Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Robert Frost may famously have said that "something there is that doesn’t love a wall," but my love affair with the walls of New England is in full swing. As a newcomer, the proliferation of walls is one of the first things I noticed. In fact, it is said that there are more than 250,000 miles of walls in our region, so they are not exactly hard to come by.
I’ve become a student of the architecture of walls. By far the oldest and most common are the farmers' walls – the ones Frost speaks of. The story line of his poem speaks of how he and his neighbor walk the length of the wall each spring, replacing stones that have mysteriously fallen.
There’s really no mystery to it – frost heaves can move even gigantic boulders. Woodland creatures hunker through New England winters, the heat of their bodies creating further contrast between the freeze and thaw extremes. These farmers' walls have an honored place in the landscape, but for my taste, too many of them look like piles of rubble.
Then we have the other extreme – fake walls. Commercial establishments are full of these. They start out with breeze block or cinder block – the lowest of the low in the world of stone. Once in place workers affixed an exterior veneer of actual rock. Such fakery is easily spotted miles off. They contribute nothing to the aesthetic of New England and ought to be banned.
Then they are the stylish walls – the current vogue is for dry stacked stone; thin stones placed atop each other. This requires a bit of the mason’s art to plan and balance. It raises the larger debate about dry or wet mortar. People come down hard either way. Purists claim mortar is a travesty; pragmatists point to Robert Frost’s problems with stones falling out each season. I sympathize with Frost – a stone wall ought to be a living thing, surrounded by fields and trees, and susceptible to subtle changes.  And it ought to be possible to be permanent without being so rigid about it.
At long last I am getting my own stone wall. It will be artistic rather than primly utilitarian in true New England fashion, but it will be honed and chiseled and pushed into shape by real masons using real granite. The first stage is the giant pile sitting in the middle of my yard.
I look at it each day in wonderment. What magic will turn this pile into the wall of my dreams?

No comments:

Post a Comment