I've always admired stone walls. They configure the countryside around here, outlining fields and roads and often determining property lines. They are especially nice in those farmyards where someone took pains to neatly stack stones into picturesque walls. Others are more rustic looking, having served the purpose of getting a field cleared of rocks.
Our fieldstones are many different shapes. There are rounded ones, broken ones that might have a flat side, triangular or wedge-like ones, and all too few slab-like ones. Some of my favorites are rare to find; thin, wide saucerlike pieces that got broken off of ledge. Occasionally you find one that is shaped like a shallow bowl and could be used to make a birdbath. Fieldstone sizes vary from pebbles to stones, and to rocks that are too big to move. None of these are shapes that easily fit together.
When this piece of land came along, a stone wall was the only thing lacking. Over the years I’ve started garden beds and various landscaping projects. Piles of stones and rocks accumulated, so eventually I got the idea to try building a stone wall. I hadn’t a clue about building with rocks. I lined them up, and then proceeded to stack them. Most of this early work has since been taken apart and done over. You learn by doing.
The wall I’m working on is 237 feet long, and most of it has been rebuilt at least once. This fall I’ve been rebuilding sections of it for a second or third time, and hopefully for the last time. I’m determined to get it right. After starting this wall I have begun work on several more stone walls, just as lengthy. It will be a few years, but I’m determined to have stone walls.
Somewhere along the way I did some research. I found that one should begin with a trench and fill it with rubble or pour in concrete. I do not find that practical nor apparently did New England farmers who stacked their walls on the surface of the ground alongside their fields. The filled trench is to prevent frost heaves, but if any frost heave happens to topple a section of wall, I’ll simply rebuild it. Not a biggie. I know how.
In my research a question emerged asking why some walls are low, and whether they could have sunk. So I wondered whether my walls will sink into the soil. This land is not tilled soil, but is the same forest ground that has been here since the last glacier, so I figure probably not. Yes, rocks would sink into tilled soil. It’s full of air spaces. I wonder, instead, if many years of leaves being caught beside the walls caused trees to root into the leaf mulch and thereby the ground level rose. This is what happens if you try to make compost in the forest. It becomes fodder for roots.
In our recent 4.0 earthquake, I went out the next day to find that not a stone had dislodged from my stone wall in all of that shaking. Maybe it helped some of the stones to settle in better. Or maybe it’s a testament to my stacking abilities. Not at all sure, but it made my day to find the stones intact.
In a next post I’ll reveal a few things I’ve learned about dry stacking a stone wall. -jmm