Sunday, June 17, 2018

Herding Sheep

You rarely see Border Collies and border walls in Canada both ‘working’ together to round up sheep. 

The place was Balsam Lake Ontario 
The time? Last Friday. 

The wall? Just one of some the many sections we’ve restored over the past 14 years. 

The dogs? Just prizewinning shepherding dogs owned and trained by Kevan Gretton and Catherine 

The ‘experience’ was a pilot event organized by Debra Soule, economic development officer for the City of Kawartha Lakes.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Half way through the second day workshop

The pilot program is going well.

The Balsam Lake walls, where we were 'work-shopping' yesterday, will soon be on an interactive map showing art and/or historicaly interesting points of interest in and around the City of Kawartha lakes. 
There will be signs put up too, marking where these lovely old Scottish walls are, many of which are over 150 years old.  We better hurry and get this interactive one completed.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Large Boulders ? No problem.

I was asked to help develop a pilot program for the City of Kawartha Lakes Tourism,Arts,Culture and Heritage Development Department involving instructing a wall restoration course at Balsam Lake as part of a two day 'Experience' that will be offered as a package holiday adventure here in Southern Ontario. Yesterday we took down a section of 150 year old wall that was showing signs of collapsing and had spread out at the base. Property owner Doug Patterson and I, with the help of some capable promotional and marketing women, pushed some very large granite boulders back into place in preparation for rows of limestone material to be then laid above them today  .

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Key to creativity.

Looking more like a 'keyhole' now, our 'bowl bench' is taking shape. This local limestone (from the Smith Falls ,Ontario area) breaks along parallel cleavage lines, leaving lots of flag material (or as Mark says 'plates') to choose from. We are finding laying it vertically in a more Irish style is giving the circle strength and a pleasing dynamic look.  The trick too is not to have fresh breaks showing, ( just natural faces) or chisel too much so that the finished piece looks vaguely neolithic. That said, this installation is turning out to be a bit of a challenge. I like creating structures I've never done before, and so I remind myself that usually means taking a risk. As my friend John Fisher the sculptor says,  "True artistic output is an act of desperation".

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Seating Area

Looking rather like a moongate lying down, our ‘bowl bench’ is now beginning to look like something.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Lean back and imagine you're in a different time.

Here's a visualization of a project we're starting this week. A dry laid concave circular reclining area nestled in a inverted bowl-shaped hill. The splayed entrance invites you towards the narrow opening that then opens up into a cozy protected 'gathering area'. Hopefully the grassy mound and passageway will have similar appeal to that of various rounded sections of ancient Roman earthworks I've seen on my visits to Britain..

Monday, June 11, 2018

Both Sides Done

Eight students, two day workshop.

Students who took the May 20th Dry Stone Walling Across Canada workshop in Rockport might be interested to see their shorter section of wall has now been completed and matches the longer wall we built last year on the other side of the lane.

Again, well done to the students, and to everyone who was involved.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Well on its way Not to be a Ruins

Photo by Paul Murphy of Merchants Gate Films

Even though we didn't quite get it finished during the five day festival of Stein and Wein in Langenlois Austria, we made a significant landmark nestled among the rolling hills of this beautiful vineyard landscape. 

In my talk the previous Friday, I had pointed out that when you are building structures with dry stone, you can pretend that they are supposed to be rustic ruins until you come back to finish them. Then again, if it is to just be a ruins, and you need more work, you can keep adding to it for as long as it is expedient. 

Many thanks to Helmut and the whole crew who made this part of the five sided hut such a success. Sorry to leave my Irish, Austrian and German friends behind. Missing from this photo are Martina, Elizabeth,Reiner, Herman and Renate who also were big helpers.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Finding my niche

There will be several niches like this one I just completed in the five sided hut we're building at Wein and Stein festival in Langenlois Austria .There will be a chunk of blue green or red stain glass that lets the light into the vaulted roofed interior.  There is a beehive of activity today trying to get the hut to a height we will still need to leave for Helmut and his capable crew to finish before the end of July for the gardening school's special celebration .

Several types of stein are being used in the construction of the hut including dense limestone and dimensional and irregularly shaped granite. There are many different students and professionals in the project. The challenge is to get the Stein and the volk to work together.

I have been so impressed with the hospitality and provision of those hosting this event. There has been a much appreciated routine of good tasting Austrian cuisine and an amazing variety of refreshments each day. 

The project has taken five days now and during this short time I have made many new friends and been reacquainted with others I've had the pleasure of working with before  (from Ireland Austria and Germany) who all have discovered this same love of stein. It's a wonderful niche to explore.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Vintage building

Another hot day lifting heavy stones onto the walls of the five sided hut .
Great helpers, great food, great learning, great experience and great exercise . Thirsty work too. Luckily there were copious clusters of fresh grapes on the vines in the vineyard where we're working to refresh our parched pallets . 

But I jest. They are jest photoshopped. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Helmut Schieder

Helmut  Schieder (organizer of  Stein and Wein stands confidently in the opening of the five sided hut we are building in the hot hot tropical Austrian sun. It's about one fifth done. We have three more days.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

What you don't see

You can just see small pink dots on the base stones marking the outside and inside of the five sided dry stone hut we are building at the Stein in's Wein festival in Austria this week. It's slow going and most of the work done by the wallers and students so far ( except for a few more shaped corners) will not be seen, since the foundation stones here are all still below grade . 
But, as in any serious dry stone construction or creative work, the hearting and the base is not what you actually see and yet it is often the most important and painstakingly slowest part of the job.

Monday, May 28, 2018

One more negative component of wind power.

I've been asked to give a quote on repairing this section of old dry stone wall on Amherst Island that was damaged by a truck carrying wind turbine component equipment.

Photo by Brian Little

Below is an excerpt from the blog
“All the rules are made to be broken,” said Dumbrille, “to benefit the wind power developer. And the public has no right to information, apparently.”
Janet Grace, past chair of the Association to Protect Amherst Island (APAI), described numerous violations of the Renewable Energy Approval, road use agreements, and provincial safety regulations by “Windlectric” a shell company developing a power project on the island for Algonquin Power. 
Roads are blocked without notice, and construction throughout the winter has virtually destroyed roads, so much so that the municipality Loyalist Township issued a stop work order. Resident photographs indicate however, that the order was ignored, with the power developer construction firm continuing work. In addition, Grace said, the company is supposed to stop work at 7 PM, but in reality is working until 11 PM.
“The sad thing is, Grace said, “we know this is just the beginning of what is being done to our Island. There are rules being broken, and violations … the MOECC gives them exemptions. They’re just getting away with it all.”

Many of the walls on the island are in danger of having similar damage done to them unless the trucks drive slower and follow the proper MOECC rules and regulations set in place to protect and respect the properties affected by the influx of trucks creating wind turbine construction upheaval.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Zen simplified.

“Zen pretty much comes down to three things -- everything is connected; everything changes; pay attention.”   Jane Hirshfield -poet.

In the picture above, all the stones in the wall are the same shade of grey (connected) even though the ones at the top look darker (changed) 

Did you notice? (pay attention) 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Off to Austria

I am very honoured to be one of the guest speakers invited by Helmut Schieder to attend this year's Stein and Wine dry stone and wine event starting May 30th, near the town of Langenlois in a part of Austria that is known for its vineyards and extensive wine production.

You can read more about the stone festival itself in a great blog post Sunny Wieler wrote describing the the 2015 event attended by a great bunch of rock stars including Patrick McAfee Sean Adcock and Nick Aitken, to name a few .

Last year Helmut organized the building of a small double arched bridge.

The year before, the participants constructed a Irish beehive hut.

This year we will be building a five-sided vaulted-roofed structure with stained glass window openings.

Friday, May 25, 2018

A recent Article in the Brockville paper.

Zen and the art of wall building 

By Marla Dowdall, Special to The Recorder and Times

ROCKPORT – When you look at a dry-stone wall, you can tell right away whether the builder was in a good mood, according to 'waller' John Shaw-Rimmington.

“You can look at a wall and instantly know if the guy was at peace with himself,” he said. Whether it was a good day or a good week this can come across in the wall itself.
Shaw-Rimmington offered his comment about zen and the art of wall-building during the annual Art Fair and Dry-Stone Wall event last weekend.
Having built walls from Spain to California, in the United States, Scotland and Ireland, Shaw-Rimmington, of Port Hope, said, “Walling is becoming more of a craft, an artistic craft.”
The six-foot-high wall students were learning about and would be working on, located on Front Street, was started in October. Students were hands-on for the workshop, which offered instruction on use of proper masonry tools and the basics of structural masonry without mortar. Only stone was used.
Shaw-Rimmington enjoyed an easy banter with the seven participating students, encouraging back and forth discussion as well as questions. Students came from as far as the Toronto and Ottawa areas to take part. And folks have come farther, he said. In one instance, a man came all the way from California to Canada to take one of his courses.
Shaw-Rimmington, the founder of Dry Stone Walling Across Canada, is also an author, a mason, contractor and artist.
Put on by Thousand Islands Arts, the dry-stone walling event was a new addition to this year’s Victoria Day weekend fair. 
With a theme of “celebrating contemporary and traditional heritage arts,” Miller said some of the mediums included were quilting, painting, knitting, silk screening and more.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Don't be wasteful.

People who have more than enough stone think I’m kind of strange. But the fact is - I don’t like to waste stones.
I remember days when it was hard to put a stone on the table.
When I was young where I lived there weren’t that many to go round.
It was a job, some days, just to find one.
Often,  me and my friends would come home empty-handed .
That’s why I try to make use of every stone I am given.
That’s why I make sure none go to waste.
All I have to do is think about people who are less fortunate than me, people who are without stones on their property, or can’t afford to buy them, or have no place they can go gather them, and then I look at the pile of stones I have and they don’t look so bad.
Who am I to say a stone is a bad stone? Who would have the gall to say a stone is useless? What makes a person so special that they think they can just throw stones away?

No, people should be glad for every stone God gives them. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Victoria Day Walling

Photo by Mark Ricard 

We had a royally good time yesterday at the 1000 Island Dry Stone Workshop at Rockport Ontario.

Students gathered early and learned the basic principals of how to wed stones to one another in order to build a strong princely wall, and then we all joined forces to add another 28 foot section of six foot high wall, to the existing 100 feet of wall, along the border of this lovely village property, just east of Gananoque. 

Having an example structure already on site makes it very convenient to point out all the features of a properly built dry laid wall. There's really no need for diagrams if you have the real thing there. The batter, the through stones, the bonding, and cheek-ends are all visible. The only thing students are not able to inspect is the 'hearting'. Ironically, how the stones are placed in the wall, is often crucial to whether the wall stands against the attacks of time and weather.

By mid-morning a steady barrage of rain fell on the troops, but it didn't dampen our enthusiasm. We remained victoriously DRY stone wallers.

Reining day people. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Turning CO2 to Stone

Geothermal energy generation at Hellisheidi
Image captionHarnessing the power of the volcanoes: Hellisheidi is Iceland's largest geothermal plant
Nested in the snow-covered mountains of western Iceland, a maze of turbines and pipes belches thick billows of steam. This mammoth structure is responsible for providing power to a country where 100% of the electricity comes from renewable sources.
The Hellisheidi power station, 25km (15 miles) outside Reykjavik, is Iceland's main geothermal plant, and is one of the largest in the world.
"Do you feel the vibrations beneath us?", says Edda Sif Aradottir, the plant's manager, splashing snow as she stomps her boot on the ground. "It's the steam coming into the turbines". 
Image copyrightA SAEBERGHellisheidi power plant, air view
"This is a volcanic area. We harness the volcano's internal heat to generate electricity and provide hot water for the city's heating system, our swimming pools and showers. We Icelanders like our showers really hot!"
Hellisheidi is not just an accomplished provider of green energy. It is also the site for a scientific breakthrough; an experiment to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) and turn it into stone - forever.
Thus keeping this greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere and putting a dent in global warming.
"Mankind has been burning fossil fuels since the industrial revolution and we have already reached the tipping point for CO2 levels", says Dr Aradottir. "This is one of the solutions that can be applied to reverse that".
Called CarbFix, the project is pioneered by an international consortium led by Reykjavík Energy, the French National Centre for Scientific Research, the University of Iceland and Columbia University.
Hellisheidi plant, pipe system
Image captionIn November Hellisheidi hit a major milestone, it hosted the world's first "negative emission" system, capable of sucking CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it underground
Since experiments began in 2014, it's been scaled up from a pilot project to a permanent solution, cleaning up a third of the plant's carbon emissions.
"More importantly, we are a testing ground for a method that can be applied elsewhere, be that a power plant, heavy industries or any other CO2 emitting source", says Dr Aradottir.

Making soda

With rising concentrations of atmospheric CO2, scientists have been testing "carbon capture and storage" (CCS) solutions since the 1970s.
CarbFix, however, stands out among CCS experiments because the capture of carbon is said to be permanent - and fast. 
Mineralisation process, infographic
Image captionWaste CO2 from the steam (I) goes to the gas separation station (II) is diluted in water (III) piped to the injection site (IIII) and pumped underground where it mineralises into rock
The process starts with the capture of waste CO2 from the steam, which is then dissolved into large volumes of water.
"We use a giant soda-machine", says Dr Aradottir as she points to the gas separation station, an industrial shed that stands behind the roaring turbines.
"Essentially, what happens here is similar to the process in your kitchen, when you are making yourself some sparkling water: we add fizz to the water".
Injection site in the form of an igloo, covered in snow
Image captionIn the injection site, the CO2 is pumped underground at high pressure
The fizzy liquid is then piped to the injection site - otherworldly, geometric igloo-shaped structure 2km away. There it is pumped 1,000m (3,200ft) beneath the surface.
In a matter of months, chemical reactions will solidify the CO2 into rock - thus preventing it from escaping back into the atmosphere for millions of years.
Mineralisation process, infographic
Image captionUnderground, the CO2 solution comes into contact with basalt and turns into white, chalky calcites that fill the pores of the rock
Basaltic rocks: fresh and with pores on the left, with white carbonates on the right
Image captionBefore and after: porous basalt (left) and basalt with mineralised CO2 within its pores
In this seemingly magic feat, local geology plays a key part.

Porous rock

The breath-taking Icelandic landscape - with its hot springs, geysers and black beaches - is mainly made of basalt, a dark-grey porous rock formed from cooling of lava.
And basalt is "carbon's best friend", because it contains high amounts of calcium, magnesium and iron, which bind with the pumped CO2 to help it solidify into a mineral.
Image copyrightS GISLASONGas separation station or "soda machine" used in CarbFix
Image captionThe CO2 is mixed with water, which has proven key to speeding up the solidification
Image copyrightS GISLASONScientists in the igloo-shaped injection site
Image captionThe injection site is in the vicinity of the mammoth geothermal plant
Sandra Snaebjornsdottir, a geologist working for CarbFix, has the evidence in her hands: a cylindrical sample drilled out from the site shows a smattering of chalky crystals encrusted in the basalt.
"These white bits are carbonates, or mineralised CO2", she says. "Fresh basalts are like sponges, with plenty of cavities that are filled with the CO2.
"Iceland is particularly favourable for this type of CCS simply because of the amount of basalt it's got".
Last year, 10,000 tonnes of CO2 were "digested" by CarbFix.
Yet this is tiny fraction - less than the yearly emissions of 650 Brits or 2,200 American cars.
Rock samples being dug out to examine
Image captionAfter the first pilot, samples of rock were drilled out from the bedrock to check whether the CO2 had solidified
And it becomes even more insignificant against the 30-40 gigatonnes of CO2 (a gigatonne is a billion tonnes) that modern humans pour into the atmosphere annually.
Despite its relatively small scale, experts anticipate CarbFix could be easy to repeat - thanks to the ubiquity of basalt around the world.
"Basalt is actually the most common rock type on Earth, it covers most of the oceanic floors and around 10% of the continents. Wherever there's basalt and water, this model would work", says Sandra Snaebjornsdottir.
Large basaltic areas are found in Siberia, Western India, Saudi Arabia and the Pacific Northwest. 
And scientists are now looking at testing the model on the oceans to take advantage of the large areas of submarine basalt formations.
Sandra O Snaebjornsdottir, geologist in CarbFix
Image captionSandra Snaebjornsdottir is in charge of testing results in CarbFix
Potentially, basalt could solve all the world's CO2 problems says Sandra: "The storage capacity is such that, in theory, basalts could permanently hold the entire bulk of CO2 emissions derived from burning all fossil fuel on Earth."

Very thirsty

At the University of Iceland, research around CarbFix has been continuing since its pilot phase.
A desk-size replica of the pipes and pumps in Hellisheidi in a state-of-the-art lab allows Prof Sigurdur Gislason to scrutinize the process.
"Before the injection started in CarbFix, the consensus within the scientific community was that it would take decades to thousands of years for the injected CO2 to mineralise", says Prof Gislason explains.
"Then we found out that it was already mineralised after 400 days".
Reykjavik aerial view
Image captionIceland's capital Reykjavik runs on renewable energies, and is one of the greenest cities in the world
Reactions were a lot faster than anticipated partly because of the large amounts of water used to dissolve the CO2.
This however points to one of the project's Achilles heels - it is very water intensive.
"It needs over 25 tonnes of water per tonne of CO2," says Prof Gislason. "In Iceland we are blessed with lots of rain, but if you are doing this on the basaltic areas in India... their water is very precious".
Some critics warn high-tech fixes such as this one pose a bigger risk - that of distracting researchers and the public from the pressing need drastically to reduce greenhouse gases levels. 
In a recent report, the European Academies Science Advisory Council warned that such technologies have "limited realistic potential" if emissions are not reduced.
"CarbFix is not a silver bullet. We have to cut emissions and develop renewable energies, and we have to do CCS too," says Prof Gislason. 
We have to change the way we live, which has proved very hard for people to understand."
Part of our series Taking the Temperature , which focuses on the battle against climate change and the people and ideas making a difference.
This BBC series was produced with funding from the Skoll Foundation
Illustrations by Jilla Dastmalchi