Last Saturday’s Introduction to Dry Stone Walling marked the end of my third week as Executive Director of The Stone Trust (TST). (You may recall from September’s newsletter that outgoing ED, Brian Post, has decided to focus his considerable expertise on program development and evaluation.) The day started in the indoor training facility in the foundation of Scott Farm Orchard’s 1832 cow barn, renovated in 2010 by TST founders and supporters to make possible three seasons of walling workshops. We aspire to a facility where people can learn to build stone walls year round.
Early Saturday I stood in the circle of participants and instructors listening to stories of how each came to be present on this sunny fall morning, ready to take down and rebuild a section of wall. In less than seven hours these thirteen men and woman would move the equivalent of two three-axle dump trucks full of glacial till.
Several participants had been harvesting stone for decades, waiting for life to present them with time to craft piles of rocks into long-imagined landscape art. Others came to share the experience, pulled in as willing and loving assistants. One or two were contemplating becoming professional wallers. Our instructors, Torben Larsen and Andras Lazar, spoke with knowledge gleaned from years of professional experience. The beginners seemed eager and a bit daunted by the labor ahead. We all shared, it appeared, a kind of wonder at the power of stone to inspire and endure.
Having completed the Intro workshop two weeks earlier, I set of for the stone wall park with a journalist come to scout an article. As she waxed enthusiastic about the light, I felt pleased to be able to describe the walls and features, sharing knowledge Brian had offered a group who had toured the park during Scott Farm’s Heirloom Apple Days.
The journalist stopped often to shoot photos of walls angling up the hillside built on stair-step foundations; retaining walls with vertical stack, herringbone, and horizontal construction; the high wall with its full-circular-arch, granite moon gate; the Galway Dike and Irish Family walls, each topped in a different manner with cope stones to add height and mass—height to keep in livestock, mass to tie the double walls together and create friction for structural integrity. Stonework traditions arise from geology; you build with the stone you have. Brian had taught a lot that already I could share.
Back at the barn, we stood in the sunshine talking with Pete Ryder, TST board President, certified level 2 waller and TST instructor. After Pete narrated the organization’s ten-year history, our conversation ranged from stone as a sustainable building material to the Washington National Cathedral and TST’s 2018 monastery project in Fairfield, PA to rural economic development to stonework as a fundamental feature of gardens, the primary motivation for the journalist’s visit today. Preserving and advancing the art of dry stone walling holds relevance for each of those topics.
I turned to Pete to marvel at my great good fortune at joining The Stone Trust. Pete offered to pinch me.