December 12, 2014
My first (mostly) solo, decent sized wall. She is complete.
My favorite assistants arrived right after I’d pinned the copes.
There’s a fantastic quote about long journeys – I can’t remember who penned it or the exact quote, but the gist is: We set out on a long journey, and upon returning to port, realized that the greatest discovery we’d made was ourselves.
Some thoughts after the fold:
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October 29, 2014
Just about a week ago, one of the local residents wandered up to a wall I’m working on. She was very upset that I’d finished the top of a portion of the wall with copes, and was furious that she couldn’t sit on the wall and rest her cup of coffee on one of the through stones anymore. (Long story short, the copes were in place because I was tired of “helpers” stacking stones on the wall.)
I’m getting used to being chewed out by the locals, but it’s never very fun. I assured her that I’d build a bench at some point, explained what copes are and what they were for.
This is what the copes looked like:
Wall with copes.
A few days later I got a chance to get back to work on the wall, and about six feet of copes were gone in the exact spot she pointed out.
On the one hand, there’s a good lesson there. I’m trying to build a wall that will last a hundred years; the reality is that it’s a very popular trail and that wall might not even make it through the winter. Perhaps people are inspired to play, but dangitall, I’m tired of finding what people do to that wall when I’m not working on it. It’s like a sand mandala – a meditation on impermanence – but with big rocks and no nice monks to hang out with.
On the other hand, there’s a good lesson there. I realized I can’t fight park visitors, especially nearby residents who basically have 24/7 access to the park. So I took the challenge on and made something bench-like.
I’m about halfway between Zen and “meh”. Let’s call it Zeh.
October 25, 2014
I spent few interesting months working next to incredibly popular trails. And frankly, I spent a little bit too much time with everybody involved, including me. Some blather about fear after the fold…
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October 11, 2014
Found some poop on the Fowler trail this week:
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October 6, 2014
Generally, I like to build with stone. It’s fun to work with, looks great, and when done well, stone structures last and last.
But stone has its limitations. I’ve spent the last two weeks building a pretty massive staircase out of pressure treated lumber.
Here are a few of the reasons I chose lumber over stone for this project:
- It’s a big project that had to go fast. Building this beast out of stone would have taken months even if the nearby rock was good for building.
- The nearby rock is copious, but it’s also crapious. There are some semi-decent rock sources within a few hundred yards – but the transit time would have doubled the project length.
- The bottom of the stairs is near the path of the spring water flow. That’s not insurmountable, but would have easily added weeks of build time to divert the drainage and build an ample footing.
Base of the stairs – there’s 10? 15? feet of gravel and rip-rap underneath that bottom stair.
- The slope is made of mineral soil mixed with ball bearings. My hunch is that with the significant weight of stone steps and no bedrock in sight, stone stairs would eventually slump into the hillside. Wood stairs with stringers should float on the surface.
- Wood stairs facilitate rebar anchors. Every tread and stringer has multiple 5′ lengths of rebar hanging into that slope. There wouldn’t be an easy way to anchor that much stone.
- Small crew size, and delegate-able tasks. In fact, for most of the build, the crew size was… me. I’m very lucky to get occasional busloads of helpers from Boulder County Justice Services. It worked well – I didn’t have to train anybody: me build, you haul timbers.
And if you’ve read this far, you deserve to know that the Rattlesnake Gulch trail is open. Get out and hike/ride it quick – fall weather like we’re having makes it one of the best trails on the front range.
And if you’re looking for more incessant chattering, here’s a copy of the bulletin pictured next to the stairs.
September 28, 2014
Saw this over at John Shaw-Rimmington’s blog this morning:
This work is stunning. The backstory is that the waller, Sean Donnelley, did this all with a very limited source of rock available on site. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the humbling experience of walking up to a bunch of rock, thinking “hey, I’ll build a wall with what’s here”, and a few days later realizing that I only succeeded in slightly rearranging some rocks and inventing new curse words.
I’ve had plenty of time recently to reflect on hubris – my own and others’ – with regards to walling. It is very easy for the uninitiated (and incurious) to imagine that building with stone is trivially easy. “How hard could that be?” “It’s just stacking rocks. Whatever. “If I had that rock, I could have built that wall.” I think Mr. Donnelley’s work blows that kind of narcissistic thinking out of the water.
September 12, 2014
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.
- 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.
- 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 half way…
September 6, 2014
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.
Nice to work in one of the most scenic power-wheel-barrow-ing venues in the world.
September 5, 2014
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.