One Rod, 2011-2016
A retired dairy farmer, Jim Tweedie, long time resident of Delaware County, NY became a friend in the 10 years that I spent my summers and sabbaticals in Hamden, NY. He told me a story about how a cousin of his, was not “too bright but could lay 3 rod of stone in a day.” I am sure that we were talking about the stone walls that coursed across the farm land when this story came up. For me, I was fascinated by the way the forest had already begun to reclaim the partitioned, pasture land created 75 to 100 years ago. I also asked Jim about the large piles of stones I had on my land. He explained that the stones were just placed their temporarily with the intention of being used later. The stones – blue stone – gestated up through the soil with the season’s thaw and freeze cycles. Being in the way of the plows, the farmers would gather them and with the help of a stone sled and a horse drag them to a place out of the way and dump them in a pile. Seeing the piles of stones these many years later made me think of those people that worked the land in such a direct way and that these piles perhaps were waiting for another gesture.
I decided to take one of these abandoned piles of stones and to begin making a stone wall. It would be one rod in length – an old English measurement that equates to about 16 1/2 feet. Once the wall reached a length of a single rod, I would go back to where I began the wall and undo what I had originally stacked and walk those stones to the “front” and restack them. The wall would ‘leap-frog’ across the land. I would always build “the wall” with another person. No training on how to stack, just grab a stone and bring it to the other end and find a place for it. It would be a wall that had no real purpose, would fail to demarcate ownership or announce any useful boundary. It would always be complete and unfinished. The activity seems more like a Tom Sawyer con but because there was no inherent “purpose” the activity became a shared experience. Participants found it to be a meditation on time, on willfulness, of finished and not, of doing and being, of ownership, of process and most of all of experience. Stacking stones set the stage to have an intimate conversation. Each conversation different and singular like the stones and yet just another moment of living. This fragment of a wall works as a ritual object that depends on interaction and like the walls that slowly recede into the forest floor, a monument to the anonymous moments of living.
The following images document One Rod with some of the participants. In the early days of the piece a participant and I would go out and stack stones for as long as we felt like it. I would also ask participants to write in a book their thoughts about the experience. Eventually, I settled on one-hour sessions that I recounted in a journal.
A pile of stones culled to make room for pasture sometime in the late 1800's. Source material for One Rod.