As a youth growing up in Detroit, our family ventured in the summers to Northern Michigan and Northern Ontario, Canada. It was my first experience of the sublime grandeur and vastness of the natural world. In addition to the plant and animal kingdoms, the stones we found while exploring the forests and lakes was a constant source of wonder and joy. Skipping stones, tossing, piling, balancing, saving and giving some away later were all part of the annual ritual.
When handed a “forced sabbatical” from the powers-that-be at my high school, my mother quickly directed my rambunctious energy. The project was a small fieldstone retaining wall I built to hold up the earth in our sloping suburban vegetable garden. The stones were carefully situated, the soil held, and the garden flourished. Our family admired the merging of function, form and beauty.
The following 2 decades led through universities ( including a double-major degree in political science and geography ) , and careers in the cross-country ski industry, carpentry and real estate brokerage.
After easily leaving behind the arid halycon days of real estate work, it was abundantly clear what was next on my agenda; bringing beauty into the world, and using that as a vehicle to place myself in good social contact with kindred spirits.
In 2007, destiny found me in Kentucky, participating in a 2 day dry stone walling workshop. The workshop was organized by The Dry Stone Conservancy, based in Lexington, Kentucky. The mission of the Dry Stone Conservancy is to preserve and promote the ancient craft of dry stone work through training and education.
Under the guidance of 2 master dry stone wallers from Great Britain, the workshop students repaired and built retaining walls in Shaker Village. Following on day 3 was an optional dry stone walling competition. Committed but mortified, I completed the dismantling and rebuilding of my measured wall section in the allotted time of 8 hours. The competition was both humbling and inspiring. With 2 female competitors on either side of me, finishing and survival equated to “saving face”. They were both madly driven and finished as well.
Over the course of those 3 days however, there was a slow constant dawning in my restive mind. The indisputable and undeniable conclusion was simple; prior to this Kentucky event, I did not know that I did not know. After the 3 day event, I knew that I did not know.I took it upon myself to learn as much as possible by reading about the long history of the craft of dry stone walling. In the field contracting projects for clients and, on a long freestanding wall in Bear Lake, Michigan, on property I once owned, I gained proficiency in wall building.
Less than 2 years later I received a phone call from Neil Rippingale, one of the master dry stone wallers who instructed at the Kentucky workshop. Neil is from Scotland, and was recruited by the Dry Stone Conservancy to be their Training Program Manager. Neil invited me to join a handpicked team of 8 other stoneworkers. The Dry Stone Conservancy was awarded the contract to repair and rebuild a 5,000′ long section of dry stone freestanding perimeter wall at Camp Ripley, a National Guard Base and Veterans Cemetery in Little Falls, Minnesota.
Neil has become a good friend and true mentor. It has been a joy and privilege to have worked and learned with Neil on subsequent Dry Stone Conservancy projects. As well, I have also made friends with other talented stoneworkers from across the country who have gathered to work on projects in Baltimore, Pennsylvania and Kansas. The simple gift of being able to connect with people and their lives through doing this work, has been, and will always be extraordinary.
Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain DSWAGB ~ LEVEL 3 – Advanced Certificate Holder
Dry Stone Conservancy of the United States of America – DSC ~ Journeyman Certificate Holder