I spent last week reading, among other things, George Eliot on the sanctity of skilled manual labor (Adam Bede) while Sarah constructed a stone wall in our front yard. It was pretty funny. In the evenings we’d both be saying “Whoo! Long day! I’m tired!” but I was tired from sitting in the library/cafe turning pages slowly, reading about Adam and Seth building cabinets and coffins, Sarah from heaving big slabs of limestone, chipping at it with hammers, rearranging the dirt and gravel, etc.
This wall has actually been a going concern for two years. Sarah’s been working on it off and on with our friend Jack and a few other colleague/sidekicks of Jack’s. It’s sat unfinished for the last year and now Sarah’s been making a push to complete it. (Aha! I realize that I wrote about this project, then the “New Wall Project,” back in the Fall of 2008.)
This is a “dry-laid” wall, meaning that it’s made without mortar, simply by fitting the pieces of limestone together neatly. Sarah and Jack bought four tons of limestone in the end, 1/2 ton at a time in a truckload. It costs $80 per ton (pretty good deal, $320 for all of this stone). The pieces were cut by saws with smooth edges, so they needed to be “split-faced” — chipped away with a carving tool — to make them look more natural.
Yesterday I laid aside the Victorian fiction for the morning to help Sarah with some of the stone-lifting, digging, and root-cutting. It’s good exercise, my arms were tired afterward. She thinks that strenuous digging is the perfect exercise for psychological health, I think partly for evolutionary-biology-related reasons, and that instead of aerobics or step classes at the gym, people should just spend an hour digging dirt. Probably true.
I asked her if she thought it was a fair estimate to say that I contributed 1% of the labor on the wall. She didn’t really dignify that with a response, but I think it’s about right.
We were joking that passersby would say, “wait, who’s that pale man in the huge sun hat? That’s not Jack!! Wait — is that woman married??”
Hey — we all have different skill sets and interests…