A Vermonter’s trip north
When friends and family ask me how I make it through “north country” winters in Vermont, I have fun telling them that for this winter at least, I went further north—to Bethany, Ontario—on what turned out to be a blisteringly cold, windy weekend. But there I found what is most important for the colder months: activity and camaraderie. An eclectic group of stone workers, landscapers, experienced ‘wallies’ and dry-stone-wall newcomers gathered in the shelter of an Ontario greenhouse to share ideas as well as put one or two schemes into practice.
Our two-day workshop began with each person grabbing a cup of coffee and sharing a design idea for stone work as well as talking about our past projects and future plans. We then split up into two groups and put our designs (as well as some wild ideas!) to the test. Led by DSWAC’s Matthew Ring and Michael Patten, one group worked with granite cobbles to experiment with both the basics as well as some fun features for a dry-built stone wall. They included tried-and-true elements during their two days of work, such as a ‘cheek-end’ for their free-standing wall. At the opposite end of the 25-foot wall, they created what we call down here in New England a ‘pinhead’ end. The wall widens and as a result is intentionally strengthened for a possible gate—and for better resistance to our freewheeling snowplows!
DSWAC’s founder, John Shaw-Rimmington, took the other half of the group into the gravity-defying realm of dry-built cairns and spheres! This group used the more blocky limestone available to create a rounded stone cairn. This meant turning convention on its head and building out from a narrow base. The resulting ‘reverse batter’ or angle presented all sorts of challenges—not least of which was how sharp of an angle could we create? The most enjoyable part of the project---and the weekend generally—was discussing the possibilities and variations as we worked, taking the time we often do not have “back home” when we are pushed by deadlines and estimates. For example, one group experimented with five-gallon buckets as impromptu forms for an arch. A very welcome surprise to the weekend was the evening's audio visual presentation about stone work that we watched after dinner together the first day. Our host for the workshop, Groundcovers Unlimited, opened up a comfortable meeting room replete with couches, large screen TV - and heat!-- for the evening discussion.
Finally, as one of the participants, John Simon,( a landscaper from New Brunswick, who was there with 2 others from his company ), pointed out, “The workshop was very helpful to our participants in three areas - providing creative ideas to take back to our landscape projects, developing confidence in our abilities to offer dry stone walling services, and finally the enjoyment of building awesome structures of stone with liked-minded individuals.”
It all came together that weekend, and made my portion of time working with the DSWA of Canada a great 'educational break' in our Vermont winter!
Charley Mac Martin, Burlington, Vermont
A Vermonter’s trip north