Thursday, April 23, 2009


STONE SMILES


Here I am stonewalling again, building a dry stone wall - or rather, in this case, rebuilding a dry stone wall - for the first time in about 15 years. The wall was hastily built by the city fellow I was 15 years ago, so it didn't last well. A well-built stone wall should be able to last at least a thousand years, a duration more familiar to me now. I'm rebuilding the wall as the retaining wall for a new kitchen herb garden we're starting; we've outgrown the older small one.

It gets infectious, once you start building a stone wall, after you've learned how. It's like a puzzle, with all the pieces secretly scattered all over the place, and maybe elsewhere too. You keep your eyes peeled wherever you go, you develop an eye for rocks. Mainly, though, I'm dipping into the stony equity I've built up in one corner of our property, treasures I've dug up in getting the land to say vegetables and flowers instead of who the hell are you?

My stones are not the nambypamby perfectly lapidary sedimentary kind laid down gently by quiet valley streams over eons, that split and stack like Lego; mine were formed in primordial fires and planetary upheavals long before there was any need whatever for stone walls, so they are stubbornly hard and shaped the way they damn well want to be shaped, which makes my big wall puzzle interesting. Sometimes it takes hours, even days, of looking out of one eye while doing something practical, to find just the right stone (or close enough) for the uniquely shaped space available in the rising wall. I've got the first course of of big stones down and tilted just so, and am starting on the second course, which is when it begins to get tricky because from now on I've got to cover the seams, or at least not extend them straight up and down.

The big trick is to be as patient as the stones themselves, to think and act in rocktime, which was an unknown factor for me when I first came here from the city, where everything was right now and on schedule. I wanted my stone wall now too, so I got a city kind of wall. It didn't last long, due to a few other factors that must be considered in metamorphic stone wall building, such as rain, ice and the earth. Humantime hurry, apart from resulting in a wobbly wall, will also pinch your fingers and toes all the way down the line, to say nothing of what it does to your back.

But it's a pleasure learning to go and then going at a stone's pace, scanning all the stone faces for the one that smiles at you with the very shape of that gap you have in mind.

2 comments:

wintersong said...

I'll be visiting the Sakusaiwaman ruins in Peru next month. The walls, standing now for thousands of years without the benefit of mortar, are said to be so spectacular that when the Spanish conquerors first arrived they exclaimed they must have been built by demons as a place of such greatness could not have been built by mere Peruvian Indians. The stones fit so perfectly that no blade of grass or steel can slide between them. They often join in complex and irregular surfaces that would appear to be a nightmare for even the most talented stonemason. Could the explanation be extraterrestrial beings with superior technology? I'll take notes and photographs; I'm sure you'd be impressed.

Bob Brady said...

wintersong, lucky you! I love the integrity of those walls. I'll be sure to savor your detailed photos. Have a deep time.