical support than are still susceptible to sliding or even tipping. To prevent this, heavy rocks are sometimes placed on the upper "V"crotch of each tripod to add extra weight and cause the feet of the tripod to spread even more, creating a wider stable base. 

It is interesting that even where there is a lot of wood available and wooden fencing has been chosen over stone fencing, rocks still play an important role.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Who wouldn't a prefer a dry stone wall over anything made with concrete ?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Senseless destruction of a natural arch.

CBC News Posted: Oct 20, 2015 3:50 PM AT Last Updated: Oct 20, 2015 4:07 PM AT
The photo on the left shows the Long Island sea arch before it collapsed overnight Monday. The one on the right shows Long Island minus its sea arch.The photo on the left shows the Long Island sea arch before it collapsed overnight Monday. The one on the right shows Long Island minus its sea arch. (Michel Lajoie (left)/ Harold Nesbitt (right))

A Nova Scotia landmark was vandalized last Monday night when the well known trouble maker Mother Nature caused the collapse of the sea arch 'the hole' on Long Island in the Minas Basin.
Residents of the area are continually looking for ways to prevent this kind of senseless destruction by weather and time.
"Implementing stricter surveillance systems and enforcing heftier penalties just isn't working." says one local
I guess we will just have organize a group of wallers to go over there and fix it for them.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Our Ellis Island Wall

Otherwise known as The 'leftovers' Wall.

More about this wall later

Thursday, October 22, 2015

You've Got Mail

John Henry mailed out invitations this year again to attend his special Halloween extravaganza on his property in Virginia. 

The link below is a video of his showing some of the dry stone projects he's built there, including one or two I was able to help with.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Pecha Kucha - Carnarvon Ontario

Guest presenters include -
Matthew Harvey - Architect
Bill Lett - Architect
Michael Gallant - Architect
Scott Donovan - Architect
Michael Fortune (representative of) - Furniture Builder / Designer
John Shaw-Rimmington - Dry-Stone Mason
Lou Fenniger - Net-Zero Energy Residence Builder

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Natural Election

Canada has just had a federal election. There were many people who made it clear (especially on social media) that they were for "anyone except Harper" (Harper being the incumbent Prime Minister for the last nine years.)
There is an underlying problem with this type of thinking in that all the people who felt Harper was unfit for the job might not have been as unified a force. Though it was clearly not the case last night, the clout of a mass of people who were agreed on one thing, to get Harper out, could have been severely minimized, had their collective choice not been so decidedly Liberal.

It seems to me a better form of democracy would be to have people vote for the person they would least like to see in power. Every vote would count as a strike against the candidate, and the one with the least votes would clearly be the winner. That person would be seen as a true representative of the masses and someone who is least likely to do a terrible job. 

This kind of contra democracy or inverse democracy goes on all the time in nature. Natural selection ensures that species naturally see to it that they get rid of the worst mutations. 

If it's one vote we have as a species, or a nation, it is more effective to be a vote to get rid of the problem, than have our vote be no more than a longing for something better, which in the end is dissipated and neutralized by our lack of agreement as to who or what that would be.

If I am building a wall there is a natural selection (natural election?) constantly going on too. I pick one stone at a time. I may think that I am voting for the stone I want, but really I am voting for ( voting against?) the stones I don't want. When I get to the wall and it's not the right one, I throw it away too. I don't have my preferences for just one good stone dispersed amongst the decisions of a lot of other 'selves'. 

If a committee is building a wall, even then the best stone for each job (of filling a gap or crossing a joint)  would always turn out to be the one the least number of people objected to.

Walling so often turns out to be a life lesson in common sense. If I see a stone in the wall I don't like, I get rid of it. I intuitively decide that there must be a better one. There may in fact be two or three better ones. But first I vote to get the wrong one out.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bar Code

Ancient dry stone Bar Code recently discovered in the Orkneys. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

David Allen

David Allen of Stone Point Studio never ceases to amaze me with his unique brand of stone balancing. 

This recent full-circle dry-laid prototype of Davd's is now my favourite. Interestingly it solves a problem I was working on a couple of years ago. wheels without mortar 

Well done David !

You can read what he has to say about this ground breaking solution to the non-mortared no-shouldered stone moongate challenge on his Facebook page 
And you can see more of his cleverly photographed work there too. 

I first became familiar with his work some years ago on Instagram where he displays (on an almost daily basis) an inspiring array of stone creations he dreams up and then accomplishes. 

Many of his pieces seem absolutely impossible. On visiting his website I was pleased to see that he posted a YouTube showing the process of him successfully balancing one collection of five irregular shaped stones. I would love to see how he does some of the other amazing 'balances'.  

The ones I like particularly are the dry stone moongates which form magical looking circle,square,diamond and heart shape openings. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Walled Series

Our 'ball game' is the 'wall game'.

And we wallers rarely swing and miss.

Sometimes we like to think we knock the wall right out of the park.

We flip the sledge high into the air and we imagine the crowd cheering wildly, just like they did last Wednesday for the Jays.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Self Leveller

Are you tired of clients snooping around on the job, after you've gone for the day (before your finished their project) checking out your workmanship ? 

Are you annoyed they use your tools to see if your stone coursing is level? 

Get the new 'Self Leveller' Level and merely leave it on the job after you go home for the day. 

No matter where the client places it, your stonework will always appear to be level !

Priced at only $69.99 this is a deal not to be missed!

Act Now ! And buy this remarkable reputation-saving device today and we will throw in the new Joint 'Disguiser' which makes 'running joints' seem to disappear on photos of your work posted on Facebook and any masonry groups you show your work on.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

More Walls at Ennismore

I was very proud to see that on Sunday Sept 27th the Ennismore and District Horticultural Society completed their Dry Stone Wall project building a wall at base to the Welcome to Ennismore sign --It was a big job! Barry Sweeting did a wonderful job supervising the project and they say he gave a big sigh of relief once it was done.
They changed the design somewhat from the original dry stone wall with an arch idea, even though they had some practice at building an arch on the previous community project which I had the honour of overseeing last year. 

A big well done to Bill Brouwer, Paul Young, Gail Murray/Smith, and the folks that helped clean up the rock- Gary Smith, Paul Young and John and Jack Young.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Here's another spin on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, for us dry stoners, is a time for celebrating the harvest. The stone harvest!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Spinning With My Hand

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving from Thinking With My Hands 
Keep on rockin' and rollin' !

Saturday, October 10, 2015

All Eyes On The Potato Arch

I have to thank Sunny Wieler for sending me pics yesterday of one of the potato arches we built during the children's event at the dry stone festival in Amherst last month. 
He cleverly titled the email - 'photatoes'.

He has a great camera and a good eye for potatoes doesn't he ? 

You are quite right in assuming that it is not an easy thing to build arches with potatoes. Toothpicks were not allowed, nor were any of the potatoes cut or shaped. There really is no trick. You just need patience, lots of kids and the pressure of a crowd of parents watching. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Secret Walls

There is a trend amongst a growing number of wallers in North America where they submit to not having their dry stonework and artistic creations photographed, and are voluntarily restrained from having anyone see or enjoy images of their client's projects posted on the internet.  

I have always maintained that dry stone walling needs to be promoted in Canada and the best way to do that is give examples of good workmanship a high profile. The first wave of wallers in Canada came across the craft  (and got better at it) partly through seeing the excellent work of wallers in Canada, and others from around the world, posted on the internet on flickr and Facebook and blogs (like this one). 

These younger wallers shouldn't give in to clients insisting that their work not be available for others to look at. People need to be inspired and allowing art to be cloaked and muzzled is giving in to a unpleasant client-serving censorship.

It is one thing to not allow people on your property. It is another thing to keep people from seeing the creative way stones have been laid on it. Dry stone artists should not let themselves, or the images they take of their work, be owned or censored.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The herringbone pattern

We used a herringbone pattern on the Irish Ditch the students built in Brockport last week. It's a very structural type of bond. 

The pattern does however require more cooperation and planning when taught in a group. Stones can't just be laid anywhere along the wall at the same time by all the students. There is a bit more waiting involved

To accommodate more students being able to lay stones, we placed a temporary upright 'resting' stone in the middle of the row we were to begin to build. (note the cube-like stone positioned on the wall just behind Judy, the lady in blue) 

When this is in place, two half-rows of leaning stones can be built at the same time. When the whole row is complete, the resting stone is taken out and replaced with two leaning stones.

In regular horizontal coursed walls, stones laid flat have only their own weight (and the weight of some stones above them) to limit any shifting, but stones laid diagonally (as in a herringbone pattern) are further held in place by the weight of all the stones leaning to the left or right of them. 

Stones in a herringbone wall are more connected and their dependence on each other is quite structural. 

People who depend on each other are better connected too. The song Lean On Me talks about the importance of knowing you can lean on someone. 

I know I'd rather be in a dynamic 'herringbone community' than a static boxy-caged rigid-gridded one. Stones (and people) that are merely butted up against each other, but not leaning on one another, can give the appearance of stability, but in fact can still be reluctant to be in any meaningful contact, and in the end, tend to fall out.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Brought Together

One traditional Irish 'Feidin' wall deserves another. This time it is in Brockport N. Y. No hands were harmed in the building of this wall during the two day workshop Patrick and I taught at Sara's Garden Center. 

Kathy who runs the garden center expressed it best on her Facebook page.

'What an absolutely magical 2 days...seeing virtual strangers brought together by a single intriguing pull - this "hard-wired" connection with stone...they come devoted to a project unseen and 48 hours later fulfillment happens, visions and dreams come to become stone with intent...thanks much to these magic makers...many will benefit from these minutes given. We love this project and can't express enough the amazement, the awe, the gratitude and love..
carry these feelings with you...they are inspiring.'

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Deconstruction, not destruction

There is much that can be learned taking apart something that you've built, just as there is much to be learned doing something perhaps that's never done or built in the first place.  

Creativity, even deconstructive creativity, is a learning process and will almost always involve a certain degree of risk.

The kids at Amherst Island learned some valuable building lessons building walls with potatoes at this year's festival. The reward of play-building, the thrill of experimentation and the sense of accomplishment far exceeded the risk of disappointment or failure.

So too, the rewards for those happy men and women creating with stone at this year's festival far exceeded any risks of setbacks, criticism or concerns about exploring (or being taught) less conventional approaches to building walls without mortar.

Monday, October 5, 2015

AndY-ukon Goldsworthy

Having had success building smaller potato arches over five gallon buckets last weekend with kids at the festival, we then tried (several times) to build one over a 28 inch plastic barrel. It never quite succeeded. I'd like  to give it a try again some time with no small potatoes. Maybe I will put out a coffee table book some day with arty potato installations and clever thoughts about the creative process.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rick Mercer visits the potato event

It was great to meet Rick Mercer and have him help me with the Kids Potato Walling Event on Amherst Island at the Irish-Canadian dry stone festival on the last weekend in September 2015.

He was genuinely surprised how well potatoes worked as a building material

They filmed him faking removing a bucket from an already built potato arch.

He asked me not to try to be funny because that was his job.

The kids buried one of the waller's son, Nathan, in potatoes. Rick thought it was pretty funny.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A 'Spudding' Art Form

At the Amherst Island Irish-Canadian Dry Stone Festival last weekend we got to experiment building spud walls. These were no small potatoes. And there were a lot of them too. 

We purchased two tons of them from Tupling Farms near Shelburne Ontario. The children from the island built walls, forts, boats and pyramids. The nice thing is that building with potatoes is not just a whole lot of fun, it's safe.

Here are two big kids taking a break from working with stones to play with 'tatties'

This was our first potato sheepfold. 

This was the firstarch of several we built on Saturday.  Starch… get it? 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Parliamentary Coverage

"The world's first attempt to mimic the ancient mystical Mayan Celtic lunar solar sun stone calendar" Wow!

The game changer we predicted.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

...the beautiful stone walls rise...

Photo by Sunny Wieler

Among other special guests and diplomats attending the festival on Amherst Island last weekend was celebrated Canadian author Jane Urquhart. She spoke wonderful words of encouragement to the people of Amherst who had come out to this special dry stone event in great numbers. She read a moving passage from the last chapter of her novel The Stone Carvers. It was one of the most powerful moments of the Irish Canadian Festival.

'And so the impossible happens as a result of whims that turn into obsessions. A priest is struck with light in an unexpected valley, a king requires rainbow machines, on the one hand, and a belief in the magic of distant landscapes, on the other. A Canadian man dreams the stone that will be assembled and carved to expiate the sorrow of one country on the soil of another. The men in the counting houses of government rage against the expense, preferring to hoard their coins for the machinery of war. And still the beautiful stone walls rise in barely accessible, elevated places. Heart breaking operas are written and performed in various private and public rooms. Mass is celebrated. And the windows and statues and towers are maintained longer than you might think, in the face of autumn's bitter winds and winters frantic storms. If you stand in certain  parts of the valley you can see them shine. A clear flash of silver or alabaster in daytime, lit by a rich inner fire, or reflected moonlight at night, they disperse light and strength and consolation long after the noise of the battle has ended, and all of the warriors have gone home.'