Wednesday, October 17, 2018

In my hands


In my hands I hold the thoughts of stones waiting to be arranged.
In my mind I hold the shapes of ideas waiting to be formed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Garden News and Views



A lively page from last year's, winter 'Upstate Gardener's Journal' where news about our walling courses and other very cool things that go on at Sara's Garden Centre are documented.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A hard decision




A rock 'is' like a hard decision, or rather,
a hard decision is 'like' a rock. 
They are both hard.

The only difference is the rock is not complicated. 
It is the simplification of hardness.
The rock takes it from an abstract concept to the purely physical embodiment of hardness, as a solvable attribute. After all, a rock even though hard, is in the end solvable . Ultimately when placed or shaped or broken or ground up or acted upon by various chemical forces becomes a solution, (in some cases a kind of mineral solvent, if you will)

The problem is how to assimilate the rock-likeness analogy to the 'hard' decision.

The assumption is that there is a better answer, a truer answer, a more noble answer, one that you can live with at least. In the case of needing to make a hard decision there is the idea that there exists an opportunity not to get 'it' wrong, or rather, there is a correct choice that will set things up better, for not just you, but for the general populace  .

Setting a rock in the right place, even though it's a big one and a heavy rock and obviously a hard one, is good practice for making hard decisions.

It will likely be long lasting. It will likely be obvious that it looks good or bad after you've done it. In most respects the risk will somehow be have been worth taking.

A hard decision maybe involves a heck of a lot of fact finding and complicated logistics and perhaps even moral considerations. 
But here again it still has to do with hardness and determining the problem’s/rock’s weight. 

In the end all rocks ‘wait’ to be moved. Their weight and hardness is a given. If we choose not to make the move, it is not a hard decision. If we choose to move it incorrectly, we will likely find out. (and then decide to fix it ) But if we don't choose, we will never know, and to avoid choices may be even harder in the end than handling rocks all day OR making hard decisions.


Friday, October 12, 2018

Ruins from an imaginary past.


There are many castles in your imagination. 

If you look among old stone ruins you may discover something very hopeful and yes, strangely enchanting. 
You will always find new inspiration.

When you explore ‘new’ ruins you may even start to remember places you’ve never been before.

There are many castles in your imagination. Start building them. 




Thursday, October 11, 2018

Staying warm in the bleachers


We walled ourselves by the fire at the end of the second day of last weekend’s workshop at Sara’s Garden. Our team built a dry stone ‘bleachers feature’. Large slabs supported by courses of stone provided seating that rose up and around a large lava stone pot.  Rather than a fire pit we made a kind of ‘mini flame stadium’. Glow team go.Glow team go !



Photos by H. Martin. 



Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Purple Herringstones


Last weekend I revisited Sara’s Garden and took this photo of the ‘Irish Ditch’ wall that we built several years ago at the dry stone workshop I was asked to teach. The sedum has grown in beautifully. The herringstones appear to have almost melted into each other and have somehow taken on more purplish tones. 


Maybe trying to come up with a variation of the wall shaping the stones to look like actual letters might be introducing a bit of a read herring.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Achitypical Topsy Turvy Time

Building arches with tiny people at last weekend's Amherst Island Dry Stone Wall Festival

Friday, October 5, 2018

Why on earth?


At times like this, maybe sitting a rock bench, or surrounded by some natural rock formation, or maybe just standing in a circle of carefully fitted stones, I find myself wondering what on earth are we doing here. 

I ask myself ‘Why on earth are we here? How on earth, l wonder, are we supposed to figure anything out? And where on earth are we supposed find the answers?’

Perhaps the one important clue comes contained in the actual formation of these questions. It is on this ‘earth’, where we actually all are, that we come asking. All of us!  

As a mysterious collection of dust particles ‘it’ (the earth) is ‘what’ we all are ‘of’ too. And in the computer complex world of silicon chips, made from quartz found in the sand (found everywhere on earth) it seems we are discovering new amazing ways also to probe the frontiers of how and perhaps why we are the way we are.

The earth is the answer. Rocks of earth - made of a myriad of earth’s minerals - stones of all earthly sizes and shapes provide the bedrock foundation of knowing. 

The wonderful arrangements our earth takes, in the form of rocks and mountains and canyons, cliffs, islands, the endless shorelines of sand and pebbles , all these earthy things may seem abstract and incomprehensible, but the intuitive ‘knowing’ that comes to all of us with merely spending time in their presence, is undeniable.






Thursday, October 4, 2018

Shades of the Lake District




The Amherst Island Festival wall, built last weekend in Canada, is modelled after walls John Scott and I saw in the Lake District on a trip back in 2011. Rows of round 'beck stones' (river rock) are laid in double or triple courses with rows of flatter slate bringing the wall to flat at each new interval of height.

At Amherst, local surface granite fieldstone and flattish limestone was used. The final look is both not only tidy and stunning to look at it is also very structural.



Near Lansdale 


Near Elterwater 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Over the 'course' of the weekend



Dry stone walls don't just build themselves !



Here are just a few of the many talented participant volunteers and students who helped build this elegant granite/limestone horizontal coursed wall, up to, and 'over' the course of weekend of the very successful Amherst Dry Stone Wall Festival.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Tiny Bridges


I will be building tiny miniature stone bridges with the kids today Saturday September 29 at the Amherst Island Dry Stone Festival this weekend in Ontario Canada. ( The adults who are attending the festival will just be building big old dry stone walls )

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Dry Laid For Now


Have you ever thought that maybe most of what's going on here is just some kind of cosmic 'dry' run?

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Stone Travel


Life is a journey.

We assume it has a destination, but maybe, as James Taylor sings, sometimes, 'it's enough to be on your way' 

I'm 'on my way' back from Utah, having spent four days ( without wifi or any contact with the outside world) on a beautiful property in a remote part near the head water of the south fork of the chalk river. It's an hour by paved road and twenty five minutes gravel track journey into a rocky landscape I have never seen before. We journeyed up into a scenic, desert-dry, wilderness with lush aspens and spruce. The journey wasn't over yet even at an elevation of 7500 feet. 

My naturalist friend who inherited these acres of mountain landscape from his ancestors who journeyed  to the Salt Lake area many years ago, invited me to come help him start a kind of long anticipated walling 'journey' of his own, where he might leave a testament to his love of this rocky landscape and his quest to put meaning and order to a small part of it, by building a wall.

He and I enjoyed our time together putting stone on stone, and as I speed home, flying over the brown desert landscape, I think about how 'travelling and walling' have  become a kind of continuing destination for me. I am privileged to have had so many opportunities to travel and see such interesting places along the way, along with, of course, making walls often with other fellow sojourning stone-journeying enthusiasts along the way.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Rock and Rail Music



Just let me see some of those ‘rock and rail’ wall pics
Posts stuck in the earth,  with stones ‘fixed’
It’s got a great look, you can't beat-it
Here is one we’ve just completed
It's kinda like a rock & rail ‘combo’
If youre using stones and trees,
When youre building walls like these.

I've got no kick against modern tools
Unless they try to build them and they break the rules
And lose the beauty of the harmony
With mortared rocks- I simply can’t agree

That's why I go for those rock and rail dry walls
Especially curvy when they’re built tall
Its got a cool look, you can't fake it
Any old time you make it.
You gotta make rock and rail music
If you want your fence to sing
If you wanna see it sing

I took some photos across the posts
Showing railings way more sturdy than most
I must admit they stand up to wind and rain
Man, they could probly take a hurricane 

That's why I go for that ‘rock and rail’ fence style
I guess It makes it more tensile 
If you do landscapes, you should try it
Just one time for a client
It's gotta be ‘rock and rail’- choose it,
If you wanna do the job 
Using only rails on top.

Way out East I saw a big rock fence
And though some stones were immense   
There still were gaps where sheep got through
There were no posts there to fix rails to

Thats why I like ‘rock and rail’ walling
Nothing gets through crawling.
It's got a high rack, you can't scale it
Any old time you nail it

It's gotta be rock and rail fencing
If you wanna wall in things
If you’re setting fence posts in

Don't care to hear 'em talking ‘barbed wire’
Or using chain link startin’ higher
Thats way too ugly for enclosures
And sheep can’t stand that much exposure

That's why I go for that ‘rock and rail’ concept
Any other way seems inept.
It's got the rest beat, that’s the skilled bit
Any old time you build it.

It's gotta be ‘rock and rail’ dry stacked
That is what I wanna see
That is what I wanna see.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Eighteen people high and dry in Pontypool


This recent photo of the bridge we built in Pontypool Ontario back in July was taken by Carl Vyfschaft

Pontypool? Isn’t that a strange word.

Fr. pont= En.  Bridge > Fr. poule =En. Hen

Hen bridge ?

Chicken bridge

Afraid bridge

Fear bridge

Panic bridge

Bridge over uneasiness 

Bridge over trouble

Bridge to safety 

Escape bridge

Freedom bridge

Free stone bridge

Free standing bridge

Dry laid bridge

Dry bridge


High and dry bridge




Monday, September 17, 2018

Hands-on 'Thinking' with Stones



It's not so much a definitive statement as a kind of inclusion. Thinking with my hands does not mean it's done without my head. The more I hold stones (large or small) I just find it hard to think without using my hands as well. To not hold them is to lose an important cognitive factor. Consciousness of the potential within stone and the awareness of what is waiting to be done with, or understood about 'stones', is just made more possible through holding them and playing with them. These are after all, the precursor to LEGO, and the forerunners of clay bricks, cement blocks, steel beams, all sorts plastic building material and various substances being used now in 3D printing processes. Each new non-stone material ends up being less handled than the previous, and leaves us more and more removed from having a creative one-on-one experience . 


Stones have been around along time before men invented language, before the advent of books, television, computers. They helped us learn to think before we learned why we needed to think, to create before we knew why. We still don't know why, but Im guessing that our collective hands-on experience with stones over the eons of primitive generations surpasses any other knowledge we have attained, even if it's only carried subconsciously in our genetic makeup. It does our head good once in a while to recognize and respect (and look for) the wisdom that comes directly through our hands, by way of stones. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Time Arches


We keep building them because, Canada can always use more dry stone ruins. Time arches on... this is a folly 'ruin' at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific in BC. It has been ten years since I ran this workshop.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

It takes a village...



It takes a village to build a bridge. One of the hardest working villagers here at the Saanich bridge was our wonderful chef, Chelsea Davidson. It was her early nourishing breakfasts and amazing lunches that kept us going through the eight days of bridge construction.

 I can't help but think that the success and amount of detailed care and structural aesthetic put into our bridge was in direct proportion to the skill and energy Chelsea put into the delicious things she prepared for those who attended this workshop. As a result we thought it only fitting that we got her to pose for her photo to be taken at the bridge,as she brought some very important ingredients to it.


In response to our request to join us, here's Chelsea carefully  placing one of the sandstone voussoirs in the vault, as a kind of delicious ceremonial bridge filling.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Visiting one of my students the day after the bridge workshop


How can you sit on your patio and just relax, after having just taken a dry stone bridge workshop, when that pile of sandstone along the back of your property is beckoning you even more now, to get building a wall or bridge or something ?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Young children on an even younger bridge

Silently arching up off the sides of the steep banks of the park ravine, and leaping magically over the space between, local stones that for thousands of years lay unnoticed in the earth, now support passers by (and children like these two who have come by to sit a while) on this our newly built dry stone bridge, spanning Dominion Brook Park brook in North Saanich on Vancouver Island.
The path is now connected, from one side to another. And as we stand back, and contemplate the bigger picture, it seems that this our most recent project is just a delightful continuation of that path we've taken in the way of demonstrating the art of dry stone 'bridging' across this our great Dominion of Canada 🇨🇦 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A Perfect Marriage


Our bridge dedication ceremony yesterday at Dominion Brook Park seemed a bit like a wedding . The sixty or seventy guests who had gathered under the cathedral-like canopy of Douglas Fir trees for the 2 o'clock ceremony were directed to one side or the other of the ravine to watch the proceedings. We might well have asked " Friends of the brook or friends of the bridge?" The brook in this case was the waiting groom- waiting for the new bride's 'veil' ( the centering support ) to be removed from the bridge.  (Bride is 'bridge' without the 'g')

I thought about how the two landscape 'features' had now joined to have a beautiful life together. The happy union of brook and bridge would go on to be a blessing to all those who came along their path.
It's interesting that the wedded  couple are in a relationship where neither one is there to be an obstruction to the other.
Both allow for, and respect, the other's 'flow'.
Both have the freedom to go in a direction that maintains natures harmony and compliments the other.
The meeting of the two is a place of blessing because it is crossing over, a spanning of differences as well as a meeting of the elements. Stone and Water.
It will be a place where new and wonderful things will be conceived. 

A place where dreams come true - a marriage of human skill and natural design which will have hopefully come together to bring out the child in all of us. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

So far so good

We seemed to have done the impossible . Seven days ago there was just a hole here where needed to be a bridge. We agreed to do it. We jokingly said 'what could possibly go wrong'. 
Lots did. But things went very right too. Our bridge became a symbol of cooperation.  Instead of letting individual walls be put up against the pressure of having to  get this challenging project done, we worked together to span it. It began by building from both sides and somewhere and somehow we met in the middle. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

A good helping of river rocks.



After the first and second course of the workshop , and the meat of the bridge has been thoroughly prepared and and all the students have partaken, there is always the tasty last course . In this case it is 'bridge cobbler' for dessert, bedded in a crunchy aggregate. Sweet.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Bridging across the extrados-sphere.

Five days into the workshop both extrados have been completed. This constitutes an Extraordinary effort by all the Dominion Brook Park bridge participants. The barrel vault is structural enough to take out the wooden centering now but we are waiting until Saturday at 2pm when we will remove it during the bridge dedication ceremonies here in Saanich.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Bridge Labourers

We didn't take the day off. We laboured all Labour Day on the bridge. Dry stone 'work' is more fun than not working.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Can you imagine ?

Foundation prep work nearly completed. All ready to begin the Dominion Brook Bridge Building Workshop. Hope to see a finished bridge here by next week. Can you imagine it?

Friday, August 31, 2018

Bridge Base Work


Christopher Barclay 
Picks up the stones that he'll choose 
Finding a place for each one that he'll use
Filling the space
inside the base. 

Look at him working 
Tapping them in with a grin 
When there's hearting to spare
Look at it there .

All the stoney bridgework
When will it all get done?

All the stoney bridgework
He's glad it's so much fun !




Thursday, August 30, 2018

Recognizing a bridge from a hole in the ground.

Most things built in the dry stone method require some digging first . Wall foundations don't need to be dug as deep as  shelters or cairns or dry stone blackhouses. Bridge abutments need to be dug deeper than the bottom of the water course they are to go over. 


Here in Saanich BC we've had to dig quite deep to get below the creek bed which tumbles down quite a deeply grooved ravine.  Lots of stone will have to be laid below grade before we get to height in order to spring off the sides with the signature voussoirs that form the classic arch that supports the main span of the bridge .

Monday, August 27, 2018

The line of the wall

. Mark and I had the opportunity of working with two great wallers last week. Working with them I've realized once again that it's not just about building structural walls, it is about being able to feel them. Their look and shape needs to be carefully visualized. 

Determining the lines of a dry stone wall,as it flows over the contour of a landscape is so important . It's height and the path it takes, can look good or amazing depending on seeing the finished creation in your mind. 

Fergus Packman has that ability . The walls he builds convincingly merge with what's around them, taking on a presence that doesn't compete or showboat the rest of the property.

Being able to build walls and also having the skill to see the lines before you build them, makes for a powerful combination.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Shoring up the shore


Vertically laid or horizontally, which method of laying stone along the shoreline would you guess would be stronger?

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Rock Faces



Our hard working team headed up by Fergus Packman faced a challenging task of getting 63 meters of dry stone wall built in Glengarreff , County Cork, in 4 days. What a pleasure it was to work with such random chunks of gnarly sandstone. Mounds of rock jut out across the Irish landscape here in the south of Ireland, exposing magnificent striated patches of vertically bedded rock. I can see why Irish wallers would choose to lay the stone vertically. It's their natural inclination. 

Many thanks to Ken Curran and Mark Ricard and our enthusiastic client Jeremy Daily who kept the momentum up and got the job done with lots of laughs and tasty breaks ...oh and I guess we can't forget Bandit the hard working mason dog who took this week off and just ran around chasing sticks all day.