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Stringlines – August 2018

By Pete Ryder – Stone Trust President

I find that solo stone walling is a very contemplative activity. The strangest things come to mind, like my mother and Thanksgiving….

Last week I spent considerable time cutting cheek material from boulders. In my south-central corner of NH, there is very little long flat stone to work with. As a waller, I strive to build the best wall possible with the material chosen. That said, it’s difficult to build a wall end that will endure the accumulation of odd bumps from tractor, lawn mower, animals and children without long stones. So, I frequently make the choice to manufacture my own.

I could purchase suitable stone. That would be the most efficient from a time perspective. Off-cuts from posts and treads are sold by many fabricators at very reasonable prices. Unfortunately for me, my sense of aesthetics is offended by the mix of native and non-native stone.

Back to my mother. After our turkey dinner, Mom would work over the remains of the bird. Leftover turkey meat was picked for enchiladas, and sandwiches. The carcass went in a pot as the start of a delicious soup. At the end it was all used. No waste, each element used for best purpose.

So it is with cutting boulders. There is a lot of stone in that four-foot oddly shaped lump. Dirt, lichen and moss, weathering, and glacial scrubbing obscure the true nature of the stone. Only small clues betray its true nature. Is it a homogeneous hunk or are there multiple materials swirled around and folded by the heat and pressure of the deep earth? Is there a bedding plane along which the stone will cleave or is it a massive piece of stone cookie dough that will allow me to choose where it splits?

Splitting a boulder with feathers and wedges

As I look at a boulder I think about best-use. My priorities generally are; steps and flat caps, cheek material, through stones, builders, and finally hearting. As I contemplate the boulder I look for the small clues and evaluate options. In most cases, the first cut is made with some trepidation. The stone usually keeps secrets from me until after I have committed to my decision.

The opened stone is like that after-supper turkey. Now that I know what’s there, I can revise my plan for the reality of the stone and make best use. Sometimes that’s high value components and other times a great big pile of hearting. Either way the stone will live on in my wall, filling its destiny as best it can.