Listening To Stone

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How watching a dry stone wall can release your inner zen.

Now that we’re taking things a bit slower on the renovation side of our journey, I realise how emotionally and physically draining the whole experience has been. I’ll spare you the full rant, but four years of constant decision making, communicating with builders and dealing with a seemingly endless series of issues have taken their toll.

But then we ran into a young builder with a passion for traditional techniques and we just couldn’t resist starting a new project. We asked him to repair and partially rebuild the stone wall next to the maison de chasse. Surely I would be able to manage an outdoor project at some distance of our living quarters? Turns out I can’t stay away from the work site.

I braced myself for the arrival of yet another large and noisy machine, but to my surprise, a waller’s only tool is a hammer, to dress stone when necessary. Trees had grown into the wall, interlocked with metal debris, so it took a chainsaw and excavator to clear these away, but once that was done it all came down to building by hand.

The Zen of Dry

Walling is craft and technique (no mortar, nothing but gravity to tie everything in together) and hard, sometimes frustrating work: you can only do a couple of metres in a day, which entails lifting tonnes of stone. It’s working for hours, only to recognise the construction’s faults and then take it apart and start over. But there’s also a beautiful flow about it. No wonder walling is a meditation to some: freeing the mind from other concerns in the quietude of nature, just listening to the stones.

We still need to clean up the mess we made, but the wall is already a sight to behold. Every day, as dusk approaches, I go take a look.The autumn sun caresses the stones, turning them soft and fluid, naturally beautiful, as breathtaking as sculpture.

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