Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Stone Fences Make Good Labors ; Granite Boulders Are a Raw Material That Requires No Intermediate Step between Harvest and Building

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Stone Fences Make Good Labors ; Granite Boulders Are a Raw Material That Requires No Intermediate Step between Harvest and Building

Article excerpt

How soon we forget the former landscape - the fact that it has been only a few generations since New England was largely unforested. Today, the fields and pastures of the settlers' small farms, etched into rocky hillsides and river-bottom land, have reverted to woods. Or subdivisions.

All that timber cleared by ax and sawn by hand! All those stumps uprooted with teams of oxen to make way for the plow! All those stones - "New England potatoes" - laboriously, annually, ritually piled on the verge as walls or assembled into ramps, foundations, retaining walls, stiles, and wells. They're "signifiers of industry, establishment, and prosperity," according to Kevin Gardner, dry- stone wall builder and the author of "The Granite Kiss."

These were the labors of my great-great grandfather, a farmer in Moose River, Maine. Yet by the time of my great-grandfather, a tool and die maker, the meaning of field stone walls had altered. They obstructed the mechanization of agriculture and its trend toward larger fields, open acreage. Then the stone walls were abandoned altogether as the industrialized society migrated away from working the land.

The 250,000 miles of stone walls in New England and New York were relegated to the status of mere archeological or emotional artifact. Or worse: They were crushed for paving roads, or "absorbed by the forest ... relics of a faded past."

In this beautifully produced book, Gardner reminds us that these stone walls are both "a cultural identifier as well as a landscaping option ... a visual antidote to the placelessness that afflicts so much contemporary design."

Like a Thoreauvian do-it-yourself guide, "The Granite Kiss" counsels us on the craft of fitting rock to rock to make all manner of ancient form, inducting us into the quirky family nomenclature for rock types (thrufters, cheap seducers, problemsolvers, puddle caps, backers) as well as the "backdrop and mystery" of the process of their assemblage: looking, gauging, fitting, thinking, knowing when to quit. …

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