Stoned

The Farm is bordered, to the east, by a stone wall. It grew when the ground was turned by frost heaves in late winter and by plows and harrows in the weeks which followed. To keep planters and combines from harm, farmers, or more often their children, walked the fields to pick rocks. These were placed on skids and hauled, by draft in the old days, to the nearest property line to be deposited. Boundaries at the Farm are composed of mostly roundish pieces of sedimentary sand stones and shales. We’ve also got stone constructions at our new placeSome act as property boundaries while many were clearly intended as pens or pasture enclosures. Still others were built as foundations. No matter the function, the composition of Vermont’s rock architecture results from the hardscrabble, hilly ground, characteristic of the region. Rocks lay abundantly across the landscape and are made of large and larger pieces of metamorphic (shists and gneisses) and igneous stone (such as granite). I enjoy exploring these evidences of human effort. I wonder about the people who planned and built them and about their hard work and dedication. I know that building a strong wall, building one that will last a century or two, or more, must be a thoughtful process. In the most literal sense. Stone foundations are not jumbles of haphazardly piled elements, like the boundary walls we have back at the Farm. Before being put in place, each stone is compared to many others like it, selected for its particular suitability, and then carefully set in position alongside its neighbors. The weight of each stone is calculated to add to the stability, strength, and integrity of the whole. I like to think that when I stand before, or better yet lean against, a well-built stone wall, I can hear the sounds of people like me, straining to pull rock from the ground. I can hear the sounds of people like me calling draft to haul slabs across the landscape. And I can hear the satisfying sound of rocks being placed, gently, thoughtfully, into position. For me, at least, old walls have the capacity to act as portals to the past. If you press your ear against any of the shallow spaces between the stones, you may hear something as one does when one hears the ocean in a sea shell. These sounds, however, emanate from some distant past. Try it, next time you happen upon one of these beautiful places.

Stones
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