Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Universal Gravity

Newton's law of universal gravitation declares that every material thing attracts every other material thing in the universe using a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Walk Taken on Earth Day

A walk took me yesterday.
It carried me with it wherever it went. 
It danced in the late afternoon sunlight.

I had to learn the steps
And try to tread lightly  
It was a space walk on Earth Day.

I was taken by the path
Taken with its movement 
Drawn to its contours.

I was helped along the way 
to reflect on what it is 
to have a path choose you.

And made to imagine
The distance and time remaining
for this world's days, here on earth.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Trees from discarded stone

Trees and stones have a complex relationship. Trees, like this one in the Lake District in England, can somehow manage to grow out of huge waste piles of over burden stone from quarry operations.

Here's one growing out piles armour stone and rip rap shot rock near Bobcageon Ontario

Here's some trees trying to grow out of the towering piles of unwanted stone up near Buckhorn Ontario.

Yesterday we went there and hand picked uniquely shaped stones and loaded 4 tons of them from that huge waste pile for using in a dry laid tree installation we are going to be doing with the Ennismore Hort and Dist Society this June. 

In a way, the tree we build there in Ennismore will be not unlike the ones I have seen growing in the quarries.  Like the living ones, our horticultural tree sculpture will have grown out of a pile of useless stones.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Still up in the Air B n B

On our regular morning walk with Farley we pass this unfinished tree house. Though someone has obviously put a lot of nice work into it already, sadly, it's been left that way for many many years. I'm guessing the little girl or boy who this was begun for has moved out and got their own apartment by now.. 

And there's that pile of stones lying there all that time too, presumably waiting to be used around the bottom. 

I'm tempted to go back there some weekend and finish the job myself, but I know I'd probably get into trouble. So the best I can do is Photoshop how I think it might look some day. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Penning With My Hands

Good ideas are like sheep. They can often get lost. Putting them to pen is the safest way of keeping stock of them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tools are dangerous.

The fact that you used tools should in no way distract from what it is you are creating. Try to avoid the danger of your wall looking 'overworked'. The best way to not have tools dominate the look of your wall, is to ensure there is as little 'tooling' going on, (or at least, as little evidence of the stones having been 'shaped') as possible.

A beautiful wall of Norman Haddow's

Monday, April 17, 2017


The scope of creative possibility contained in a single stone is inestimably extensive. 

As many things in life do, it increases like, eggs-potentially.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

It's all small stuff.

Live beneath your means. Return everything you borrow. Stop blaming other people. Admit it when you make a mistake. Give clothes not worn to charity. Do something nice and try not to get caught. Listen more; talk less. Every day take a 30-minute walk. Strive for excellence, not perfection. Be on time. Don't make excuses. Don't argue. Get organized. Be kind to people. Be kind to unkind people. Let someone cut ahead of you in line. Take time to be alone. Cultivate good manners. Be humble. Realize and accept that life isn't fair. Know when to keep you mouth shut. Go an entire day without criticizing anyone. Learn from the present. Don't sweat the small stuff. It's all small stuff.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Between good Friday

And Easter Sunday

What is that day and long night called?

The stones have not yet formed the arch that follows the arc of spaces between the moon's phases.

The tiny toy man tries to hang the last stone in the night sky .

He works alone listening to the sounds of the darkness —creation crying out for a newness that might never come. 
Each stone has been lifted into place, carefully balanced one on another — delicate eggs suspended in the vacant heavens.

How will they last the night?

Surely the night is too dark and the earth is spinning too much out of control.

Friday, April 14, 2017

This concrete path is getting a make over

Transforming a concrete path to stone one is a pleasure. We are using a combination of thick limestone slabs and pitched granite flagstone on end. Something about the combination makes it look more pleasing than just doing one or the other.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Post on Post

Brian Post of the Stone Trust had a great article published in the May issue of Fine Homebuilding about my favourite subject. Lots of good insight into how dry stone walls are built and details about what to pay attention to, as well as things that indicate that people might be getting a bit too fussy.  Nice work Brian. Anyone following these comprehensive instructions closely can expect to have built a solid wall they can be proud of.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017


Peter Brooke-Ball

I am a big admirer of Peter Brooke-Ball's work. He is a London-based sculptor who works with stone, soft metals, leather, hardwood, and rope.The stone and rope piece called  above ,"A Thought', is a good example of the type of sculptures he creates.
Peter writes about his work,
  "There are several reasons I sometimes include rope in my work - I like the idea of the soft defining the shape of the hard; I see each piece as a thought and I want to keep that thought secure and precious, fearing it might all slip away; and thirdly, where I include several elements, I want them to be physically linked, no matter how far apart they may be: my aspiration is to tie together the tops of two mountains."
It occurs to me that, if he hasn't already done it yet, Peter might like to try dry stone walling. I know it gives many us the immense satisfaction of invisibly tying a lot of stones together to create beautiful forms.
Here is a quick rendering of what Peter's wall might look like.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

If a tree falls down in the forest, how structural was it?

Yesterday I went for two walks through the forest with Farley; one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
The second time I came by this part of the trail, a huge tree lay fallen across the path where only few hours before the path had been clear.  

I don’t know what structural means. I understand that it has something to do with order and things being put together in the right way.  I understand too, that decorative is kind of the opposite of structural — that something that doesn’t have structure is loosey-goosey and hard to get your head round or get a grip on. And I get it that if were talking about stone walls it has something to do with them being built well — in such a way that they’re not likely to fall over. Yet if it falls over eventually, does that mean it wasn't structural? And if it was, at what point did it stop being structural? How correct is it to think that things that are structural generally last a long time? 

Computers are structural. They don’t last. Wooden fences are structural. Cars are structural. Washing machines are structural. Light bulbs. Paper coffee cups. But more importantly, so many abstract, beautiful, sometimes very temporary things in nature, and all kinds of human activities, are also very ‘structural'.  

How much of it then is structural, in the way we wallers proudly imply it should be? How important is it to think structural has everything to do with being permanent and not much to do with beauty or God forbid, expedience? We seem to think it’s logical to impose a definition of structural on the walls we build where it’s not okay that they behave like anything else made by man or even nature, for that matter.  

Just because we are using a tremendously long-lasting material doesn’t mean there is only one choice but to build things that last as long as is humanly conceivable, no matter how long it takes or expensive it is to build, or train to be able to build them that way. 

Maybe we're going about it all wrong. Maybe building good fences of stone that last only 60 years might make all the difference. It might mean people could afford to build them or have them built and enjoy them in their lifetime. 'Built properly' could mean, well enough to be built at all, and work, and last 'long enough' for a wall. Maybe not to see even a lesser lasting wall in your yard would be a sad thing for someone who really could use one that stayed up at least as long and definitely looked better than a wooden or wire one. In just the same way, maybe planting a tree that is only going to grow sixty years is enough, if it’s going to look beautiful and give you shade and a place to tie a hammock to and maybe firewood after it falls down. 

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe when a tree falls to the ground we should all ask “What went wrong?  Why did this tree fall over? It should never have been allowed to grow here if it was only going to fall over, and possibly end up killing someone.” 

Could it be that only equating structure with durability, the standard becomes way too oversimplified and perspective is lost, to the point that people begin to say “ It's better not to have forests at all, if the trees are only going to keep falling over. We need to replace these dangerous structures with boulders that are certified never to fail.

But then again maybe walls are the exception to the rule. Maybe they, of all the things that one introduces onto a property, need to be presented to the public as immutable ’structures' that presumably could, and therefore should withstand a bomb attack. 

If that's the case, they must never be thought of as being any part of the 'ever-changing' landscape.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

River Rising.

Here is what the bridge looks like today.  Photo courtesy of Benoit Schryer-Lefebvre.

Friday, April 7, 2017

It's not All water under the bridge.

Yesterday, with heavy rains that fell all day, the Tay River rose significantly enough that water flowed not only under but around the dry stone bridge that was built during last year's Dry Stone Festival in Perth Ontario. All of the surrounding stonework that was built to enclose the swimming area on the same week last August, is now submerged under water too. 

This sudden deluge is very effectively putting all the dry stone work we did there to the test. 

While people talk about examiners and accredited testing, there is no better endorsement of genuine workmanship than having Nature prove your work and reveal that it can stand up to whatever she throws at it.

While proper dry laid walls and bridges are built to stand the test of time too, sometimes time gets some help testing what Canadian wallers build with great floods of water. 

Stay tuned. More photos to follow in the coming days.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Which do you prefer ?

Both these walls use the same stones. The top example — the stones had very little shaping done to them. The bottom one — all the stones were shaped and squared.  Which one of these dry stone walling styles do you prefer and why. Leave a comment or write to me. The pros and cons will be discussed tomorrow incorporating everyone's feedback. 

Don't worry there won't be a test at the end of the week.  

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Unknowing Rock

The last of the three rock types, after 'sedentary' and 'metaphoric', are 'ignorant' rocks. Don’t be confused — these are not stupid rocks. Rocks are never stupid. How can inanimate things be accused of not being smart?

As much as they may frustrate you and not seem to do what you want them to do, or break the way you want them to 
break, it’s pretty dumb to shout at them and call them stupid.

No, the rock type we are discussing here, which classify as ignorant, are those without, what might be called, knowledge of good and evil. They are properly categorized as 'without blame', nor do they blame others. Ignorant rocks do not keep a record of wrongs. They are oblivious to unsubstantiated rumours, misguided concepts and imposed prejudices, all of which, sadly, affect people and make them say and do stupid things.

These are not necessarily faultless rocks, but ones that actually can’t find faults in others.

Marble sculpture by John Fisher

They are not only ignorant of their own shortcomings, they are ignorant of ours! Consequently they believe we can do and make anything with them, and so allow us to be infinitely creative.

They take no notice of naysayers, pay no attention to transitory contrivances, and are not thwarted from their purpose by any distractions.

They have transcended the tyranny of 'too much information’.

They choose to not be know-it-alls. They have learned to keep a closed mind, in certain key respects. This is because rocks displaying the very precious characteristic of ignorance are impermeable, and will not 'take in' half truths and oversimplified adages.They stand rock solid against  unacceptable thinking.

There are all kinds ‘truths' written in rocks that seem nonsensical to us mortals.There’s is a folly that seems to go against the grain of common knowledge.

There are certain potentially very corrosive, unedifying things, that rocks don’t need to know. 

There are things you can't unsee, can’t unknown. Ignorance is wisdom in this respect. Those rocks we call 'dumb' process that which is the very opposite of our wisdom.

Ignorant rocks (and those who identify with their type) are not only counter-intuitive, they are contra-smart-ass !

Rocks may be just inanimate ‘matter', but they display an infinite humility, in that they manifest the logical conclusion to the truth that —"the more you know, the more you know you don't know".

So too, sometimes like these rocks, the less you know, the better you can concentrate on the things that matter.  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Metaphoric Rocks !

Metaphoric rocks are not 'like' anything else. Their transmutability makes this rock type very hard to identify. These elusive 'performers' are often found being anything but rocks. They can resemble potatoes or take on musical properties or sometimes turn to candy or even imitate bard chickens. They can become the size of Volkswagens or as small as diamonds. 

Believe it or not some highly successful individuals may even be identified as part of this 'metaphoric' group. Just because someone has certain 'cool' properties however, does not necessarily put them in this particular category of 'rock'. Nor should these rocks' undersides always be confused with bargain sales, their disposition with hard hearts or uncomfortable beds and/or just about anything you might be tempted to compare them to. 

As the name suggests metaphoric rocks are always in a state of constant transition. Though multi-faceted and ever changing in form, they do process one or two recognizable properties that make them very attractive. Most metaphoric rocks, for instance, have a kind of waxy poetic feel to them, figuratively speaking. The rocks appeal to all five senses, but if you're looking for a literal sense, you'll never find it. Their chemical structure is highly irregular. It is of a more descriptive composition than can be identified here.

The best test for a metamorphic rock is to put it in a room of objects and measure how long it takes for it to compare itself. The longer it takes, the less metaphoric its makeup. 
In fact, as far pervasiveness, this rock type 'makes up' the majority of rock-'like' substances on earth! 

But then again, by definition, you will have looked forever and never metamorphic that is 'like' anything.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Lazy Stones

Having been taught this stuff in school, everyone pretty much knows the three basic types of rock, right? - Sedentary, Metaphoric and Ignorant.

Today I’d like to talk about the Sedentary group. These rocks are the most inactive of all the rock types. Though they have been classified as indolent and torpid, they are not so much slow moving and lethargic as completely motionless. This quality of remaining stationary is sometimes looked for in a rock or stone, however it can be pretty frustrating if you’ve ever tried to move it somewhere else.

Sedentary rocks are like statues, fixed and frozen in place, shiftless. Most other types of stones can be made to work in some situation or other, whether it be in a wall, or even made to do activities where they can work as say millstones or grindstones. These slothful rocks however have never worked a day in their life, not even to make a garden border or a stone curb. They are completely lifeless, and trying to get them to do anything is like trying to get blood from a stone.

Sedentary rocks can be found almost anywhere there is a finished basement or comfortable reckroom. They are often found gathered on shelves. Dug foundations usually have lots of them laying around. They are found mostly in deposits of bedrock, always resting horizontally along the geological bedding plane.

As far as their composition the sedimentary molecular structure is pretty much a shapeless blob. Chemically it reacts to nothing, and on a sub atomic level, is totally inactive. 

The test for sedentary rocks is to dip them in a mild solution of mud and watch them sink to the bottom.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

There's more than one way to paint a rock.

Following up on the account of my recent attempts to paint rocks and capture their gritty essence ( see last Sunday's post ) it was suggested to me by a reader, that rather than covering their surface details and textures with scratchy layers of random words, I try Pollocking them. 

The idea being that the appealing quality, specifically the randomness of Pollock's work, has been linked, by some art critics and scientists, to a subconscious association we all have with fractals and the repeating infinite patterns contained within everything. Rocks, of course, with their attractive patinas and granular surfaces are very 'fractal-like'. So why not try to paint them in a way that applies a similar Pollock approach. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Prime Time

Who would have ever thought when we were making it back in 2010, that there would come a time Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, would one day walk through our dry stone arch ?


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returns with Sheldon Lambert, conservation manager with Parks Canada, from a walk along trails at the Landon Bay area near the Thousand Island National Park on Tuesday morning. (Lars Hagberg/THE CANADIAN PRESS) 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

Stone-paper wins !

I received a late Christmas present yesterday. My daughter Maddy had ordered a hardcover 100 page journal for me in November and it finally arrived. It was out of stock because lots of people were trying to buy such a unique item. 

I have to admit it is a pretty special book. It's a 'stone book' with 'stone' pages. That's right, the paper is actually made of stone. The sheets are thin, amazingly shiny, and quite flexible. The pages are so smooth/soft to the touch, it's hard to believe. 

It occurred to me to do the first painting in it combining the three elements of the common children's game - Rock Paper Scissors.

For sure, rock-paper will win every time over scissors now. That's because I don't have to cut this first page out of my stonepaper book, having stupidly painted the word 'scissors' incorrectly . 

The thing is, the paper is so shiny and nonporous I was able to wet the the letters c and i ,and with a paper towel completely erase them. I then painted them in again, in the right order .

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Painting Contours

In attempting yet again to try to paint the 'common dry stone wall' in a way that captures that elusive merging of imagined lines and planes over each surface, I discovered a new technique this week.

Most often before it has been the randomness of shading and difference in detail in the texture of the stones that has been so hard to replicate convincingly. 

My new method involves covering the surfaces along the contours with a continuous stream of text and writing. I ‘literally' colour/smother the area inside each stone with a kind of tiny scratchy hieroglyphics. As a result of applying this kind of detail, the stones take on a texture I quite like. In their individual placement the stones possess, what you might call, a new ‘contextual' element. 

I’m also pleased with the implications of 'depicting' stones this way. With a kind of indecipherable trail of inscriptions, the stones in the wall become solidified paragraphs, each containing words and fragment sentences of form and thought. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sculpture/Construction Project

I should have looked a little further.... 
Thanks to a reader who emailed me the link, I have been informed that the stone structure at Ireland Park was not so much a sculpture but actually more of a construction project taken on by a team of Read Jones Christoffersen, Picco Engineering and Quinn Design Associates Inc along with
Kearns Mancini Architects Inc.

Here are some of the details about the design and the materials they chose.

The design of Ireland Park needed to be in harmony with the powerful emotive energy evident in the sculptures situated in the park, created by Irish artist Rowan Gillespie. The massive, craggy, sculptural rock-face of black Kilkenny limestone was obviously the right material to fill this need. A technical approach was devised to make smaller pieces of stone convey the feeling of massive rock and generate the effect of size, scale, texture and emotional energy. 675 names of famine immigrants, who died in Toronto in 1847, are located in the openings cut into the rock, similar to the fossils in the stone, where they can be similarly discovered. The stone material greatly influenced the design; the light-grey sawn faces of the Kilkenny limestone provide an ideal surface for the inscription of the Famine immigrants' names, just as the roughness of the stone simultaneously evokes the battered bow of a ship, as well as the shoreline of the west of Ireland, the departure point for many emigrants in Ireland.

The stone work has set new standards in technical achievement. Without extensive structural engineering, the gravity-defying sculptural qualities of the stone columns could not have been executed. The structure which is referred to as the ‘memory wall’ is a combination of reinforced concrete and stone. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Remembered in stone and bronze

During this St Patricks Day week, Mary and I visited a park dedicated to the 38,000 Irish immigrants who came to Toronto during the famine of 1847. 

Ireland park, which opened in 2007, is a hard to find wisp of property not far from Harbourfront, which looks directly across to Toronto Island Airport. 

A kind of stone oceangoing ship creates a solemn backdrop for a handful of haunting bronze sculptures ( created by renowned artist Rowan Gillespie) personifying the hardship endured by families leaving Ireland during the famine, many of them arriving in Canada only to die later of typhoid. The cluster of sculptures representing ‘arrival’ in Canada mirror a similar collection of ‘departure’ sculptures by the same artist at the Famine Memorial in Dublin at the Custom House Quays. 

The rugged contour of the looming boat-like structure (built from of limestone shipped from Dublin) was purposely designed to be reminiscent of the towering 'sandstone' Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland, the last sight seen by emigrants leaving home. 

Some names are engraved in the stone and hidden in the gaps in the ships walls. A kind of presence of nameless thousands who died on the 'coffin ships’ is felt in the layers upon layers of stones heaped together to create this powerful and very sobering stone sculpture. 

In my research I was unable to find anything else about the ship or the sculptor. It seemed fitting that he or she also remains nameless.

DEATH or CANADA from Daniel Thomson on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Giant Chess

I envision the Irish tower we built in California as a giant stone playing piece, the first one of many different towers in a gigantic world game of three-way chess.

The stone tower is the castle or the ‘rook’ and it’s on the white side. (This could be the side of the international team of French, Irish, US and Canadian.) 

Who the grey and black sides are, will have to be decided on as other chess towers are designed and constructed and ‘transported' to the board

This video clip is a quick rough visualization of how I imagine the board will be ‘landscaped' and how the view might look from a drone’s perspective, (minus all the pieces except ours).

I’m not sure what all the rules are yet. Three sides and three dimensions might get a bit complicated. 

Anyway the tower was the hard part, right?

Of course there is only this one rook on the board so far.

Three full sets of monumental chess structures still need to be constructed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sometimes it's good to be tasteless.

In the stone world 'culture' has become not much more than an advertising concept.

Here are some other examples of 'cultured' rock.

What then does 'tasteless' rock look like

A bit more interesting and engaging, perhaps.