Stonewall Musings

There was a collapsed old stone wall, approximately 200 feet long by 10 feet wide, that I could see from my seat at the kitchen table.

Over the course of many years as I sipped my morning cappuccino, I mused about  taking on the project of rebuilding the wall. I knew that it would be a daunting task, both due to the length of the wall and the enormous size of many of the stones, some of which were 200-300 lbs!



But…one morning with a hint of September crispness in the air, without a lot of forethought,( because forethought can really slow you down), I started the process of  dismantling the first section of the old wall. I threw a few hundred stones out of my way and into various piles. Stones with good right angles for the end of the wall over here, good flat building stones  over there, rubble for the middle of the wall at the base of the tree, shim stones by the log and so on. It felt great to begin and lay those first end stones! When I am immersed in the process of wall building, I feel deeply peaceful. Handling all of the stones is great inspiration for my jewelry work!

I am lucky in that many of the stones that are common in our area are flat bluestones. These sedimentary rocks are part of the earth’s endless cycle of creation whereby large rocks are eroded into smaller and smaller rocks and finally turn into sand which washes downhill in streams and rivers.

The layers of sand compress over the course of millions of years and eventually turn to rock. The sedimentary layers break off into this beautiful blue grey sandstone. But on our property we also have fossil studded ledges of wavy limestone. This rock was formed from the skeletal remains of corals and mollusks that at one time lived near the equator. It seems strange that the land we live on was once located so far away. Less common are the granite boulders studded with garnet from the Adirondack mountains north of us and even some pink granite rocks from Maine which have made their way to our property via glacial transport sometime in the last 50,000 years or so. Interestingly, our basement has a limestone ledge floor with large glacial scrapes running diagonally across it.

Thousands of  stones find their way into my hands as I make my own mark on the landscape. As I dig deeper I make an interesting discovery. Underneath the random pile of stones is a built wall, now about a foot under the surface and comprised of beautiful flat stones. In 1858 a Dutch family by the name of Osterhout lived in our house, and I imagine that it could have been an Osterhout who once handled these stones and labored as I do now, placing them carefully one over two, two over one. When the stones are connected to the ones around them, they stand firm for the ages.

The phrase “between a rock and a hard place” describes having a difficult decision to make and no good options. When working on my walls and trying to put a stone into position, I understand the idea of rocks and hard places in a very literal way! Often it is just a very small rock that will not allow me to move a much larger stone into position. Even though it is very frustrating to be thwarted, it is gratifying to see that the problem can sometimes be easily resolved. But there are also times when a tree is in the way, or times when an exploratory poke with my pry bar reveals that there is a large partially buried boulder in my way that is far too large to be moved. I must work around these things and the wall grows organically.

At times, nothing is clear to me, I feel discouraged as I stare at a random pile of stones and just can’t see what to do next. When this happens, I usually will work on dismantling the old wall that stretches out ahead of me. This allows my brain to catalog and become familiar with the rocks that I will be working with over the course of the next day or two and warms my body to the work. At some point during the day, I realize that I am in the flow, the wall flies together and it feels magical. In my jewelry work also, there are days that I must apply myself to uninspiring work in order to get into the best state of mind for those magical moments to occur.

One can build a life in many different ways and each section of wall can be built in many different ways. I find though that without enough options, (rocks in this case),progress can be slow or halted.  When this happens I go foraging on the property and sometimes I even find wonderful stones buried under just a few inches of soil right beneath my feet! It is surprising how often one finds just what one needs.

Always I must stay in the moment and recenter. Think, consider, evaluate, build.

I worked on the wall for 3 months or so, until finally the ground froze and the snow fell. I had completed 215 feet of wall all together. It was a long winter with deep snow and all the stones trapped in frozen dirt and mud. But then spring arrived and I got back to my wall building, this time  working behind the house. I love being outside for hours on end. What a joy it is to see and hear the geese flying overhead and to watch the slow unfolding of the springtime!