Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dancing on Big Walls

This is a beautiful video. 

The sheer cliff walls of Yosemite Park provide the vertical stage for some breathtaking 'tangent-gravity' dancing.  The music, the choreography,  the dancers, the veiw and the idea are all brilliant. 

Dancing on rocks, when you get to the top, has got to be the just about the best thing on earth to do as a climber. 

I am inspired, and convinced that other expressions of such exuberant beauty are there waiting to be discovered in every new and varied 'merging' of stone and art.

I just hope I'm not too achy or exhausted to be able to try mountain wall dancing some day.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

On and off and over.

Last Friday, after we completed the last 30 feet of the project, Mark took off with the drone and took a video of over 240 feet of garden wall that we built on and off over the last twelve months. It was an ambitious project involving many roundish glacial fieldstones. We loved the challenge and the client loved the final result. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Rose Wall

I received a nice letter yesterday from a woman who took the workshop I taught at Kingsmere in the Gatineaus in Quebec  back in 2015.

2015 DSWAC Workshop, Kingsmere

She attached two photos (see below) of the dry stone wall she has been building on her property over the last two years and has now recently completed. Here is some of the story in her own words.

Just wanted to let you know that after 2 years I finally finished my 18 foot, 4 foot high dry stone wall! Some photos attached. I was a participant at the August 2015 workshop at Kingsmere.

It was not intentional, but only women worked on this wall. About 90% of the building/lifting was done by myself...even made the batter boards. I had 2 friends that helped collect hearting and stones at different times during the project. All the outside stones are from my property. The majority of the hearting was collected from a stone pile in Lanark County farm field (no doubt the pile was created from the first settlers on the land).

I call it the Rose Wall due to the pink granite in the stones.
Very satisfying. The ends are a little wonky looking, not quite sure what I should have done there to keep the line better. 

Can't wait to finish my next project that is almost done. A little river dry stone patio at a friend's place.

It's something of a rare treat to actually hear back from students who've taken on their own walling projects after having completing one of my courses.  It's especially gratifying to see a wall like this one, which has that satisfying  feel of 'structure' about it, and, as importantly, has such an attractive look to it.

Well done, Jacquie.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Symbiotic Relationship

While students who take our walling seminars learn the art of putting stones together properly, they soon find out that Dry Stone Walling Across Canada is all about giving the stones an opportunity to put people together too!

Friday, August 25, 2017

A place to sit

(to remind myself)
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Wendell Berry

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipse Glasses

"So tell me, how exactly am I supposed to see anything through these Stare-Rubble glasses !  Everything still just looks black."

Monday, August 21, 2017

More about walls, yoga and breathing

Yoga places a lot of importance on the breath – so too, in wall construction.  While stones themselves don’t inhale or exhale, walls – (especially retaining walls) actually need to be able to breathe. 

A stone wall made with cement or concrete can’t breathe. It can’t move. Any moisture trapped behind it in the soil can’t get out. Eventually it will tip and crack and start to fall over.  

But a well built dry laid stone wall can expand and contract slightly, like a basket, and in a very real sense ‘breathes’ to accommodate changes in temperature and hydrostatic movement in the soil.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Attaining Mindfulness

Directing full attention to our inhaling and exhaling is the life and breath of yoga teaching. We are encouraged to focus on our breathing pattern and visualize the new life-giving air entering our lungs – replenishing our whole body, and then direct our consciousness to the releasing of it, as we breath out.   

It's kind of funny being reminded, as we sit or stand in our various yoga poses, to not forget to breathe. But I get it. Sometimes it's like we do forget.

Being who I am, I wonder about stones, too. They have been sitting so still for so long, don't they need to be reminded to take a breath? 

It may well be that they are all collectively and continuously in that timeless moment between exhaling and inhaling – in a state of complete release. They don't need to take a breath. Their 'solidity' is the clue that they no longer need to take anything in. They are consciousness.  That elusive thing we call 'wholeness' has been attained.  They manifest in their being what total 'mindfulness' looks like.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The yoga of 'leaning'

I lean with my weight,
not my strength.

I lean with my whole body,
not just my mind.

I lean with hope and trust,
not holding on to anything.

I lean into what I have no control of,
and what I can't always see.

I may lean on a rock
or sometimes into the wind. 

But I lean so that I do not fall.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Yoga Blocks

Yoga blocks facilitate the perfect transition from the discipline of yoga into the ancient art of dry stone walling. In this more advanced exercise, yoga blocks are stacked and aligned diagonally in the wall, while the back and legs are kept perfectly straight.

After the block installation is completed, the 'waller pose' (second position) is assumed.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Making round stones flat again.

Yesterday I was splitting lots of freshly dredged glacial granite retrieved from the bottom of the quarry pond. We had loaded them all into our truck last week. They look a lot like clams when they open.

As I'm hammering on the chisel, tracing a line along the hard surface, I can feel whether the energy of the blow is connecting solidly all the way through the full density of the stone. 

The times the stone doesn't make a generous 'thunk' sound, and the chisel just bounces limply back, producing only pulverized surface dust, I know I've had little effect on the stone. But when stone, chisel, hammer and I 'connect', there is the sure knowledge that with a few more similar hits my roly poly little friend will dramatically snap apart into two new friends.

In dry stone construction, when I'm coming up to wall height, split half-round chunks are easier to build with than their former bulbous selves. In their spiffy altered state they are happy to now be set somewhere along the wall. The burden of their awkward roundness has been lifted from them.

Many many years ago they started out as great noble slabs of bedrock. When the glaciers came and broke off sharp chunks, it took eons of time to wear the chunks into smooth round balls. I feel pleased with my morning's work. I am making round stones flat again.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Anticipating a state of wall being

'Yin' yoga, as one might guess, is the other part of 'yang yoga'. It involves getting into more passive poses and holding the positions longer. Many of the poses require a wall to lean on. I'm all for walls. 

Leaning is good too. Things would fail and eventially fall down if they didn't lean on each other.  The stones on both sides of a dry stone wall are usually placed so that they lean into and touch each other and so counterbalance each other and thereby maximize their stability.  

We can all learn things from walls too, especially stone ones. Like how to be still for long periods of time. How to be quiet and learn to wait.  Leaning up against a tight wall we can meditate on what 'fitness' really is. My guess is that the stones in a well built wall are probably much better in touch with each other than we are with our own bodies. 

They say a yoga pose like this one with the legs straight up against the wall is good for loosening tense muscles, helping with back problems and aches & pains from over working the body.  I'm in a position to find out .

Monday, August 14, 2017

Your Core

Having a strong, well-integrated core is important not just for proper alignment in yoga postures, it is a key component in keeping good alignment in every walling application

The core is the support system for the middle mid section. It creates a reinforcing framework to counteract the pull of gravity and keep the everything balanced and integrated, even if and when things start to move around. Having a strong and balanced core is a key to preventing collapses and back problems.  Think of the core as the structural foundation that supports everything, just like the structural frame that upholds a building. The stronger the core, the more stable the thing is.

From the perspective of yoga therapy, having a strong core affects more than posture. Our core is the centre of physical balance and strength. It is also linked to emotional and spiritual life. A strong core supports everything physically and emotionally; it aligns us with our inner center of balance and power. It gives us the stamina and resilience to deal with the ups and downs of life. Energetically, a strong core helps connect us with our sense of purpose in life. It creates determination, perseverance, and the wall to succeed. By strengthening and enlivening the core, we connect this foundational part of our 'well-being' to our 'wall-being' !

A sample core.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The problem with it looking effortless

The effort to get a low, three stone high wall to come to level, and look flat along the top, sometimes seems not to be worth it. The final product gives off so much peace and gives no indication of how frustrating it was to build. Damn.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Good News for Fort Doon

Major step forward in Doon Fort conservation

By Siobhan McNamara 13:39 Friday 11th of August 2017

Ministerial consent has been granted for the removal of ivy from the historic Doon Fort near Portnoo in Ireland.

This is a major step forward in the preservation and restoration of the historically significant local structure. Ivy is growing over much of the fort and people are concerned about the extent of the damage being caused as a result.
Paula Harvey of Ardara GAP Heritage and History Group told the Donegal Post: “An expert from the Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland said if the ivy isn’t cut there simply won’t be a monument.”

Cutting the ivy is , however, a very delicate process. One on hand, it is damaging the structure. But because it has grown in through the walls, killing it off could in turn cause the fort to collapse.

“We have to do it under strict guidelines,” said Ms Harvey. “It is not a case of heading out there with secateurs and snipping away at it. We have to be very careful and do it in a controlled way.”

It is Ms Harvey herself who has been appointed to ensure that the work is carried out under those conservation guidelines. She will be at the Ardara Show this weekend where the Ardara GAP History and Heritage Group have a stand.

“Anyone who would like to get involved on a voluntary basis with the work on Doon Fort can come along and fill out a form,” she said. 

Even with the major challenge of dealing with the ivy problem, Ms Harvey is feeling very optimistic about the future of Doon Fort.

“This is the first physical piece of work that we are allowed to do,” she said. “I am delighted that we have got this far.”

Of course, getting to the stage of being able to begin this work involves a huge amount of preparation. There are painstaking studies, detailed conservation plans and seemingly endless application forms.

Ms Harvey said: “There is so much behind the scenes work going on. It looks like you’re not making progress when really you are doing a lot. This is finally something that people can see. It is a major step.

Last year the group received a major boost when Doon Fort was selected in the national Adopt a Monument Scheme. This project was one of only five chosen from 90 applicants nationwide.

The Adopt A Monument scheme provides expertise, mentoring and support to community groups in order to help them to care for their local heritage.

Doon Fort is considered an important example of the western stone forts that can be found from Kerry to Donegal. While it is not known without excavation how old Doon Fort is, other similar forts have been dated at the early medieval period.
The fast spreading ivy and partial collapse of the stone fortification were highlighted as the main issues to be addressed. 

The group believe that the work will have a positive impact on local tourism development. Doon Fort is a hidden gem in the truest sense. It is situated on a lake island central to Portnoo, Rosbeg, Glenties and Ardara, an area steeped in history
Heritage Week

With Heritage Week just around corner, people will have the opportunity get a closer look at Doon Fort as well as other points of interest in the area. 
On Sunday, August 20 there will be a bus tour leaving from the Kilclooney Dolmen Centre. Even people who think they know the area might be surprised at just how important this corner of Donegal is in terms of history and heritage.

Ms Harvey said: “Last year, more than half the people on the tour were local. A lot of them didn’t know about the dolmen and other features in the area. This bus trip will take in Doon Fort as well as the archaeology of Ardara.”

Ms Harvey would like to acknowledge the support of the Doon Fort landowners.
“We are indebted to the McHugh family for their support for the restoration of the monument,” she said. 

More information on Heritage Week events being run by the group can be found on the Ardara GAP History and Heritage Group Facebook page.

Friday, August 11, 2017

From the ground up.

A dry stone arch we recently 'planted' in Oakville Ontario.

I'm always delighted to see how successfully a properly built dry stone arch compliments the other elements of a well planned garden. Like the plants and shrubs surrounding it, an arch can feel like it has grown out of the earth and has found nourishment in the soil, and is thriving in the same sunlight, and drinking the same rain, that makes the whole garden shimmer with life.  

An arch evokes the feeling of growth, not just because of the stone's radiating pattern or its magical blossom-like opening or even the 'naturalness' of the material it is made of, but  because it is has literally risen from the ground up. It has not been plonked there in the garden like some statue or sculpture. Unlike a giant boulder or huge chunk of armour stone, it has not merely been shoved into place by some heavy machine. No, it has taken time to grown there. The stones, like seeds, have been planted and cultivated and coaxed into something beautiful. The flowing shape of an arch is something that emerges from within the surrounding flora.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Kingsmere Workshop. A job wall done.

Our two day Kingsmer Farm workshop near Ottawa involved learning to build a wall with the available stone. No imported stone from China. No quarry stone from far away. No palleted squarish stuff from a stone supplier. No easy to shape limestone.

It's a satisfying thing to see rounded fieldstone granite sit up and look smart and be formed into such a cohesive structure.

A newly built wall is not something you just look at and admire, or even just lean on.

It's something to celebrate and shout about. Like scoring a overtime goal or hitting a home run or serving the winning ace at the end of the tennis match.

Building a wall has all the benefits of an athletic sport. It's possibly more thrilling and far more lasting with more of a sense of accomplishment than most outdoor activities..

Here are the healthy women and girls who helped make the wall.

A long with the grownups Echo and Willow ( two of the children who's mom and dad were taking the course) did a super job too helping build the wall and even as we were finishing up rolled this big cope up onto the wall.! Well done you two !

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

He and I

Some people might be going around saying him and I built this tilted garden, but that's actually incorrect !

Monday, August 7, 2017

Raising the Standard

The wall we completed yesterday afternoon at Gateneau Federal Park near the nation's capitol turned out to be our special celebration workshop event for this, the 150th year of confederation – Keep on Dry Stone Walling Across Canada! 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lift with your knees.

This is the chosen section of old historic "wall" at Kingsmere Farm in Gatineau Park that needed 'repair' this year . There would be a lot of lifting. 

So, yesterday morning, after some class time teaching the basics of wall building and some safety rules ( one being, remember to lift with your knees), the students set about removing the many tons of roundish glacial granite. 

Their eagerness to go about separating such a huge jumble of unruly rocks was gratifying. I explained the difference between a rock and a stone – a rock being an 'unemployed' stone.  Someone remarked that these stones had been on a long vacation from their job.

By noon an almost biblical parting of the stone sea was achieved and the footprint for the wall then determined with white spray paint. White is such a hopeful colour.

By the end of the day the class had completed what the Brits like to call the 'first lift'. I think they all did way more lifting by then, but I don't make the rules.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Now I think I've seen it - wall !

Last night I ate vegetarian at the Lanterne De Szechwan restaurant in Gatineau and had a pot of Chinese tea. This was after putting in a hard day preparing the site.  I'm in Quebec teaching a two day walling workshop in Gateneau Park this weekend. My tea leaves are predicting were gonna knock the wall outta the     park !

Friday, August 4, 2017

Walls without clamour

Whenever film crews come into town they don't seem to have any problem getting people to stop making noise. 

The leaf blowers, the motorcyclists, the heavy machines operators, the construction workers, the screeching tire enthusiasts, the screaming kids - weirdly, the whole community obligingly goes around on tippy toes for the duration of the 'shoot'. 

This seems to me the solution to not being able to build walls in any kind of quiet bliss because of the constant clamour and ear-splitting cacophony of the mad world around us - that is, merely bring along a sign to the job site that states unabashedly...
 'Be quiet, there's a movie being filmed here ! '

Thursday, August 3, 2017


No matter where I'm building, I just seem to attract these things.
And yes it's the sound that really 'annoys' me.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Gardener

Last evening we watched a beautiful movie The Gardener about an award winning garden in Quebec called Quatre-Vents designed and created by Francis Cabot. The opening of the film had a verse from a Poem by Alexander Pope. It is certainly worth seeing if you love gardens.

Moral Essays
Epistle IV.

by Alexander Pope

( Below is the excerpt from that poem which touches on gardening, where all must be adapted to the genius and use of the place, and the beauties not forced into it, but resulting from it. )

Let not each beauty everywhere be spied, 
Where half the skill is decently to hide. 
He gains all points who pleasingly confounds, 
Surprises, varies, and conceals the bounds.


His gardens next your admiration call; 
On every side you look, behold the wall!