An expert on dry stone walls and a father of several children he reminded the audience in his lecture at the Capital Theatre in Port Hope on Saturday night that, "Children and stones just go together'.
He had us look back and remember our own childhood and the many games and activities we enjoyed that involved stones and rocks. He pointed out how much fun children through the ages have always had playing with this simple, commonplace, wonderfully diverse, natural material.
Children today are pressured by teachers and parents to be diligent in pursuing rigorous academic achievements from an early age, which often leaves little time for them to play with such dangerous dusty dirty technologically 'useless' things as stones.
As far as risk and danger goes I am glad to see that some playground designers are thinking differently about what kids should be allowed to interact with. ( see link below)
I just hope this trend continues and educators start to see the benefits of kids and stones being allowed to be together again to enjoy a broad range of healthy creative supervised activities.
Some are thin and grey and some are completely irregular and keep changing their shape.
It's also pretty annoying that we can't always be right about which ones are definitely going to bring rain and which ones are only going to just darken the sky for a while.
We need to regulate them and impose some sort of uniformity.
Why should clouds insist on all always being so different?
They rain and snow on everyone. Some are filled with hail and ice pellets. Some dust. Some don't have the foggiest idea what they are up to. Some just defy analysis.
They all just show up in the sky any time they like, without permission. Most of them are Maverick clouds, cluttering up the sky, pretending to be 'real' or worse, 'correct' - floating around like they think they are 'special'. Under what authority are they allowed to be there?
No. There needs to be a cloud regulatory board that sees to it that clouds meet a certain criteria. No more 'half clouds'. No more 'pseudo clouds'. No more spontaneous temporary clouds. No more low clouds. No more really high clouds. No more dangerous looking clouds. In short, no more 'unprofessional' clouds. We must bring this originality craze to a halt .
Clouds should have to pass a test to ensure they know what they are doing. 'Above all', the public must be kept safe.
Clouds should all come under one ruling body of experts.
Each one needs to be properly inspected and a cloud regulatory program needs to be put in effect. That way we can get them all looking pretty much the same and all the risk will be taken out of anticipating the weather.
We need to establish an association of cloud aficionados, a clique, a 'members only' club of self-promoting cloud experts who impose their own definition of what's a recognizable acceptable cloud . A group that won't be over shadowed by anything they decide is poor quality or out of the ordinary.
That way people won't be surprised 'out of the blue'.
Clouds will have to shape up and get with the program.
Every cloud will be properly identified, commonly defined and then systematically catalogued.
We will be able to look at clouds without any illusions.
We'll only recall a well-organized, subjugated array of 'atmospheric condensations' without any of the troublesome mystery or embarrassing hoopla we associate with them these days.
Yes it's time to establish our authority and show these puffs of vapour that WE are in control.
We carefully piled up stones inside the arch opening until we reached the peak. (This was the scariest part of the operation) With all the stones in the arch now supported, we removed three or four of the slumpingvoussoirs. This allowed us to add some more height to our temporary stone form with smaller stones to give us the gothic shape again. After that we rebuilt the arch with several of the original flat voussoir stones, as well as a new beefy keystone.
Then we carefully removed the stones inside the arch.
As part of the 2008 Stone Symposium in Barre Vermont we took a large group of our dry stone walling workshop students on a dry stone hunting expedition in Vermont looking for old historic dry stone bridges. We were crazy enough to think we would find some, and we did. This one at first glance looked like it was made of old wooden railway ties. But no, it was just very long 'sticks' of a kind of slate-like stone that ran along the vault as well as the length of the bridge and over the arch to form the parapets.
We were collectively amazed at how strong and sturdy it looked for being well over 150 years old.
RICHARD Skelton's mix of poetry and prose is described as 'a distillation' of his thoughts and observations about the fells above Furness, where he lives.
At the book's heart is a dry stone wall which Skelton sees as much more than a boundary to define land ownership and stop sheep from straying.
The wall, he says, is also 'a vessel for the human imagination (and) bristles with life, voices and myths'.
Three pieces in particular visually express this wall connection by winding their way across the page, very much as a dry stone wall would twist and turn along the landscape.
It is difficult to call them poems because they are in effect winding lists of Cumbrian place names; although to be fair names such as Full Belly Dale, Featherbed, Bellandy Bit and Thunder Field are evocative in their own way.
Published by Little Toller - www.littletoller.co.uk
While the original foundation may have been not done well, this photo I took of this wall in England in the Lake District shows what sometimes happens to certain walls that have been built with throughstones in them, when the walls begin to settle. The stones below start to separate and leave the 'throughs' straddling large see-through openings in the wall. I wonder if this sort of thing ends up being less structural than having a wall with no throughs ? A wall without throughs would allow the stones in a wall to nestle and mesh and lock into each other as it settles, rather than leaving the stones stranded balancing halfway up the wall (below the throughs they'd separated from) with nothing resting on them or holding them in place anymore. Wallers have always been taught they should try to avoid laying one stone over three or more stones. Why are throughstones any different ?
While driving back and forth from work each day, he had been admiring, from a distance at least, what had to be a newish dry stone wall built with quarried sandstone.
Then one day seeing a section of it had mysteriously been 'taken down' or worse 'come apart' he stopped the car and walked over to inspect. The dry stone wall appeared to be nothing but a sack of gravel loosely held in place by a sandstone veneer. It was bound to fall apart.
Apart from all the other structural mistakes this wall exhibits, having the insides of a wall filled with gravel material (instead of properly fit individually-placed appropriately-sized pieces of stone rubble) almost always leads to bulging and collapses like this one, usually within the first year.
So yesterday's pic was a small two arch dry stone bridge built not that long ago in Perth Ontario how about this one?
The Freetown, MA. Elm Street, Dry Stone, Three Arch Bridge - still in use - constructed in 1822.
Though thousands and thousands of people and horses and carriages and cars and trucks have all gone over this amazing bridge for nearly 200 years, and yes, the fact is I know there are still vehicles going over it to this day, nevertheless I still can't get over it !
Yesterday John Bland and I visited Algonquin College in Perth Ontario. John Scott showed us around. the totally new campus building they have there now. The new masonry and carpentry facilities were pretty impressive.
John Bland was a student of the Heritage Masonry Program at the college back in 2007-2008. In fact the dry stone pillar and wall in this photo, made of Tackaberry limestone and yellow and pink Perth sandstone was one of the projects his class worked on that year.
The other project his class participated in was this small double arched bridge which we built in two days. I remember it was run as a workshop in June on the weekend of my 59th birthday.
There is nothing better for moving big stones than a dolly, except perhaps more dollies. They are quiet and easily maneuverable. They do the job with no fuss. Where machinery is noisy and unreliable and might get stuck or break down, the common hand truck or dolly as its called (or less common and larger 'tree dolly') will never let you down. It might launch you into orbit when you try to lower a large stone into position, but other than that it is pretty easy to handle. Wheel barrows are difficult to load big stones into because you have to lift the stone to waist height. A dolly lets you roll even largish boulders onto it and then all you have to do is drag or push it to where you are building your dry stone wall. Here at Sara's garden centre workshop, Scott George and a local walling enthusiast discuss the merits of various sizes of dollies. Scott is maybe suggesting to the gentleman he might like to take one or two of them for a test drive.
I think stones almost prefer being taken out of context. In competing for our attention they seem to understand when and where they need to stop blending in. Individually their big goal is to be chosen, taken home and appreciated in some new setting, where ironically they seem to not mind losing their identity again. Even though they are completely solid and unable to move on their own, and of course, rigorously resistant to change or being shaped in any way, they still seem remarkably fluid and curiously adaptable Given a chance they will fit in anywhere. I think it is this eagerness to enter into to all kinds of new relationships, to be combined and recombined in different arrangements that is so compelling. A dry stone wall is perhaps the best frame of reference for understanding this aspect of stones. It allows us to appreciate their dual nature - that is, their individual randomness combined with their predisposition for being organized. It is this selfless propensity for collective order that put things in perspective, and makes us appreciate how attractive everything looks 'framed', especially the landscape.
Long ago our home used to be known as the Rock An orb of massive potential rolling through space, One enormous island of substantiation, predestined for greatness, On a course through the universe, prescribed by an arc that stretched from nothing to infinity. It picked up life along the way, And moss. And then came to rest in a vast vast grove of celestial euonymus. Where we stepped off as a species, and wandered further and further away. We grew larger and larger in our own eyes So large, we lost all perspective. And the Rock became smaller and smaller And lost all significance.
And yet, occasionally we still feel its gravitational pull on us. We call it yearning.
I've been taking (and collecting) photos of examples of various dry stone walls going over/around, meeting (or colliding?) with other all sorts of other building material involving suff like plastic, wood, cement, brick, concrete, steel and even bedrock.
Please send interesting photos you might have on this theme to John (at) dswac.ca I hope to be doing a series of special Thinking With My Hands posts on the subject soon.
Trevor Spik, a Heritage Masonry graduate at Algonquin College, started working with me in 2013. He caught on fast and together we built some amazing walls and a magnificent bridge that year.
When he wasn't walling he went off white water kayaking. Seems to me he spent every weekend doing it all over Ontario.
Sometimes I even caught him daydreaming about it on the job !
Anyway last week he sent me some pics of a job he did for a friend recently.
He used the Perth Huckleberry stone.
He said " If I ever have to use that for a job for a client that isn't a friend I think I'll charge double. Even grinders have a hard time cutting into it it's so hard!! Good learning experience though. Was definitely fun to design and build!"
Good to see Trevor keeping up his walling skills in case the kayaking starts to get boring.
Jason Hoffman wrote me recently about a new contraption he is very happy to have on the job.
"Sometimes you’ve just got to go mechanical on your stone. I am a purist and much prefer to use hammers and chisels to shape my walling stone. However, when your quarried sandstone cracks in unexpected ways when you try and shape it, you need to act. When the huge pieces explode when a sledge hammer is used, you need a new tack. When working the stone with hammer and chisels produces more hearting and waste than usable stone, then its time. It’s time to get mechanical.
This petrol driven stone cropper is the business. The two hydraulic rams produce 80 tonnes of pressure on the stone, which is gently pressed between the blade and a raised edge on the base. The stone is eased apart rather than cut – big pieces make a satisfying “crack” when they split. As the pressure is so concentrated, the stone doesn’t shatter, and in most cases produces a clean break. And it comes with a tow bar, so you can move it from job to job.
It feels very satisfying to carve out a little bit of the bush and enclose an area with stone to create a garden. There is something primal, something essentially purposeful about it.
The walls will probably not keep out many vegetable eating predators but it still feels like the things that we grow here will do better than the small garden we presently use nearer the house. It never yielded very much. It seemed frail and exposed.
The granite cope stones of this new garden area stand upright like sentries guarding against some unnamed foe. Each one I lift on to the wall has years of experience waiting and watching. In fact all these glacial stones have done their time patrolling the hedgerows and perimeters of long established farm fields that have produced many seasons of crops and provided pasture for herds of livestock.
These stones know what they are doing here. They bring a purposefulness to the garden.
It is not difficult to imagine whatever we grow here will pick up that energy.
Rick Merecer said " This is one of my best days ever" And I say, Well done Dry Stone Canada, and all you guys from Ireland and the States (and Scotland) and thanks to all the lovely people we met on Amherst Island! Thank you especially Andrea. This was one of my best weekends ever.
I'm working alone on this latest raised garden project. ( My dog Farley is good company but he's lazy ) I find walling alone on a quiet job site can be a good opportunity to listen to music too. I like to meditate on the relationship between music and being creative with stone. When you think about it too, NOTES are just STONE spelled backwards from the inside out.
"I'm here to help my new friends to build a big wall, like the Chinese wall."
Zipping up a thick jacket and pulling on a pair of gloves, Mohammed is ready for a hard day's graft.
He is one of a number of refugees and asylum seekers living in Belfast who spend their spare time doing voluntary conservation and preservation work in the Mourne mountains in County Down.
In Algeria, his home country, he was a police officer, but "problems with my government and a terrorist group" forced him to flee.
He has been in Northern Ireland for 18 months now - it is his "new home".
These mountains are where Mohammed and others displaced from their homelands come regularly to find peace.
They are working with the Mourne Heritage Trust, which looks after this area of outstanding natural beauty, to rebuild dry-stone walls and repair mountain paths.
The walls are one of the most unmistakable features of the Mournes, with hundreds of miles stretching over mountain peaks, dividing land and providing shelter for livestock and other wildlife.
The skills to build them - patience, an eye for a good stone, and a strong back, among other things - have been passed down through generations.
And now these refugees are learning them, too.
For Mohammed, this is his first time working on the walls: "I think it's very good experience for me."
With about 100 Syrian refugees expected to arrive in Northern Ireland before Christmas, the volunteer scheme could soon play a bigger role in offering a tranquil retreat to more people who have left conflict-hit countries.
Mediation Northern Ireland is one of the charities helping refugees and asylum seekers to settle into their new lives.
Mary McAnulty from the organisation says it works closely with the Mourne Heritage Trust.
The intention has been to help the refugees to make new friends, improve their language skills and explore part the country they now call home.
"Lots of people suffer from anxieties, so having a day out of Belfast is great," Mary says.
"If your world is very small, just the area you live in, then these can be your hills.
"I love to see people becoming proud of it and feeling that they have a sense of place."
Amar, who has moved to Belfast with his family from Sudan, says getting outside the city "is good for me".
And for Elizabeth, who is Colombian, the fresh countryside air is "good for my mind".
But it is not just a one-way thing.
Large areas of walls have become damaged due to erosion and increasing visitor numbers, and the Mourne Heritage Trust relies on volunteers to do the repair work.
Ranger John McEvoy says the trust is indebted to the refugees.
"They're willing to get the sleeves rolled up, get stuck into it," he explains.
"As the day goes on, you'll see them lifting the stone, doing exactly as we're doing."
And Dean Fitzpatrick, a Mourne man who comes from a family of stoneworkers, says you do not have to be born and bred in the shadow of the mountains to chip in.
"There are boys here who aren't stonemasons at all, from all different parts of the world," he says.
"They're doing as good as anybody and they've only been here an hour or two."
As Mohammed removes his gloves and wipes his brow after the work is done, his smile is wide.
"Here it's very quiet - everything is perfect for me here."