Building the stone patio 2017
I had been thinking for a while that I wanted to improve and enlarge the stone patio that I had built 10 years ago or so on the west side of the house, but the job was daunting. The entire retaining wall would have to be dismantled and rebuilt and there is a lot of stone in a four foot high wall that is thirty feet long. I always know that I am ready to begin another stone project when I see a stone on one of my walks that I can’t resist carrying back to the house. One morning in early spring, I spied just such a stone, triangular in shape, about 2.5 inches thick and 16 inches on a side. It was covered with lichen and had fallen off one of our old walls. Without thinking about it too much, I picked it up and carried it the few hundred yards back to the house. A few days later, again without thinking about it too much, I started taking the old patio wall apart. I find that sometimes if you think about something too much, you never do it! After setting aside the top most stones, a collection of fossil laden and stream smoothed beauties, I started throwing stones off the wall at a steady pace. It really did not take long to make a huge mess in the yard, I was fully committed!
I love doing stone work in the springtime; it is a great motivator for getting out of doors during one of the most beautiful times of the year . The apple blossoms from the orchard smell wonderful, the birds are singing, and the black flies buzz merry circles all around your head. A few years ago when I was building a wall in a wooded area, I witnessed two male Pileated woodpeckers swooping through the trees, battling for territory.
When most of the wall was down, I laid out the new arc for the wall which makes a graceful curve around a bizarre Honey Locust tree which is covered with 3 inch long spikes that can, and have pierced our lawn mower tires. I feel quite sure that Sleeping Beauty was pierced by one of these thorns. And by the way, while taking pictures today, one of those thorns pricked me too. So…. I wonder what it will be like in 100 years when I awaken in 3017.
Stone by stone the wall grows taller.
Building a wall is a great metaphor for tackling anything difficult. One stone at a time and all of that. I find myself humming happily and completely absorbed as I work, I guess you could say that it is a form of therapy.
I had to make regular runs out for more stone pulling a trailer behind our heavy duty garden tractor. Because the wall is built on an embankment, I needed a lot of fill stones. I found some old chunks of concrete, left over from somebody’s project… and into the wall they went. We reasoned that we were discovering the remains of the original chimney when we found a quantity of bricks mostly buried at the edge of the woods. The bricks were really useful to use as spacers and shims on the back side of the wall. Fortunately, we have 13 acres of land which is well endowed with stones, so there are always plenty! I had to pay particular attention to the strength of the wall as it curved down the hill past the spike tree. This is where I was not careful enough last time and the wall had started to pull apart. Here in the Northeast, the frost heaves can really damage a wall that is not built well.
I worked on the wall for about a month, but only a few hours each day. It is very heavy work, and for me this works best.
Many people ask me for tips on wall building so here are a few. It is always one over two and two over one…but after abiding by the stone masons credo, I build small sections that are level and then try to seat a larger stone there in order to connect the front of the wall to the back for instance. I fit the stones pretty tightly so that if the frost pushes on a section of the wall, there is no empty place just out of sight for the stone to move to. I always wear gloves and I don’t pick up anything that I am not sure that I can handle. I roll, or flip heavy stones rather than lift them. I don’t work when the stones and work area are wet and muddy, one’s footing absolutely has to be secure. Lastly, I try not to be too attached to a section that I have just built. If I am stuck, or if I think that I can make it better, down it comes. It is worth it! At the end of a project, you have something that will be there for a very long time. People also ask me if I build walls for money. No, not usually although I have done so a couple of times. It is more fun for me to work on our own property where I can really enjoy the results.