Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rockin': Building the New Wall: Phase 2

I spent the first three weeks of September in Israel/Palestine sharing the life that Diane, my wife, and Gwynedd, my youngest daughter, had been leading for the past year. We visited many of their favorite places and went to work daily at the Holy Child Program in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. On September 25th I returned to the U.S., flying from Tel Aviv to Newark, then Newark to Seattle. About 36 hours after leaving Jerusalem, I was home in Lake Forest Park.

I called Jane to find out what had been happening with the wall. Nothing. While in Israel, I had gotten a call from my mother and found that her cancer had metastasized. I decided that I would return to Rhode Island, finish the wall and visit my mom as many times as possible during my stay. I made arrangements for a frequent-flyer-miles-fueled flight on Alaska Airlines and a cheap rental car.

I flew out of Seattle on Monday, October 12th, in the mid-afternoon, arriving in Boston around 11 p.m.. Unfortunately, my bag with all my tools and work clothes, did not arrive with me. It would be another two days before it eventually showed up at EFI at 11:45 p.m.. In the meantime, Jane picked me up at Logan and drove me to Providence airport to pick up the car ($140/week there versus $280/week in Boston!). By the time I got to Escobar Farmhouse Inn, it was 2 a.m.

Because I didn't have my work clothes or tools, I drove to Meriden on Tuesday, October 13th to visit my mom. We went to lunch at Napoli's Pizza and had delicious calzones (mmm, pepperoni and anchovies), then drove to Hubbard Park and Castle Craig. The view from there is outstanding. I took her back to her convent (for those who don't know yet, my mother became a nun in February 1981 after my father died in November 1979), we talked for a bit and then she laid down for a rest and I drove back to Portsmouth.

Wednesday morning, I was sitting on the porch with my coffee and was struck by the subtlety of the differences in coloration on the wall, the greenish cast of the stones on the old wall versus the new and rawer grayness of the new stone. At least all of the dirt that gave the stones a brownish look has been washed off in the ensuing weeks. I like the way it looks.

Subtle color contrasts

That night, the baggage delivery guy called me saying he was at 127 Middle Road in Portsmouth and couldn't find 133 (the delivery address I had given the baggage folks in Boston).
"What kind of car are you driving?"
"A maroon van."
"I'm standing where I can see 133 Middle Road. I don't see any maroon van. Are you at 127 Middle Road, Portsmouth, Rhode Island?"
(much laughter) "Well, that explains it. I'm in Portsmouth, New Hampshire."

It would be another full day before my bag arrived.

So, finally, the wall building commenced on Thursday. Louis had a great load of stone waiting for me when I arrived on Tuesday. I began building and was surprised to see how much progress I had made by lunch time. With only 10' to build, it was not going to take long to get this project done. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating. It began to rain while I was having lunch, so work was done for the day. The rain continued the next morning, letting up around 1 in the afternoon. I worked Friday afternoon for a couple of hours. I was getting to the point where I would need to have a set of hand-picked stones to finish out the wall.

Up to this point, I had done none of the picking. All of the rock for the new wall had been coming from an old wall on the farm that was no longer useful and was being reclaimed by nettles and other weeds. Louis, Jason, or Maurice would arrive in the backhoe or skid steer with a load of rock that they had pulled off the old wall. At dinner on Friday evening, I arranged with Louis to pick stones on Saturday morning for the finish of the wall.

Saturday morning dawned grey, cold, and windy, but not rainy, though it did look like it might rain any minute. After breakfast I walked over to the farm and met Louis and he showed me where all of the stone had come from. I saw some really good stones there and loaded them into the bucket of the skid steer. On the way past the barn, I saw a great thick, rectangular rock that would make an awesome base at the end of the wall. As Louis drove up, I said, "I have got to have this rock!" Louis maneuvered it into the bucket of the skid steer. It turned out to be much thicker than I had thought and probably weighed upwards of 500 pounds. When we got over to the Inn, I had Louis drop it right into the space where I had planned for it to go. All I had to do was rotate it 90 degrees and push it around a bit to get it into its ultimate position. I was, once again, glad for the mechanical advantages provided by Louis' farm machinery. There's no way I could have moved that rock by myself! It does, however, make an awesome anchor point for the end of the wall.

Because I had picked some really great rocks, I had the wall essentially finished before lunchtime with only a couple of rocks left to place. One was a behemoth that I would need help lifting onto its final position as the last capstone. I was able to move it into position near the wall, but knew that it would kill my back if I tried to lift it myself.

Moving stone

Help was coming. Earlier in the week when I went to visit my mom, she told me that she and Margaret, my middle sister, would be coming out on Saturday. When Steve heard they were coming on Friday, he decided to come as well. I had also invited my older brother, Mike, to come, but he explained that there were projects he had to get done at home and would not be able to come. What I did not know until later was that he was working to rearrange his schedule and show up as a surprise.

Margaret, Jane, Mom and I went to lunch together and then returned to the Inn. Steve showed up after lunch and, while I was showing him the progress I had made, Mike called. He had driven down, but gotten lost in the maze of Providence highway construction (apparently an easy thing to do). He eventually showed up and the three of us were able to put that final capstone on the wall.

Placing a stone together

Here is a gratuitous family portrait: Left to right; Mom, Stephen, Michael and me, all happy to have gotten that big rock on the wall with no injuries. Thanks for taking the picture, Margaret. We were having a mini-reunion again; Mom and her 5 oldest children all together. Only Mary, in Esko, and Tom, in Seattle, were missing.

Mom and her oldest boys

Because of all the people there and conversation swirling around, it was tough to concentrate on finishing off the wall. It continues to amaze me what a solitary, intense, and concentrated process building with stone is. When placing a stone on the wall, you must fit it in to the space that is there, but even more importantly, you are creating the bed for the next stone to occupy. In that, it's a bit like chess; the move you are making is what it is, but more than that, it is preparation for the move you will be making 4, 5, 6 moves hence. Because I wasn't able to concentrate on it, I decided to call it a day. I did take the opportunity to show Mike the work I had been doing since August.

A project almost done, explained

Because we've both been busy with our families on opposite ends of the country, Mike and I have not communicated all that often. Things are getting better now and I'm glad he made the effort to come down and see the work and the rest of the family. There's some light there and we're making our way toward it.

A walk toward the light

We adjourned inside, gave Mike a tour of the Inn and began dinner preparations. Jane and Margaret made steak, swordfish with ginger cream sauce, and assorted vegetables. It was an awesome meal and we had a great time together.

An enthralled audience

Sunday, as usual, I did not work; spending the time going to church, hanging out with Margaret and Mike who had stay the night and reading. As I sat on the porch and looked out at the wall, I knew that I would be finished tomorrow.

Monday morning was a glorious Fall morning in Rhode Island. Clear, bright, sunny, and a bit on the cool side. As I sat on the porch finishing my coffee, my eyes kept being drawn to a couple of stones; it's kind of amazing how my mind works on these 3-d puzzles even while I'm doing something else. In about an hour and a half, I had solved all of the placement puzzles and Phase 2 of my wall building was complete. Here's a familiar view; I love the way that bottom rock anchors the whole wall. There's no way that thing is moving; short of an earthquake (or a large motor vehicle crashing into it at speed.

Project complete

Here's a view of all 67.5' of new wall, from the cherry tree to the sign post. It has been worth the effort.

67.5' of new wall

This view is my favorite. You can see the wall in its total context; all of the new construction, Escobar Farmhouse Inn, and the blue, clear sky of New England autumn. I love the way the line of the wall leads your eye right on to the neighbor's wall to the north.

A fine addition to the Escobar Farmhouse Inn

I think the wall looks pretty much how I envisioned it would when Diane and I discussed the possibility of doing this project back in July during family reunion 2009. I think it makes a fine addition to the Inn and in many ways looks like it has always been there. In another few years as the stone weathers and takes on some of the moss, algae, and lichen of the surrounding wall, it will look even better.

1 comment:

mmcra2 said...

What a wonderful account of the project; I love your way with words Jim. A little philosophy, a little history and some wall building instruction. Thanks for sharing with us.

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.