Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cellular Networks

Even the rocks themselves have cellular structure. 

So if we are talking about cellular structure, it's not just living cells of plants and animals, it seems everything comes in a cellular pattern. 

Not just the ordered circular, triangular, hexagonal arrangements, but irregular shape cells too, all form and mesh together in endless cellular patterns.   From natural structures of honeycombs to the man made mapping of microwave networks across the globe, there is this ubiquitous pattern of cellular structure. (Incidentally that's why they are called cell phones)

Image result for turing patterns

From complex tiling patterns, to Turing algorithms, from 'wallpaper groups' to natural coral patterns, it seems everything arranges itself into cells.
And if we look at the patterns of dry stone walls, whether they are vertical or coursed or diagonal or even random, what we see, and what I think we enjoy seeing, is this same propensity for cellular patterning.

But what makes for a good pattern? What kind of formula could one use to best arrange a selection of irregular shaped stones . What are some rules to follow that make a cellular pattern structural? 

A few years ago, late one night, after a few pints at a pub on Inisheer, John Scott, Patrick McAfee and I, marvelling at the counter-intuitiveness of the myriad of patterns of Irish walls we'd seen that day on the island, got excited about inventing a 'walling' game where flat stone shaped pieces were dealt to players and then one at a time laid out consecutively on a blank board to create a two dimensional wall pattern, each player trying to score the highest points (according to a preset formula of aesthetic bonding rules) in a battle of structural cellular strategy. 

Now and then we still talk about someday actually coming up with the rules for such a game, and making our fortune.

Can you suggest some of the elements that might make a game like that work?

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Right Half of a Waller's Brain

There are connections. There are patterns. It is perhaps not surprising that, among other amazing facts about a waller's brain, it seems to possess a powerful and very creative affinity both to enjoy and reproduce, in stone, the same kinds of patterns of cellular structure, which are intrinsic to its very make up and are biologically evident under the microscope.

Is this a kind of game the brain plays with itself? If so, let's look at the some of the rules of cellular structure and figure out how to play the game better.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Look Out For Turtles

They often look like rocks, but don't be fooled. 

Image result for turtle signs

This is turtle season. You're very likely to see one crossing the road looking for a place to lay its eggs.

Last week, this turtle came crawling over to see what we were building.

Is it possible our wall looked like a crowd of turtles all lined up to see something special?

It was pretty clear she couldn't wait to get in line as well.

Turtles do often look like small rocks and vice versa. In this case even the cows were fooled.

Turtle Rock

                                                    Turtle Rock in Mongolia

And then of course there are some big big rocks that really do look like huge turtles.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

August Walling Workshop on the West Coast

A special course is being offered this August 19-20 in California, at the private property of John Fisher, the internationally famous sculptor and painter
This is a terrace/retaining wall workshop using local stone.
The two day course will involve all aspects of walling including copes and through stones and batter.
Lunches and printed material will be provided. Cost $225 for the weekend.
If you can't be there you'll be missing out not just on a fantastic workshop event but also an opportunity to see first hand many of John's amazing marble and wood sculptures dotted throughout the property
Please tell your friends about this walling event to be held at the artist's sculpture studio property. 
To register, email the contact address below
For accommodation ideas and more info about John Fisher or the Fort Bragg area contact John at artisti@comcast.net
Spaces are limited. Payment is by predated cheque. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

A bridge is the answer, of course!

This is a stone bridge we saw in a prestigious golf course in Dornoch Scotland on our tour of walls that Margot Miller organized in June of 2015.  While it, nor the famous one at he course at St Andrews is not dry laid, it still looks very attractive.

It always surprises me why so few golf courses here in Canada and the States have stone bridges, of any kind. 

Considering the obvious Scottish link, I would think a well built stone bridge at one or two holes, especially dry stone ones, would provide that perfect combination of picturesque aesthetic and authenticity to any club.

Any ideas why this is not the case?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

From Above

A drone is like a heavenly being, allowing us to see things we've created from different angels

Monday, May 15, 2017

Course Language

It's not even f *ing straight !

There isn't one row of stones that doesn't look shitty !

It's too bad he didn't use a bloody level !

I've seen random stonework that looks less crappy. 

What did he use, a slinky for a string line?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Cope Aesthetic

Both walls are made from the same limestone material. They are on different parts of the same property. Which cope style do you prefer and why?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Stone Crazy Quotes

Documentary On Newstalk: Stone Mad

We take a journey around Ireland, to discover what drives people mad… for dry stone walls.
"Stone Mad" brings us from Donegal to Dingle where dry stone wall enthusiasts share their passion about this craft.
Presenter Tristan Rosenstock journeys from Donegal to Dingle learning skills from stone wall makers young and old to get an insight into this rich aspect of our built, vernacular heritage. Walls are usually seen as divisive obstacles, things that separate people. Here in Ireland, however, building a dry stone wall was an activity that brought a community together. It was a unifying occasion where a meitheal was summoned to lend a hand ensuring the land could be farmed. Stone Mad brings us down the western seaboard where we encounter people who are passionate about making dry stone walls, as well as artists who draw inspiration from them.
Stone Mad celebrates a unique aspect of our rural and vernacular built heritage and introduces listeners to master stone wall builders who are passing on aspects of this traditional craft.  We also meet with artists who have been inspired by dry stone walls, from an encounter with Leo Moran of The Saw Doctors on the side of the N17, to mosaic artist Barbara Derrane on the Aran islands. Along his journey, Tristan ultimately finds a cultural activity that leads to a healthy mind, body, and spirit in the company of people who are self-proclaimed stone mad.
Quotes from Stone Mad:
"It’s so good for me. It makes me feel so refreshed in the evening"- Pádraig Póil (70), master dry stone wall builder on InisOírr, Aran Islands.
"When we play N17 around the world you can see how dry stone walls can mean something different to the Irish people in the audience – they’re an image of home, or maybe you had your first kiss behind a dry stone wall."-Leo Moran, The Saw Doctors
"More and more women are getting into it because there are always plenty of eligible bachelors at a dry stone wall festival ” Louise Price, The TírChonaill  Stone Festival
‘Stone Mad ’ will air on Newstalk 106-108fm on Saturday May 13th at 7am, Repeated Sunday May 14th at 6pm.
 About Stone Mad:
  • The programme was recorded on location in Donegal town, Tuam, The Aran islands – InisOírr&InisMór, Dingle.
  • Dry stone wall building is experiencing a huge resurgence and festivals devoted to this aspect of our heritage draw enormous crowds in the Aran islands and in Donegal Town (TírChonaill Stone Festival)
  • Dry stone walls have been a feature of the Irish landscape for over 5,000 years and today a new generation is eager to maintain the thousands of kilometres of dry stone walls that can be found here.
LISTEN LIVE: ‘Stone Mad’ can be listened to online at: www.newstalk.com
PODCAST: Podcast available at: www.newstalk.com/documentaryonnewstalk after the broadcast.
CREDITS: The programme is presented by Tristan Rosenstock. Producer – Donal Donovan
Stone Mad is funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland's Sound & Vision II Scheme 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Finishing On Stile

Yesterday, our two-day DSWAC weekend walling workshop, in Canton Ontario, finished in style, and on stiles. 

Well done, to all the students. In the world of walling, when stones and people work together and lift each other up, nothing is impossible .

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Happy Faces


Sometimes it's too easy, almost glib to merely tell someone as they're going,'have a nice day'. How does one actually implement that suggestion if your day doesn't go that well? 

Im not sure. But I do know that if you spend the day learning how to build with stone (no mortar) almost always, something nice happens to your day.

So it is that, despite lots of mud, slippery to handle tools, cold weather and a constant drizzly downpour, the students taking the two day walling workshop in Canton Ontario yesterday all ended up having, just that, a very 'nice day'. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Tears of Joy?

If we are building a wall where a new house is being built, sometimes we finish the project before the clients actually see it competed. On occasions like that, when they do come to the job site as we're cleaning up, it's great to see their expression and get all their enthusiastic feedback. 

I'm glad to say that usually they're over the moon about what we've built for them. 

But clients do tend to show their excitement in many different ways. On one or two jobs I've actually seen something that looked very much like tears of joy.

But they weren't. 

It seems wives particularly can get pretty emotional about vertical coping, and not in a good way. They may even start crying. They'll say something like, " all those pointy upright rocks on the top make them look like prison walls. "

In these rather unfortunate situations, we usually end up removing all the vertical copes, and just leave the top flat.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Ancient moss civilization.

The stones in the hedgerow on the 200 year old farm property we are working on have been sitting in the wall for such a long time that there are sections where the moss has started to grow over the joints. The rocks appear to be merging into one another. 

Down through the centuries many stone cultures have attempted to create that same look — trying to fit the stones in their masonry structures so tight that the spaces disappear.

The Inca nearly accomplished it.

Perhaps moss is just another kind of civilization — a microscopic culture of tiny green masons striving, like the rest of us wallers, to make rocks look like they've melted into each other.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Finding and Keeping Good Form

Sometimes, if you don't have any wood or tools to make a 'proper' form, or anything else like a bucket or a barrel, to hold your dry stone moongate arch up, you might just have to use a big rock. Here in Vancouver we used a huge slice of basalt column which was conveniently lying around available at Northwestern Landscape and Stone Supply during the workshop I taught there a while back. 

I had been planning to take the chunk of basalt out, after the arch stones were built around it, but the garden feature looked so spectacular when it was done, with the form protruding both sides, we decided to keep it in the wall. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Monumentalithic Art

It's like stones just want to be monumental. They have this ingrained 'monumentality'. Providing you're tuned into their structural and aesthetic constraints, and are careful not to ignore the wonderful potential available to you in the material you're working with, there's a good chance you can make something impressively substantial. 

We started with a selection of elongated cutoffs from the quarry and carefully banded them together, coaxing the form until the iconic mountain/castle shape finally emerged. It was a bit like working clay on a potter's wheel. There was that very real element of risk that it wouldn't work at all. To be sure, the success of this art installation came after much forethought and planning and then a period of just plain trial and error. The project was something of a battle to get our heads round, but in the end the stones won.

Friday, April 28, 2017

They should fix the breaks!

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the speeding car into it,
And spills the upper boulders everywhere,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of reckless drivers is never done.

We should come after them to make repair,
Where they have left not one stone on a stone.

They should fix the breaks and be forcibly driven to assist in the mending of the damage they have done.

(Photos: Loughborough Echo)

(Photo: John Shaw-Rimmington)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

You against the wall

Sometimes it feels like you're alone against the wall. You've lost all your other pieces. In order to win it seems you've got to singlehandedly outmaneuver the whole other side. 

Get the upper hand somehow and take command of the board. Even if you've got no team left, don't let your team down. 

Try to keep the biggest stones in check and don't let any other troublesome pieces, that are starting to look like they're going fall on you, get out of position. 

Remember it's all a game of strategy. You've got the advantage of intelligence. And besides, stones don't usually move on their own.  

Though your playing for 'keeps', still try to have fun, even if the stones beat you some days.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Universal Gravity

Newton's law of universal gravitation declares that every material thing attracts every other material thing in the universe using a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Walk Taken on Earth Day

A walk took me yesterday.
It carried me with it wherever it went. 
It danced in the late afternoon sunlight.

I had to learn the steps
And try to tread lightly  
It was a space walk on Earth Day.

I was taken by the path
Taken with its movement 
Drawn to its contours.

I was helped along the way 
to reflect on what it is 
to have a path choose you.

And made to imagine
The distance and time remaining
for this world's days, here on earth.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Trees from discarded stone

Trees and stones have a complex relationship. Trees, like this one in the Lake District in England, can somehow manage to grow out of huge waste piles of over burden stone from quarry operations.

Here's one growing out piles armour stone and rip rap shot rock near Bobcageon Ontario

Here's some trees trying to grow out of the towering piles of unwanted stone up near Buckhorn Ontario.

Yesterday we went there and hand picked uniquely shaped stones and loaded 4 tons of them from that huge waste pile for using in a dry laid tree installation we are going to be doing with the Ennismore Hort and Dist Society this June. 

In a way, the tree we build there in Ennismore will be not unlike the ones I have seen growing in the quarries.  Like the living ones, our horticultural tree sculpture will have grown out of a pile of useless stones.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Still up in the Air B n B

On our regular morning walk with Farley we pass this unfinished tree house. Though someone has obviously put a lot of nice work into it already, sadly, it's been left that way for many many years. I'm guessing the little girl or boy who this was begun for has moved out and got their own apartment by now.. 

And there's that pile of stones lying there all that time too, presumably waiting to be used around the bottom. 

I'm tempted to go back there some weekend and finish the job myself, but I know I'd probably get into trouble. So the best I can do is Photoshop how I think it might look some day. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Penning With My Hands

Good ideas are like sheep. They can often get lost. Putting them to pen is the safest way of keeping stock of them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tools are dangerous.

The fact that you used tools should in no way distract from what it is you are creating. Try to avoid the danger of your wall looking 'overworked'. The best way to not have tools dominate the look of your wall, is to ensure there is as little 'tooling' going on, (or at least, as little evidence of the stones having been 'shaped') as possible.

A beautiful wall of Norman Haddow's

Monday, April 17, 2017


The scope of creative possibility contained in a single stone is inestimably extensive. 

As many things in life do, it increases like, eggs-potentially.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

It's all small stuff.

Live beneath your means. Return everything you borrow. Stop blaming other people. Admit it when you make a mistake. Give clothes not worn to charity. Do something nice and try not to get caught. Listen more; talk less. Every day take a 30-minute walk. Strive for excellence, not perfection. Be on time. Don't make excuses. Don't argue. Get organized. Be kind to people. Be kind to unkind people. Let someone cut ahead of you in line. Take time to be alone. Cultivate good manners. Be humble. Realize and accept that life isn't fair. Know when to keep you mouth shut. Go an entire day without criticizing anyone. Learn from the present. Don't sweat the small stuff. It's all small stuff.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Between good Friday

And Easter Sunday

What is that day and long night called?

The stones have not yet formed the arch that follows the arc of spaces between the moon's phases.

The tiny toy man tries to hang the last stone in the night sky .

He works alone listening to the sounds of the darkness —creation crying out for a newness that might never come. 
Each stone has been lifted into place, carefully balanced one on another — delicate eggs suspended in the vacant heavens.

How will they last the night?

Surely the night is too dark and the earth is spinning too much out of control.