I have been building a drystone retaining wall in my backyard. It will eventually edge the bit of lawn that I am seeding in the backyard for my children to play on, and it will have a single terrace for a garden where I will plant some shrubs to block the view of our neighbour’s driveway. It is pretty rudimentary stuff as far as stonework is concerned, but it has been taking me some time to complete it.
It is not that I am completely without experience in stonework. I used to lay flagstone sometimes for my brother Nathan in the summers, and I put in a cobblestone path in the garden of our last house, and I have been setting stones to edge the garden paths of this current house, but stone never seems to get easier for me. It is always as difficult as when I first began, no matter how much of it I do.
A mason does not build with stone. A mason works with stone. This is not a meaningless distinction. Stonework is like doing a jigsaw puzzle, only none of the pieces are designed to fit together, and so they may need to be shaped a little with a hand sledge and a cold chisel, and they all weigh ten pounds or more. Yet there is something deeply satisfying about working with stone, about seeing what the stone can become. Every time a block finds its place, the wall comes closer to being what it will be.