Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Archive for August 2011


with 3 comments

I love rocks. I love working with them. I love the feel of them. I love that they are singular in size and shape. I love that they are tough and strong. I love that they have given over their existence to the whims of nature. And I love that they have allowed man to turn loose his imagination and use them to create castles, cathedrals, grand structures, simple homes and walls for protection.

Those close to me think my obsession with stone is somewhat strange. If I see a good rock on the side of the road, I have been known to stop and steal it. When we moved from Toronto to Southampton I took two carloads of with me to our new home. I am constantly scouring the grounds around me for them. I collect them. Pile them. Build patios with them. One has only to look around my home to see the many ways I have landscaped with rocks.

Stone can be cut and shaped. Or it can be stacked as is – dry or with mortar. Either way if forces you to find a pattern, a way of putting surface on surface that satisfies the stone. It is like a jig saw puzzle. Natural rocks will only accept one another in a certain way or else they because unstable. They fall. And it is up to the builder to decipher their riddle.

I think my love of rocks and their mystique came from my father.

He was a stonemason and master bricklayer. On the job he was the only one allowed to raise the corners.  As he crafted a perfect pyramid of bricks, he sang “As Time Goes By,” under his breath thinking himself Humphrey Bogart. The others watched and waited. With line and level he laid out perfect right angles as a guide for each course to come, a precise line for the others to follow. When done he would stand back and throw down his trowel, the point thunking into the mortarboard. The masons took this as their signal to raise the wall to the exactness of his corners.

After a brief moment he would smile, spit in his hands, grab the hockey-taped handle of his trowel and with one smooth, powerful motion scoop up mortar, spread it straight and then slice a crevice down the center of the cement with the point of his trowel. At the same time he grabbed a brick with his free hand, tossed it into the air so that it turned to the right surface, caught it and placed it deftly at the start of another course.

Sometimes he hockey-taped his hands and fingers. Mostly when he was handling solid sixteen-inch blocks laying the foundation of some larger building. The black tape protected the calluses that had grown thick over the years. I could feel their roughness when he grabbed my wrist when I misbehaved as a child. You could not break his vice like grip. Although he was a small man, he had the arms of a bodybuilder.

He loved stone and brick. As a boy I worked beside him during summer vacations and inherited his feel for stone.

I thought about this today as I pushed wheelbarrows of hoarded rocks from one corner of my property to another. As I piled them in my driveway my mind filled with ideas on how to use them.

This line of stone will become a dry riverbed on my front lawn. They will meander around the Birch and Red Maple and unite the flowerbeds. They will replace the grass that I hate cutting. They will need no maintenance. I won’t have to think. I won’t care about anything else. I will just concentrate on where the rocks want me to put them.

At the end of the day the process will leave me with sore knees, a sore back, scuffed fingers even though I wear gloves…and exhausted.

But it will be worth it. I will relish even moment of my labour. Because I love rocks.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

August 10, 2011 at 5:35 PM