Building A Wall

Yesterday I took a break from the never-ending battle against the onslaught of dandelions and built two walls in the down yard.  One is intended to screen off an area where we’ll be composting yard waste, dead and dried weed carcasses, and other assorted debris,  The other one, pictured above, will mark the edge of what will be a little flower bed in a narrow crevice between two huge granite outcroppings.

I used stones for the walls, because we’ve got a virtually inexhaustible supply of them, and thought about Robert Frost the whole time.  I learned that trying to craft a stone wall can be a very enjoyable project.  It’s messy and muddy, and you get to see what kind of crawly creatures cling to the undersides of big rocks, which adds to the overall experience.  You get to lug stones around, too, so it’s pretty good exercise.

From an engineering standpoint, the key seems to be a create a level base for the wall, then find the right stones to fit into the right gaps, using the weight of the stones above to hold them all in place.  After some trial and error and experimentation with different stones in different places, I ended up with two walls that seem to be sturdy and level — at least until the next big rainstorm.  In the meantime, it was satisfying to actually do some manual labor with my hands, and see the immediate fruits of my effort.  For white-collar workers, that’s not something that happens every day.

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Lichen Old Stone Walls

IMG_4511Before we left Nova Scotia to head back to the States we got a chance to visit Chester, another of the pretty seaside communities you find all over Canada’s Maritime Provinces.  In the Chester Harbor, next to the town memorial to fallen soldiers, was a colorful, lichen-stained stone wall that looked like it had been there a hundred years.  And, now that I think of it, maybe it had.

On Stone Walls And Robert Frost

The Lake Champlain region of upstate New York feels, to me at least, more like New England than like the mid-Atlantic states.  It is separated from rustic northern Vermont only by the blue waters of the lake, and the signs of a New England approach to life are everywhere evident.

For example, you cannot take a walk on a country lane without seeing many stone walls, in various stages of repair and disrepair.  Some are clean and sharp-edged, some are rambling and covered with flowers, and others are vine-covered, weedy, and completely unattended, only a year or two away from full-scale collapse and a wholesale return to nature.

And who can see a stone wall without thinking of Robert Frost?  His wonderful poem of ruminations on stone walls, their inevitable decline and decay, and his annual meeting with his neighbor to replace the stones in their common wall, Mending Wall, begins as follows:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The poem is full of Frost’s curiousity and impishness.  It is too long to reprint in full in this post, but it is available here.  The poem famously concludes:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.