Wednesday, August 31, 2016

See the Trailer

 It's way better than being stuck in one of those fancy new mortar homes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Many Times and Ways the Stones Get Stacked on the Irish Tower Project

A unique deposit of quartzitic schist in the Mojave Desert of Southern California is quarried by Sydney Peak Stone.

First it's gathered and stacked this way.

At Sydney Peak Qarry

Then it's stacked this way on pallets and shipped to Gualala

Then it's 'trial stacked' dry laid this way, before it's lime mortared.

To see how it fits around the trunk of the tower.

Then its stacked and wet laid this way in a special hot lime mortar

To make a permanent masonry structure

And after cutting it up and shaping of a lot more of it.

Many tons of it is dry stacked again in a preliminary cone shape in preparation for the roof assembly

And then dry stacked once more !

To create the tower roof - all dry laid !

Thanks to Amanda Stinson for the last photo

Monday, August 29, 2016

Docks and Rocks

Maybe I think too much about rocks. Coming down to the dock in the early morning last week seeing this beautiful scene I thought again about the importance of rocks  

For me the essential thing that makes this kind of tranquility even possible is not mist, it's what lies below. Under the calm surface of the lake below the dock are carefully placed rocks sleeping in a crib of timbers.

Timbers without stones would just float away. Docks without rocks would float away too if they weren't tied to the shore.

Rocks and stones are the unsung underwater underpinning of many of the best most permanent docks and warfs.

They may be wet but they're still dry laid.

Next time you dive off a dock think about it.


I had many alternative titles for this post. 
Here's a few that maybe would be just as good?

Stone Warfing 

Safe in their Crib
(Between the Railway Sleepers)

Sinking with my Hands

Stacking the Dock

 A base of Rock
for Rock Bass to hide in

Anchor management - Just Try to Get a Crib

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Walls at the Falls

Cyclists ride past a kilometre-long stone wall in Queenston along the Niagara Parkway on Tuesday, August 23, 2016. Julie Jocsak/ St. Catharines Standard/ Postmedia Network

This photo is connected to the link below to a recent article in the St Catharines Standard about the dry stone walls along the Niagara Parkway near Queenstown Ontario. There are some beautiful and very historic walls there, some of which are in mint condition.

A few sections of the Parkway walls that have been damaged by vehicles or trees have been repaired either during Dry Stone Walling Across Canada workshops (in conjunction with Willowbank School of Restoration Arts Willowbank /DSWAcrossC Workshop ) or as private restoration projects. 

Mark Ricard, John Bland (two excellent Canadian wallers) and I cheerfully worked together to bring this wall back to its former glory.  

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Still Life

I had been pondering long enough now. It was time to put brush to paper and try to paint a stone so that it looked convincingly like a stone. I chose the perfect one from a small pile of rocks on the beach, near the dock, and held it in my hand. 

He did not like being picked up. Having woken from a deep sleep, he still remained completely motionless. He felt stiff everywhere. Lying awkwardly on his side for so long in the sand had left him feeling cold and numb. As he sat up in my hand, the morning light began to warm the upper part of his form. His pink and grey granite exterior relaxed against my hand. My skin felt smooth against his rough weathered surface.

He looked round. He rolled onto his back and then over into my other hand. There was not really that much to see. He didn’t feel different either. He reflected quietly. 

Sparkles of gneiss and flecks of mica glistened above the dark patch where the dampness from the wet sand he’d been lying in (for who knows how long) had started to disappear. No wonder he felt stiff.

He needed to stretch. Feeling heavier now too, he needed to be put down. Plonk.

He sat there on the dock waiting as I got out my paint brush, dipped it into my jar of water and excitedly began mixing colours. Nothing seemed to move him. In fact he remained perfectly still the whole time I tried to paint him - the ideal artist’s model. 
In the end I think he got bored and went back to sleep.

When I was finished painting I was a bit disappointed he showed no interest to see what I'd done. He probably wouldn’t have liked it anyway. I decided to leave him there warming in the sun.

In the end I think I did manage to get a bit of his likeness on paper. 
But still, I would have liked to have captured a bit more life in the painting. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Slowing down to a snails pace creatively.

Certain species of snails are known to 'cluster' on grass stems, fence posts and stone walls in order to ‘aestivate', away from predators on the ground.

While it may be sudden and unexplainable we need to accept any strange cessation of our creatively as perhaps the muses way of insisting we take time to brood. Not get moody and grumpy but recognize that sometimes there needs to be a period of gestation. There are times when the most creative thing we can do is wait.

Even so, sometimes this creative incubation period can be worryingly way too long. We fret. We think we have dried up for good. Those of us who build walls without mortar get a kind of waller’s block. The source of our inspiration seems to have jammed up. We are up against the wall. Stranded between a rock and a hard place. 

What we need is perspective. We need to see that there is potential waiting in the dry seed of our imagination’s dormancy. There is often a recharging going on. It can't be rushed. There should be no reason for discouragement.  Everything on the earth takes regular periods of rest over a 24 hour cycle. And many plants and animals take much longer pauses. 

My current dryness seems like a kind of mental '├Žstivation' (from Latin: aestas, summer) It is a state of dormancy, similar to hibernation, characterized by inactivity and a lowered metabolic rate, that is entered in response to high temperatures and arid conditions.  It takes place at times of heat and dryness which is often during mid summer.

Invertebrate (like snails) and vertebrate animals (like frogs) are known to enter this state for months in order to avoid damage from exposure to excessively hot dry periods and the risk of 'desiccation'. Both terrestrial and aquatic animals undergo aestivation. 

And so creatively, maybe we do too.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Child Support

Kids attending the Landon Bay Nature Camp this August paused on our bridge for a photo.

Named Kay's Bridge in Landon Bay Centre (not far from Rockport, Ontario) this dry stone bridge was built at the yearly Thanksgiving Weekend during Dry Stone Walling Across Canada's 2010 festival.

I suspect the bridge is about the same age as some of the children it's supporting.

Thanks to Margot Miller for the photo.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Watercolour dry stonework.


Yesterday after work I tried my hand at painting a section of stonework that we built last year. I was using a new watercolour set we bought last weekend at an art supply store. I love art supply stores.

The trouble is I find it harder to paint stones than build with them. I wish I could figure out the technique for making stones look more real. There are many watercolour artists who are good at it. 

Hmm. I wonder how many artists who are good at painting stonework in watercolour wish they could figure out the technique for making real stonework?


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Revisiting a project from long ago

Many years ago, my partner Glenn and I built this lovely cottage nestled along the shore of lake Kawagama
We were contracted to build the entire cottage for the clients, including all the squared log work, framing, and trim, along with building the traditional style kitchen cabinetry and all the heritage masonry.
We also did all the hardscaping: steps and small dry laid retaining walls to make getting down to the lake easier and safer for a young family.
What I was mostly interested in seeing after all this time was the old stonework including the steps and retaining walls that I had built there well before I got into dry stone walling full time. Back then — and well before that — I was mostly building with the Devil’s cream creating traditional Rumford fireplaces, squared stone foundations and stone chimneys, often in an authentic random rubble style which is what you can see here at the cottage.

It was gratifying to see how well it all stands up (both wet and dry work) even though it is now so long ago that I barely remember having done any of it.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Timeless Look

This dry stone planter the students built during a workshop I ran in San Francisco nine years ago is made with the same lovely saucer shaped (some call it 'cow patty' shaped ) stone which we also used to create the Yoni Wall in Gualala (seen below from forty feet up)...

... and again to build the tree-bookended 'Test Wall' . Both walls were completed several years after that original workshop. 

There is something marvellous about this material which the supplier calls Fantasy River Rock from Grass Valley California. 

Unshaped, unworked, undressed stones like these, stacked either vertically or horizontally, convey a powerful feeling of timelessness. The walls feel like they have been there since antiquity.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Too much inflammation ?

While it’s obvious building dry stone walls all day sometimes makes you tired and a bit achy, I’ve had a problem with feeling unusually stiff and very achy for a long time now
so, on the recommendation of a doctor I am experimenting going on a 'gluten free diet'.

I’ve learned that apart from a lot of other disorders, gluten can cause the immune system to literally attack the muscle and joints leading to chronic pain and inflammation.  A prolonged immune system attack contributes to chronic degradation of these tissues and subsequent atrophy of the muscle and arthritis in the joints. 

Sounds like it might just be my problem.

Gluten acts like glue. It is part of the elastic, rubbery protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It binds the dough in baking and prevents crumbling. Gluten can be found in breads, cakes, pastries, cookies, biscuits, crackers, battered foods, cereals, snack foods, pastas and pizza and yes, beer. 

I’m thinking of gluten now as the food counterpart to Portland cement - kind of the equivalent to masonry 'devil’s cream’, only this time it's the 'devil’s glue’, sticking things like bread, pizza and muffins together in a rather unhealthy way.

So now, for the next three months at least, I'll be spending my days walling without mortar and doing without gluten too! 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

All's walled that ends walled

We were asked to rebuild an existing badly built dry stone wall using mostly the same material. I call it a petrofit.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Its a beautiful day out there!

Whoever says its a beautiful day out there should try building walls in this weather.

This multi-tiered dry stone wall garden area we created last summer is looking a bit like a deserted archeological site this week. It lies dormant of flora, except for dry grasses. It's still awaiting a massive planting of native flowers and shrubs. But the weather is so dry and hot.

I remember how hot it was when we were building these walls. No shade. The heat was oppressive. The sun's electrical rays zapped us without mercy and sapped us of our energy.

Our chisels were too hot to pick up sometimes. Most of the building material had to be carted up hill and the rocks seemed twice as heavy because of the heat.

We tried to build under our canopies and take breaks and drink lots, but the memory of how tired and hot we got building these walls still lingers.

Working in this week's severe heat reminds me of that project which we started building a year ago about this time.

 I don't like August.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

All the yurt's a stage...

And Mark and I were merely players, called in to improve the look of this one here in California.

Here are the various stages. 

- Creating a stone foundation (from scraps and leftovers) for supporting the new deck and stairs we would be building. 

- The fabricating work,  essentially cutting and dressing huge steps from the dry stone academy granite material

- Then supporting exterior dry stonework, stacked decoratively up from grade to the underside of platform slabs
- And finally adding three heavy basalt columns for balance and to give some architectural accent.

Having now successfully circled half of it with stone, exiting and reentering the yurt has a whole new 'atmosphere' to it

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Man and His Tower

Peter Mullins stands back to look at his stone tower which is slowly rising higher. 
Being built in stages it has been two years in the making. 
The work of putting on the many tons of triangular schist stone tiles begins today.

Last week all the large stone corbels were lifted high up to the workers by a crane operator.
Who is that crane operator?

Why none other than the man whose tower it is - Peter Mullins. 

None of the unique dry stone projects installed on his beautiful wooded California property over the last 9 years, could have been built without Peter's skillfull operation his big Gradall (6000 lb lift, 35 foot high reach), bringing us material and lifting the really heavy stones into position.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dust in My Crocs

They call it Mendocino Moondust.  It gets into your clothes and in your shoes and in your hair. We are hammering and sawing and grinding and drilling stone all day and there just seems to be so much dust around. It tastes like powdered rock. Wait, maybe there's a reason it tastes like powdered rock.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Facing A Corner.

Kevin Carman is carving a Green Man from a block of pumice stone.  He picked it out from some of the Featherstone rocks we are using to shore up the base of the Irish Tower (the roof of which is being completed this month). 

Green Men, most commonly depicted in architectural carvings, are traditionally foliated faces of men (rarely women) with leaves, vines and branches covering their faces as well as coming out of their hair and beards. 

In talking to Kevin he remarked how easy the pumice stone was to carve. He says he's excited to do a face next in marble, which obviously would be harder and much more satisfyingly 'heavy'. However getting even pumice stone to take on such well defined features and proportions is really impressive.

One thing Kevin told me that he learned from sculptor John Fisher was to work from the corner of a block of stone, rather than the flat side of the block, to create the proportions of the human face. That way, as you chisel away material, the nose and the angles of the cheeks and chin are more effectively revealed. 

When you think about it, the human face has more of a V shape than a flat look to it. Recognizing and working that 'angle' certainly gives the face more energy and expression. 

Many breeds of dogs have V- shaped faces and all kinds of wild animals have elongated mouths, presenting an elongated V-shaped appearance.

The tradition of the Green Man is one associated with nature and wildlife, and it is seems even more 'natural' that Kevin chose to sculpt the angle of the head from a 'corner' orientation.

Well done, Kevin.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bocce or Lithobolos (Bocce with stone balls)

After working all day with stones the guys like to wind down by playing with stones.

John Dibona, Matt Driscol, Matt Harvey, Kevin Carmen, Sean Smyth,and Royce Kelly battled it off again last night playing on a ever changing, creatively improvised bocce court which meanders around and through some favourite dry stone landmarks here in Gualala California 

In the game of lithobos sometimes it's hard to tell the stones that are in play from the stones that are just watching.

Even though we're still just messing around with stone, much like we do through the day, steel toed boots are not mandatory here. As you can see, bare feet and flip-flops are the footwear of choice