Sunday, November 19, 2017

DNA and Ayahuasca

Scientists may one day be able to take a photo of the DNA molecule magnified so powerfully that they will actually be able see the 8 atom wide double helix string-shape as clearly as this digitalized image shows.

In his book The Cosmic Serpent, anthropologist Jeremy Narby explores the correlation between scientific investigation into DNA and the approach of shamans in Western Amazon, who come into a knowledge of the 'life source' through use of hallucinogenics made from plants.

The common 'thread' is the various 'visions' of a twinned/spiralling/coiled ladder/snake perceived to be imbedded deep within every living thing in the universe

Those having taken Ayahuasca, in a ritualized manner, often experience a vivid insight into a higher world where two entwined snakes ( not unlike the double helix ) appear to be the essential basis of an otherwise 'unknowable' part of the cosmos.

From these visions, the indigenous people are informed of many things including the pre-existing healing qualities of many plants that grow in the Amazon, precise combinations and mixtures of which create medicines which could not possibly have been discovered even through thousands of years of experimentation.

Could the blurry double helix scientists are trying to see more clearly be a metaphorical link to 'higher perception' and more mystical altered states, where inspiration comes directly from the cosmic life force.  Is the creative process, which leads to  truly great music, art, writing and amazing scientific discoveries, the process of climbing that same illusive ladder, where pre-existing cosmic fruit hovers about', just waiting to be picked, (by those who enter, consciously or unconsciously) into some 'other' mysterious parallel realm. 

My 'Rubble Helix' is a nod to that concept, with all its implications. 

A photo of my original dry stone idea (installed some years ago on a property in Southern Ontario) is seen here in a whimsically manipulated form. It is the digitilaized image of a 'mineralized' version of the DNA crystal, magnified trillions of times to appear clear as crystal, life-sized and almost life-like. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Beyond Classrooms

During our kids walling event held during the Dry Stone Canada Barriefield Festival last October, I was asked by one of the local teachers if I might like to participate later in a local  Beyond Classrooms  program and give a talk to children about dry stone walls. 

Last Thursday I was delighted to be able to spend time with two dozen grade 3 and 4 students at the Frontenac County Schools Museum in Barriefield exploring various creative activities involving designing and building arched bridges.

The link  below is to a short video clip of one of the highlights of that class. 

Beyond Classrooms Kingston moves teachers and their classrooms into community museums, art galleries and community sites for an entire week.  The host site becomes an extension of the teacher’s classroom, where he or she can help students enhance their literacy, critical thinking and problem solving skills, in an authentic environment.

Working alongside host site staff and the BCK Coordinator, each teacher designs a unique program that uses the students’ week at the site, as a catalyst for inquiry-based learning.

Learning at a museum or gallery for an entire week takes away the field trip feeling and creates an environment where students can slow down their learning, look closely and reflect, through sketching and journal writing.

Presentations by specialists, hands-on activities, time spent exploring the collections – all stimulate curiosity, and encourage further investigation.  Frequent opportunities for reflection and discussion heighten student discovery and play a significant role in helping to foster cultural awareness, civic pride, community responsibility, and stewardship.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A good Impersonation

Paraic usually builds walls like this on his farm on Inis Oirr

It's good to see our Irish dry stone waller visitor is having no trouble building in a style different from what he’s used to. Providing he's got the appropriate stone, good experienced waller, like a good impersonator, should be able, after some practice, to do a reliably accurate version of any type of wall he has been asked to reproduce.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What to make of it.

We have Paraic Pol with us this week at our latest project in Rockport Ontario. Here he was yesterday, happily picking limestone with Mark and I out of the quarry we go to near Madoc Ontario for a wall we are racing building this month before the weather closes in.  

He says he hasn't seen such a large amount of limestone material, or bedrock so close to the surface, since he left Inis Oirr. It will be interesting to see how different this flattish, more easily faced dolomite material is for Paraic work with.  Will it be more difficult or more easy?  

Monday, November 13, 2017

Aesthetic Procrastination

This circular double garden terrace project at the back of a modern new house was a big one. After a steady month of three of us working full days, the dry stone work on these terrace walls was completed about this time last year. 

The look of the soil coming almost to the tops of the copes gave the walls more of an aesthetic appeal than having them all sitting fully exposed, above the grade of the terraces.

When my client's wife visited last winter ( after we'd cleared off ) she told her husband she loved everything except the upright copes. 

Reluctantly I agreed last spring to take them off and replace the upright copes with flat ones.

I did say however that we were busy (which we were) and was able to stall as long as I could until late August when I decided to make the phone call to say we were now able to come and change up the copes.

My client answered, "After enjoying our walls during out visits to the site this summer, my wife has really grown to like the look of the top stones on the walls now. Actually I don't think we want to change anything, thank you John."

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Still Standing and Always Remembering

Perhaps stones remember too. 

Maybe there is more to their enduring strength and hardness than we see. 

That we remember things, especially hard things from the past, and remain respectful and compassionate and still look to the good in everything, perhaps this is part of that same 'enduring' we see made manifest in stone.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Entrenched in History

Next to the The Canadian National Vimy Memorial monument at the Vimy Ridge a part of the old battlefield and trenches has been preserved. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial at the Vimy Ridge is Canada's most impressive tribute overseas to those Canadians who fought and gave their lives in the World War I. The memorial overlooks the Douai Plain from the highest point of Vimy Ridge. The monument holds the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and whose final resting place is unknown. 

'Yorkshire Trench' was the name given to a front line position dug by units of the 49th (West Riding) Division near the Yser canal at Boesinghe in 1915/16. The Belgian archaeology group The Diggers worked on this site over many years and recovered much material and many human remains from the area. Their work was featured on The Forgotten Battlefield, a documentary made by BBC Producer John Hayes-Fisher. The publicity following this programme made the local authorities in the Ypres area keen on preserving some part of what The Diggers had uncovered, and in May 2003 the Yorkshire Trench & Dugout site was opened following much hard work on the part of the Diggers themselves.

Canadian soldiers in the trenches at Vimy Ridge in 1917 during the First World War.

Soldiers quietly wait in the sodden trenches of the Great War

Friday, November 10, 2017

Stone Hill Halloween Spectacle

Crowds, stone, fire, music, costumes, and a procession - elements that make a great spectacle combined to really make a spectacular occasion at Stone Hill Farm near Flint Hill, Virginia last October 28th. Here are just a few photos of some of the many people in costume who ended up exploring the amazing dry stone amphitheatre on the property . 

The City of Alexandria Pipes & Drums and the Gold Top Country Ramblers piped for the crowds as they assembled for the spectacle.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Gradual steps.

A friend of mine had been gradually collecting stone from his drives through the country for a stairway he eventually wanted to have built leading up to his deck.
He phoned me when he thought he'd collected enough. 
I said it probably was enough but that they were pretty challenging stones to make stairs with .

But anyway we did it.
We even had some left over. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

What Now?

Ever wonder 'What now is it’ ? There are so many different kinds of 'nows'. 

There are the long ones that you get a lot done in. There are the nows that are gone in a flash – that whole day of walling, and you got nothing done. Where did the time go? 

It's like, "what now?" There just always seems to be something. If it isn’t too late, it’s way too early. If you get the wall built on time, the materials cost too much. If instead of time and materials, you charge by the job, you end up in a race against time. 

I try not to look at my watch. I try not to watch what time it looks like. The clock in my truck is still on daylight loosing time. (It’s bad on gas too) I can’t figure out how to reset it. I know it says in the manual somewhere how to change the clock, but I don’t have the time to look it up.  

Anyway I’ve got a lot of rocks to set. Forget clocks. It’s way more important not to forget when, where and how to set rocks. And that's pretty simple – they either go forward (on the wall) or they go back. When the time comes I usually know what to do with one when I pick it up. It’s called being 'in the know'. And being in the know is as close to being in the now as I get. 

Most rocks are timeless, which means they're neither new or old. They are neither late or early.

I’m usually on time, I hate being late, but I just read somewhere that people that are late for everything live longer and are generally happier, more spontaneous, more optimistic. Good for them. Anyway, if that IS the case, I hope to learn how to always be late, one day.

You would think working with rocks would slow me down, but they don't seem to. Even when I try to go slow, they just go slower. They're in a totally different time zone from the rest of us.  I work with them everyday, and I usually end up going faster and faster. It's like a slippery slope. 

Anyway, I think the ones I’m working with now must be on rocky mountain time. I gotta go. I’m late.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Memories of Mallorca

Hiking along the Ruta de Pedra en Sac in Mallorca is good fun. Even so, it can be exhausting as you climb up and up and then down and down, and you can get very thirsty, and yes, you sometimes get lost. 

But you do come across a lot of interesting people and tons and tons of amazing 'Mallorca style' dry stone retaining walls.

With iPad on my lap during the 8 hour flight home, I digitally painted an 'embellished' memory of that wonderful 8 hour hike we took from Deia up into the mountains. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

( Part 2 and 3 )

Above-below the din
A few quiet men
Observe the cells fragility

How Monday's child
Makes Tuesday's vegetable
And Wednesday's petrifies
The leaf to mineral
While Friday sparks the whole in fire
And Sunday's elements disperse
And rise in air.

The stone in my hand
IS my hand
And stamped with tracings of
A once green blooded frond,
Is here is gone, will come
Was fire, and green, and water,
Will be wind. 

From the Hangman Ties the Holly
By Anne Wilkinson

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A poem in three parts. (part 1)

Those behind
Those about me
Millions crowding to come after me
Look over my shoulder.

Together we consider
The merit of stone (I hold a stone in my hand for all to see)
A geologist tells the time it has endured
Endurance, a virtue in itself, we say
Makes its own monument .

We pause, resent
The little span
A miser's rule
Inched out for man

But blood consoles us
Can be squeezed from us
Not from stone.

Saying this fools no one
A sudden bluster of words
Claims for human seed
A special dispensation
Foxes and flowers and other worthies
All excluded.

Immediately sixteen creeds
Cry out to be defended –
A state of emergency exists ;

Flying buttresses
Revolving domes, a spire extended
By the spirit of
A new and startling growth of thorns

Skies in Asia catch
On uplifted wings of temples
In the Near East the talk is of stables.

Part one of 'A Poem In Three Parts' from the Hangman Ties the Holly
By Anne Wilkinson

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fixing a hole where the rain ran down.

While there are miles and miles of old dry stone walls to see when we were walking the hiking trails in Mallorca, I was curious to see this particular section near the summit of Teix between Deia and Valldemossa yesterday. 

Ten years before a few of wallers including Patric McAfee and I had hiked this section during the famous Stonefoundation Symposium. We noticed one of the small sections of the wall that had collapsed had all the stone still lying around, and thought to ourselves, why just enjoy all the good walls on our hike and merely walk past all the others that need fixing? Why not stop and do a little repair as a way of saying thanks?

We took an hour or so and used the very same stones to rebuild the terrace path and then walked on our merry way to Valldemossa. 

I was pleased to see the wall still looks in fine condition today. 

Perhaps acts of this kind of 'walling kindness' should be a regular part of the requirement for proffessional wallers coming to enjoy all the stone terracing and dry stone walls in this part of the world.

This small gap (for instance) might only take a morning for good waller visiting the island to fix as part of his or her holiday.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

On site at the Med. Stone Congress

Dr Who is on site this week at the Med. Stone Congress in Mallorca organized principally by Lluc Mir Anguera.  There are about 12 people learning the Mallorcan style of walling including myself and Sean Adcock. Here in this photo the Doctor has just helped Frederique and Miquel complete a dificult capping of the workshop wall being repaired near the church on the hill in Deia.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Jenga and Walling

To say walling is just like puzzle is like saying Jenga is just like demolishing sky scrapers.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Raise a cup to the wall !

Paraic Poil a prolific Irish dry stone wall builder who lives on Inisheer island showed me this cup he was given with a photo of a section of curved wall he built. It wraps almost around the entire cup. We saw the wall earlier in the day . It’s quite tall and like many of his walls very impressive. I think he should get a whole set of cups made up with other sections of walls. I’m guessing he’d have no trouble stacking them on his shelves. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Corner Terracing

The hard to mow slopes on properties like this one can be totally transformed by terracing them with dry laid stones.

Instead of having to struggle mowing the grass on the slope, now a flat area has been created for a leisurely bbq meal and a fine space to sit and watch the neighbours cut their steep grassy slopes.   

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Drive around the block

This peaceful arrangement of stones I saw when I was last in LA, all methodically fitted together (with no mortar) created a curious rather out-of-place cube structure standing so close to the curb. It stands there, a kind of aesthetic speed bump, and calming antithesis to the frenzy of traffic activity wizzing around. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Seaweed Eating Sheep

 The North Ronaldsay sheep dyke. PIC: Orkney Sheep Foundation.

More help is needed to restore the dyke , which is Grade A listed. PIC: Orkney Sheep Foundation / SelenaArte.

A campaign to save the unique seaweed-eating sheep of North Ronaldsay and to restore the historic 13-mile dyke which protects the rare breed has been stepped up. Around 2,500 North Ronaldsay sheep inhabit the shoreline of Orkney’s most northerly isle and survive solely on the kelp churned up by the sea.

 The 13-mile dyke which keeps the sheep on the shoreline is falling down - putting the future of the breed at risk. PIC: Orkney Sheep Foundation / SelenaArte

 Islanders are leading a campaign to restore the dyke and preserve the flock which is owned by around a dozen North Ronaldsay residents. The dyke not only contains the sheep from other breeds but keeps them away from grass on the island given their special diet has made them vulnerable to copper toxicity. READ MORE: Was Orkney home to an Inuit settlement? 

The wall, probably the largest continuous dry stone dyke in the world, is Grade A listed but every year sections fall away due to the weather, waves and its age. More help is needed to restore the dyke , which is Grade A listed. PIC: Orkney Sheep Foundation / SelenaArte. While volunteers work with local people to restore the dyke during a fortnight in the summer, permanent staff will be now be recruited to help lead the preservation of the wall given the pressing need for its restoration. It is hoped more volunteers will be attracted to North Ronaldsay as a result with hopes to set up training in dry stane dying.

The best 20 prehistoric sites in Scotland Heather Woodbridge, a director of the North Ronaldsay Trust, said: “The dyke is Grade A listed - the same as Edinburgh Castle - but it is almost as it is forgotten about. “The dyke is really important to the survival of the sheep. It’s important to keep them on the shore and it is also symbolic of the old ways of farming. Once it goes, it goes. “We really need help to keep it maintained and we have been working really hard to get to this point. Things are really starting to happen now. “There are always some bits of the dyke that go down each year so its repair is an ongoing task. It is not a quick fix and we need a sustainable plan for the future.” 

The sheep have been on the shore since 1832 when they were moved off the land to make way for more lucrative cattle with the wall built by the laird to keep the sheep from the pasture. It is believed that, apart from a single kind of lizard from the Gal├ípagos Islands, they may be the only animals in the world that can survive entirely on seaweed. Males stay on the shore all year round with the breed the fattest during the winter when the storms churn up vast amounts of seaweed. Pregnant ewes are moved away into stone enclosures - or punds - in the Spring with the “punding” organised to coincide with the full moon and high tide. This makes it easier to catch the sheep given the high water levels reduce the space where they can run to. The mutton from the North Ronaldsay flock is well regarded and was served to the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee. The sheep’s wool is spun on the island and sold far and wide. 

This year, dozens of volunteers arrived on the island to assist locals rebuild the wall during the two week North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival in the summer. Around 320 paces - or metres - of wall were restored with the results hailed as a great success. Ms Woodbridge said: “The people who came here really fell in love with the island and the culture of the place. They really felt they were doing some good. She added: “Islands are fragile. You look at what happened at places like St Kilda. That’s not going to happen here. We’re not going to let that happen.” The population of North Ronaldsay has fallen from almost 550 in the late 1800s to fewer than 50 today. The 2018 North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival will run from July 29 to August 10 and applications are now open for volunteers. The stretches of wall to be restored during the fortnight will be decided by the island’s Sheep Court which was set up in the mid-1800s to manage animal numbers on the island During the 1970s, the father of Adam Henson, farmer and television presenter of BBC’s Countryfile, led the first major conservation project of the North Ronaldsay sheep. Joe Henson MBE was one of the original founders of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust which bought the island of potential Linga Holm, off Stronsay, to create reserve flock of the breed. It was feared at the time that oil exploration in the area could potentially pose a risk to the breed. The sheep were later distributed in small flocks across the mainland. It is understood that the sheep are the only landa animals able to survive solely on seaweed apart form the Galapagos marine iguana.

Read more at:

Friday, October 20, 2017

Safe Harbour

Looking like discarded pieces of some giants 3d puzzle, this pile of concrete cube clusters creates a strong structure that holds together better than a single formed poured concrete jetty. The idea is based on maximizing friction by having space end up between all the shapes and allowing for a variety of combinations of connectivity to come into play. Dry stone walls work and hold together for the same reason. For any one who is a waller this is a very gripping subject. It's very satisfying to see concrete starting to be used less mindlessly.  

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Good Marketing. Good Bonding.

At a recent workshop John Scott had a bright idea to teach the principles of bonding ( one over two, two over one) with plastic bottles of Preen Garden Weed PreventerHe sold quite a few bottles to the students.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Rock-Tree

A tree is almost as patient as a rock  It stays put in one place its entire existence, unless of course it is dug up and moved. Like a stone, it has the ability to just wait in one spot, motionless, for a very long time. Apart from a stone or a rock, there is nothing slower than a tree. 

There is a wisdom that comes with 'slowness' – with not rushing. There is a special consciousness that comes with standing still. It is not hard to imagine then that there are important things that can be learned from a tree, or a rock, that sits in one place day after day watching the rest of the world go by. Perhaps there is even more to be learned from a 'rock-tree' – a tree made from rocks. 

A kind of tree than doesn't die, or rot, or get diseased, made of rocks arranged to appear to be something living, growing, stretching up to the sky. 

An iconic structure, merging two different states of naturally occurring material. A tone poem, a silent prayer, a visualized meditation. 


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Stalking stone structures

When David and Jane Wilson visited us here in Canada this summer on their whirlwind tour of North American stonework, (funded by a Churchill Memorial trust award ) I got to show them some of the dry stone installations in the Port Hope area.

It was a bit like a treasure hunt, as some of the work I had not seen for several years and several pieces were a bit over grown.

We crept up on the rubble helix looking rather splendid and almost ancient in its isolated pastoral setting.


The rising dry stone structure looked to be fully in tact, despite its unusual shape and how it was designed to stay together. The remote placement of this piece in the landscape definitely adds to the mystery of how and why it came to be.  


Later we visited the vaulted hut just outside Cobourg, another beautiful setting for such an unusual stone dwelling.

Then on the same property we looked at our terraced gardens created two summers ago. I was glad to see that the many many tons of stone that it took to build didn't cause it to seem over done or too over-burdened with stone. The garden felt airy and yet had a calm energy about it. 

It's all made with newly quarried limestone and the plantings are all very recent, so it will be really interesting to visit here again when everything has matured.

The Salem Creek bridge was a perfect place to rest and take some posed photos. This bridge was not more than a month old when David and Jane got to see it.

Finally, a stop a George and Reggie's for a look at the wall there we've been building as a part of a continuing yearly springtime workshop.