More Lurnin’ with Rocks and Stuff.

September 12, 2014 by

The guy I learned a everything I know about building walls from always says something to the effect of: Learn to build fast, then learn to build nicely.

As a novice, that didn’t make one bit of sense. It seems like trying to learn juggling by just throwing lots of balls fast. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to do everything I always do, but faster. That does not go well.

But the maxim is starting to make more sense – the quickest way to go faster is to eliminate the extras.

To wit:

  • Use fewer tools. My current project is about 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead. I started by dragging out all my fancy schmancy hammers and chisels in a wheelbarrow, and as the month has gone on, I’ve left more and more tools in the van. Today, I built a lot of wall with two hammers:

    A trimming hammer, a bush hammer. That's it.

    A trimming hammer, a bush hammer. That’s it.

  • Be decisive. I get myself tied up thinking about the next stone, the stone after, the stone on top. Pick a stone, shape a bit if needed, place it, move on.
  • Hearting is fun. It’s a nice break to play a quick game of small rock stacking after some intense big rock stacking.
  • Rules will be bent and/or broken. Yep, there’s a big, fat, traced stone and a weird triangle stone in that picture up there. Sometimes a stone really locks in and makes sense, but doesn’t abide by all the rules. That stone is a loner, Dottie. A rebel. I’ve tended to abandon prudent, good stone placements to find try and find the one that fits all the rules perfectly.

Now for the less smart stuff – aka the painful, I’m not learning as fast as I’d like to stuff…

  • I’m not always careful about how I lift rocks. Some days, I use knees and hips and feel great at the end of the day. Some days, like today, I lock my knees, lift big rocks, and my back is totally worked after eight hours.
  • I’m spoiled rotten by typical Colorado weather. It’s usually hot and dry, or warm and dry, or cold and dry. A few straight weeks of drizzle and mud have thrown a muddy wrench into the drizzly works, and I have no damn idea what kind of clothes stand up to rock work and stay warm-ish.

The “learn to build fast” idea makes sense in another important way. It’s not just saying “throw stones together quickly” – but it is saying that efficiency is a good focus for a tyro.

Wall is coming along.

More than halfway...

More than half way…

Eldo is Pretty.

September 10, 2014 by

Well, it is.

Photo Sep 10, 9 55 07

Photo Sep 10, 9 09 17

Photo Sep 10, 10 30 31

Ramble Prep

September 6, 2014 by

The Rattlesnake Ramble is on September 13th this year. It’s a footrace to benefit the Action Committee for Eldorado. ACE has worked with Eldorado for decades to build trails and maintain/install fixed hardware. Quite frankly, if you’ve hiked a climbing access trail or clipped a bolt in Eldorado, you should donate (scroll to the bottom of the ACE home page). And if you’re feeling gnarly, run the ramble.

Jack, the power wheelbarrow, a griphoist, and I did some more trail prep for the ramble yesterday.

Photo Sep 05, 9 29 37




Nice to work in one of the most scenic power-wheel-barrow-ing venues in the world.

Photo Sep 05, 11 59 38


Rocks. Learning.

September 5, 2014 by

There are four stages of learning:

  • Unconscious incompetent – you don’t know what you don’t know – novice
  • Conscious incompetent – you know that you don’t know much about what you’re learning – apprentice
  • Conscious competent – you know relevant concepts, you can get a task done adequately – journeyman
  • Unconscious competent – you don’t have to think about your craft while producing master level works

As a side note, I think we live in a time where some unconscious incompetents tend to imagine themselves as masters of their subject – just because they say so, because they attended a motivational talk, because the internet… This is unfortunate.

I suspect that these stages aren’t discrete. I hope that master craftsmen realize that they’re novices in some ways, and I know that novices can put out high quality work sporadically.

As far as rock work goes, I’d like to imagine I’m breaking into an apprentice level of work. I’m logging enough hours stacking rocks that what I don’t know is becoming VERY apparent. That’s hard to sit with, but invaluable. And as always, I get a heck of a nice office to work in.

The far end of the wall is as high as it will be without copes.

The far end of the wall is as high as it will be without copes.

Recovering from Recovering.

August 29, 2014 by

There are some broad types of actions human critters take to get through natural disasters.

  1. Survive the disaster itself
  2. Immediate recovery efforts (short-term, clear goals)
  3. Big disaster recovery projects

Let’s just say that #3 is my least favorite. BY FAR. Last fall’s flood made a mess – but natural resources are incredibly resilient from natural disasters. Unfortunately, the things done in the name of “disaster recovery” can be more challenging to recover from.

Fortunately, as the contractor season is drawing to a close, I’ve been able to get rolling on a few plum projects. I think projects are a great avenue for reflecting AND getting moving again.

One of those projects is reseeding and erosion mat. With a bag of native seed mix and a few strangely cumbersome rolls of aspen/coconut mat, volunteers have been able to do a lot of slope stabilization and mitigate a lot of invasive weed habitat.

Finally, flood recovery starts in Rattlesnake Gulch - thanks WRV.

Finally, flood recovery starts in Rattlesnake Gulch – thanks WRV.

One my job duties (that goes well in spite of my best efforts) is wrangling stewardship volunteers. As the contractors began leaving, the volunteers came back in droves. 607.5 volunteer hours this month. h/t to The Dawson School, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, Boulder County “Fast Tracks”, and others.

5:1, big rock.

5:1, big rock.

For a personal project, I started work on a retaining wall at the East end of the park. It’s amazing to see that even nature has routines. At 10:30, the flies fly; at about noon the rattlesnakes pass through; and at 2:00 the rain starts. And somehow rocks find good places on the wall.



A thought from all of this: Correlation isn’t causation, sure – but take time to enjoy correlation, coincidences, and other moments of providence…

Look What I Made!

May 13, 2014 by
Seed Bombs.

Seed Bombs.

Yep, that’s right. Three college degrees, numerous certificates of accomplishment, and today, I made hand-crafted, artisan, free-range mud balls. Would that I were kidding – the fertilizer is even organic.

These objects of excellence are actually seed bombs. Several groups of junior high students are going to volunteer this week, and part of their time will be spent lobbing muddy orbs of seed, fertilizer, dirt, and clay at some unstable slopes. It’s kind of a clever trick: sending people out onto the slopes to plant will do more damage than good.

If they work, I might publish my recipe (which is less about quantities and more about technique).

Streamside Trail Repairs. AKA the “Learning Opportunity”.

March 18, 2014 by

After a brief hiatus, I’m back and making less sense than ever!

Good scenery tempers frustrating days.

Good scenery tempers frustrating days.

We started work repairing a blowout on the Streamside trail.

A pretty place to do some drilling.

A pretty place to do some drilling.

Moving rock into the repair area is challenging. There are no clean lines to hang a skyline, there’s no good quary of rocks directly above the site. After a few months of occasional study and lots of pondering, I realized there is no good solution, just some solutions that are slightly less bad than others.

We got to work on the first least bad option this week. The good news is we partly cleared a landing to stage rocks. And learned some stuff. So that’s nice.

Learning 1: Tripods in a boulderfield may cost more time than they save. We were really confined to placing tripods on a few flat-ish surfaces, and 4×4’s really like to skid off of polished river rock. In short, there was a lot of slip sliding tripod adventure. We got some rocks across the creek, which is good.

There's one on the line.

There’s one on the line.

Learning two: Sometimes reading the grain of a rock really works. Really really. I saw how this rock was splitting in other spots, and with minimal wedges made a nice 3′ x 3′ split.



Learning #3: 3/8″ feathers and wedges work well. 1″ feathers and wedges work well. I have no end of troubles with 3/4″ feathers and wedges – the wings of the feathers bend really easily, I’m not sure they split the rock here any better than 3/8″ wedges. I’m going to try some 1/2″ next week. I also might make a “punch” that sits over the top of a 3/4″ wedge head – so I can drive it cleanly.

Learning IV: We did some straight sledge/slab splitter work – split slabs without resorting to feathers & wedges. Really nice splits – hard work, but really clean, almost natural looking edges.

Learning cinque, AKA Angles on either side of spars, AKA ratio of side span to center span.

Behold, the humble and amazing suspension bridge:

There are three “spans” of the bridge: the center span and the two side spans. I’ve been pondering something for a while: why are either of the side spans usually half the length of the center span? Because of the cruddy available spots for a tripod, we found out the hard way.

By way of diagrams (generated with the truly friggin’ awesome Algodoo). Imagine a decent tripod setup, now imagine what happens as you scoot one of the tripods (towers, spars) away from the center, towards the anchorage:

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 4.59.27 AM

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 4.59.48 AM

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 5.00.10 AMBecause of the available “flat” surfaces and anchor points, we ended up with a tripod very close to an anchorage – and I watched the rigging carefully as the line went up (I kinda knew it wasn’t going to work). The shorter the side span becomes, the more force is directed on the top of the tripod towards the center of the span.

I suppose one could anchor the back leg of the tripod – but that seems to me like that would introduce some exciting new forces into the system. Better to build the system so forces point straight down on the top of the tripod/spar…

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March 1, 2014 by

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Observe First, Change Later

January 30, 2014 by

If there’s one theme I’ve seen in the four+ months since the flood, it’s that most people seem hellbent on taking charge and making changes.

In a very few situations, that might be a good approach.

Here’s the thing: Most people don’t want to spend time observing before making changes. I say most people, and I humbly, ashamedly admit that I’m part of that group.

Here’s what’s missing in that approach:

  • There may be things that are working with the current methods. They may even be working well.
  • The change-everything-first approach tends to come with a dialectic. It’s not enough to implement a new approach – the old approach must be discredited.
  • Rather than continuity and growth, the change-everything approach creates an endless loop of radical change followed by re-adjustment. It may end up being two steps forward and three steps back.

Back in the day, I worked for a few organizations that went through a quality management process. Regardless of the name, the core concept of quality management seems to be about observing the process and then making small, sustainable changes to improve the process when necessary.

On a side note, I’m going to take some time off from blogging.

Stupid Saturday Sidetrack: Fuel Cabinet Door

January 25, 2014 by

Ahh, Winter. When foolish maintenance dudes decide to tackle old pet projects. Spring was invented to keep people like us from being institutionalized. Epic foreshadowing: the story has a happy ending.

Take THAT!

Take THAT!

Read the rest of this entry »

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