Monday, November 30, 2015

Playgrounds and play stones

Children's event at The Northumberland Dry Stone Festival 2006
  Photo by John S-R

Professor Robert Thorson, professor at the University of Connecticut was invited to attend our 2008 Northumberland Dry Stone Wall Festival  near Cobourg Ontario. 

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.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

No more 'Both Sides Now' !

Let's standardize clouds.

It's just not right that they are all different. 
Some of them are puffy and white.
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.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Open Arch Operation

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  slumping voussoirs.  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.

Voila.  Open arch surgery was a success !

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Mount Pleasant Arch

The delightfully renown 'Mount Pleasant Arch' near (you guessed it) Mount Pleasant Ontario, had slumped a little since the day we built it nearly 8 years ago. 

Over time the resulting opening looked like it was slowly melting into a kind of elongated heart shape.

These shots taken by Mark Ricard in February of last year proved to me that it was time for us to climb up the hill and do a little 'open arch' surgery.

Tomorrow you will see how we operate.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

I never would have thought to, until...

Perhaps there was another part of this sign below? What did lower sign say to merit having another sign specially made to this?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bridge Hunting

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.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Beyond the Fell Wall

The Westmorland Gazette

BOOK REVIEW: Beyond the Fell Wall by Richard Skelton

BOOK REVIEW: Beyond the Fell Wall by Richard Skelton, £12
BOOK REVIEW: Beyond the Fell Wall by Richard Skelton, £12

Monday, November 23, 2015

Seeing through the idea of through stones?

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 ? 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gravel Travels

Brian Mulcahy sent me this photo recently. 

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.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Getting over it.

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 !

But I hope to see it and cross it one day!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

School of rock

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.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Revisiting a student wall.

Two of my students, Mike Patton and Mathew Ring built this wonderful castellated-coped dry stone wall in Cobourg over eight years ago.  

Shortly after a local artist did this stunning engraving of the house for the owners, with the wall depicted very accurately. 

This is how the house looked last July. The stones in the wall have darkened a bit but there is no sign of movement, structural failure or stone deterioration. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Hello Dollies

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.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Frame of Reference

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.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Our Rock

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. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Where the sheep have no name (and aren't spray painted)

I wanna run, I want to hide,
I wanna tear down the walls
That hold me inside. 
I wanna sneak out 
And run down the lane 
Where the sheep have no name. 

I wanna feel sunlight on my fleece 
I wanna bust out of here before I freeze 
I wanna take shelter And avoid the rain
Where the sheep have no name 
Where the sheep have no name 
Where the sheep have no name. 

We're still stuck in these walls, 
And the grass is too tough. 
Let's find better stuff
And when I go there
I go there with ewes 
(It's all we can do) 

They tag and spray us with paint
But vegetarians they ain't ! 
We're bleating and bloated with weeds 
Trapped in this fold 
'Til were auctioned and sold 
Let's get out of this game 
(to) Where the sheep have no name
Where the sheep have no name 
Where the sheep have no name.

My rewrite of this song was inspired by various musical ramblings of my good friend Mark Ricard

Apologies to U2

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dry laid stone wall meets mortared wall

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)   I hope to be doing a series of special Thinking With My Hands posts on the subject soon. 

All work will be credited.

Monday, November 9, 2015

White Waller/Kayaking

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. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Getting all f*&ing mechanical

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. 

I only wish I’d hired this weeks ago!"

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Our shredding department

The enclosure needs the original ground level to be first dug about 8 inches deeper (to remove weedy roots and poor soil) and then the it is lined with landscape fabric.

Then two trailer loads ( 8 yards ) of triple mix is added to bring the level up two feet to make it a slightly 'raised' garden.

Now that the soil has been added, the front wall and gate opening will soon be built.

But first wheelbarrows of our fall leaves are scattered into the enclosure.

And the lawnmower does a nice shredding job. The walls do a good job of containing the newly shredded leaf mulch 

The hardest job now is waiting for spring to start planting in the new garden. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Three sides nearly complete

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. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Indiana Jones, Druids, Mudders and Potatoes

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.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Good company and good music.

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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What can be done?

Let's see what can be done with this freshly cleared patch of overgrown weeds and shrubs on our property.

I think I'll use a couple of loads of this wonderful stuff we collected along the hedge rows of a local farm.

Hmm. Maybe I'll make a raised garden………

To be continued.