Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Overlooking the scenery

We’re home now from California.

Strangely, the reality of having constructed a dry stone wall right on the Pacific coast hasn't really sunk in yet.

Maybe, over the next few months, my trying to describe to people the beauty of where we were working, I'll be able to grasp the whole thing better myself.  The significance of the experience, the drama, the ‘thereness’ of it all, perhaps will be better realized as I continue to try to look back on the amazing experience it seems we had there. 

Just to think about it - we built a permanent structure inches from a 70 foot cliff overlooking a crashing ocean below. We literally ‘overlooked’ so much of it ( both opposite meanings of the word ) during the two weeks we were mostly concentrating on getting this pretty unusual stone fence built during the time we had allotted to complete the project. 

I wonder now, did others, perhaps a long time before us, building any of the old wooden livestock fences I’ve seen along these coastal regions, also ‘overlook’ the immense import of it all?  Did they stand there in amazement a lot of the time as they were working, or did they mostly work on as usual, as they dug holes for the wooden posts and hammered the rails and nailed the pickets, close to the edge of the sea?

And then I think, what about all the people who have worked building other stone structures in spectacularly beautiful parts of Britain and Ireland ?   We’ve all seen the photos of bridges built over wild tumbling streams  - and beautiful walls jutting out from fantastically magical landscapes - and stoned terraces tracing contours of breathtaking beauty. Can we just assume the people who built these structures were able to appreciate where they were?

Did they all, returning at the end of the day, or the end of the job, say “ Wow, what a seriously cool thing that was ! ”
Did they talk of it years later, recounting, almost reliving for the first time, what a powerful, exceptional experience building in that scenic place back then, was?

I wonder.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Like a fence in the headlights

Thanks to Gwen, who drove some distance to see it, arrived very late, but sent this photo of our lighthouse stone wall, lit only by her headlights.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Returning to the shore with Stones

How many times have you come to the beach and picked up stones to bring home? But have you ever brought stones to the beach in order to leave them there? 

These mica schist slabs were brought to and left in this order along a short stretch of coastland by my crew and I last week, and then we returned home, 'stoneless'.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Is it a wall or a fence?

Is it a wall or a fence ?
It began as a concept to replace the existing fence with something that would fit into the vernacular flavour of the local landscape and specifically make reference to the various idiomatic split rail fences seen along the Northern California coastline. Instead of using old growth hand split redwood, we used older growth mica schist hand split flagstone material from the Mojave desert. The four foot (plus)slabs are stood upright back to back along the entrance border of the Point Arena Lighthouse, looking out over the Pacific Ocean.

Their spacing, their verticality and irregular heights give the impression of wooden picket fencing from a distance, but as you approach closer, the fence structure begins to widen in appearance and looks more a thick jagged stone wall. The dynamic upright  surging of the cliff’s seen here on the point (and along the Mendocino coast) are a geological feature that the stone fence/wall is also designed to mimic. Shale boulders from Annapolis are spaced every ten feet to brace the upright slabs. The gate boulders and middle pier boulder are bordered with pebble motif compliments of Kevin Carman talented artist mason musician and poet working out of Art City in Ventura  Ca. The pebbles represent the crashing of the waves against the tall cliffs.

The wall/fence/installation uses no manufactured fasteners . Instead the stones are lodged together tightly using sandstone spacers notched into one side of every vertical mica schist slab. The spacers are wedged into the slabs along the same horizontal line so as to appear like a continuous fence rail when viewed directly from the side.

Twenty-four tons of material stretches more than 90 feet across the entrance to the lighthouse property. The backdrop of the lighthouse and vista of ocean shore provides an unparalleled setting for this totally new wall design. Tourists standing back to take photos now kneel down to include the ‘fence’ in the picture.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Buenos Notches

The upright slabs in this latest project required mucho notches to be cut in them in order to slot and wedge the stone spacers between them to produce the upright redwood picket fence look we were trying recreate in stone.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The shadow knows

The familiar late afternoon shadow of a California redwood picket fence - or maybe it’s not. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Tiny Hopes

It looked like he was going to jump, but he actually had to climb a tiny way up the tower to see if there was a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Fencing along the coast

This redwood picket fence is being built by Kent Cochran of lighthousemusicians.com. He’s doing a great job. The posts as are the pickets (which are to be nailed on later) are all hand split with wedges. Our fence up the coastal road will have a similar look, but we’re not using wood.

Monday, November 5, 2018

New stone circle.

I helped plant a new standing stone circle on a well known point of land that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. The old one was there in our imagination, we just had to agree on a suitable site and then cultivate the soil and dig in the special 'henge' stones. And now all there is to do is wait. We anticipate they will grow to be quite tall within a few thousand years .

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Daily Post

Our next stone project involves reinterpreting the redwood pickets seen along the Northern California Coast near Sea Ranch. These idiomatic containment fences capture the rustic individuality of rural Californian living. The pickets, along with the posts, create daily interest as we drive back and forth in the varieties of morning and sunset light. They offer moments of reflection too that are as illuminating as anything you might find in print . My read on it is - there’s likely a new creative opportunity to explore a geological connection . Stay tuned. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Our inspiration.

Our inspiration, our ideals and our courage, come from the land, the soil, the rocks, the trees, each other. 
The flag can be anything.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Holes in the walls

If you look long enough you will find them everywhere.
But will you find your way back.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Race against the tide

Ventura lith-ovals found on the beach turned on end and stacked in a carin' way as the tide keeps creepin' in.

There's still enough time to 
stop and have a photo taken.

Photos by Sunny Wieler and Mark Ricard 

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Ventura Effect

I've built many stone and brick Rumford fireplaces. They give off a lot more heat than most other  masonry fireplace designs. Rumford’s genius was his intuitive understanding of fluid dynamics.  By rounding the breast to “remove those local hindrances which forcibly prevent the smoke from following its natural tendency to go up the chimney…” and narrowing the channel to the throat,  he essentially created a venturi, a nozzle, like an inverted carburetor, that shot the smoke and air much better up the chimney. 

A Venturi, named after an Italian inventor, is a system for speeding flow of the fluid, by constricting it in a cone shape tube. In the restriction the fluid must increase its velocity reducing its pressure and producing a partial vacuum. As the fluid leave the constriction, its pressure increase back to the ambient or pipe level.

‘Ventura’ California where this year’s Stone Foundation Stone Symposium took place. This is the third time the symposium has been held in Ventura and like the others it was great smokin’ success. 

Lectures, demonstrations, games, competitions, great food, plenty of ‘fluids’ and a impressive flow of stone aficionados. Well done. Tomas, Mimi and Paul & Laurie , Dougy B and all the stone tribe.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Pilot Program

Yesterday was the first day of the two day pilot program offering a dry stone walling “experience” by the city of Kawartha Lakes. My students and I investigated some of the lesser seen walls on the Laidlaw and Mackenzie properties.
In the fall the we get a better view of the beautiful dry stone work, as there is less foliage covering the walls. This wall is at least 150 years old and runs for about a thousand feet towards the lake. There is a similar one on the other side of the lane. The trees have all grown up since the walls were built. They will eventually destroy the walls, but such is life. Life and living things eventually prevail.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Stone Mobile

Stones are at their best when they are ‘mobilized’.  They can stay well-connected, yet need not be tightly regimented, that is, not forced to be locked together in an order that makes the whole thing totally immovable and uninteresting.
Fabrications boasting of manufactured adherents that last a lifetime all too often are lifeless and ugly.

By contrast,  mobilized stones (not bolted or glued or stuck together with cement but placed skillfully and correctly) by themselves, are ones arranged so as to mesh together beautifully. 

The stones will remain that way a long time, nestled in a state of connectivity. They all keep within their orbit, in constant structural conformity. They yield because they are placed together employing only the basic restraints of gravity and friction, thus allowing for a constant flow of invisible interactions. The wall is a kinetic work , never losing balance or uniformity.

The whole thing is stone mobile, dancing in an almost motionless embrace. A dry laid installation is not a ‘stalled’ one, not brittle or frozen. That which is made up of unfettered stones becomes a thing of beauty - a fluid sculpture held in place by the subtle forces of nature. Stones held together this way will always be something to behold.

The whole thing becomes a ‘moving’ experience.

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.