May 20, 2019

Common Sense

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

Common sense.  I’ve never had much.  Worse, I never did know when to stop.  It’s been a problem my entire life.

I remember roughhousing as a kid.  Before I was done, something was always broken.  Invariably, someone was injured.  To be fair, usually that somebody was me.  I have an older brother and sister.  Neither had any problems handling the best I could offer.  The point is that only after the damage was done would I look back and wonder why.

Amazingly, I lived to grow older.  Unfortunately, my talent for taking things too far has stayed with me.

I have a recent example with beginnings ― like this issue ― entrenched in time.
All those years ago when we moved into this place, normal day-to-day living ― as most think of it ― was simply impossible.  It was September.  We soon discovered that we couldn’t keep candles lit on the mantlepiece.  That was a shame because we needed the light.  The wiring was in shambles. The walls weren’t insulated.  The windows weren’t glazed.  There wasn’t any storm glass either.  The wind howled through the living room with little to stop it.  We were burning green wood for heat.  The chimneys needed lining.  The floors were shaky.  No surprise, the pipes kept freezing.  I could go on.

Of interest, the lawn hadn’t been mowed all summer.  At least.  It was far from the top of my priorities but I soon found out why.  When this house was placed on a poured foundation, the workmen doing the job simply moved the old fieldstone footings out of their way.  Then the grass grew up around the remains, hiding everything.

The result would have been a challenge to the most adventurous mower.

I hadn’t time, given everything else that had to be done, to do more than clean up.  I dragged the pieces, cobbles, boulders and cornerstones into the rough semblance of a rock wall between the house and barn.

There they sat, month after month, season after season, for  a quarter century and more while I worked on everything else.  Yeah.  I’m still chipping away at that list.  I don’t think it’s any shorter, either.  Meanwhile the frost moved those rocks, knocking them around.  I rebuilt and added to the pile as the lawn became larger and (gradually) more civilized.  I called my rock collection a ‘wall’ but it more closely resembled a moraine, the haphazard leavings of glacial ice.

I’m an inexpert mason.  But there’s no shortage of rocks.

Then last spring we purchased the ramshackle remains of the farmhouse, sheds and barn next door.  Those structures were built on granite slab foundations.  When we tore the buildings down, I saved all those lovely, rectangular rocks, eyeing them covetously.  There were a lot.  Each was six to 12 feet long and 18 inches high.  The thicknesses varied, but the most incompetent mason in the world could’ve stacked those into a wall.

I rubbed my hands together, eager to start.

There was a problem though.  Those rocks are heavy.  Yes.  Very heavy.

Scott Engstrom of ABS Construction kindly agreed to help, using his pulp loader to move the granite.  To his credit, he built to last.

Essentially, we left my pre-existing rock accumulation right where it was and built a new wall on either side of it before covering the whole thing with even more rocks.  Oh, we moved those in the middle about, shifting them to support the cap stones and to more evenly fill the center.  But we left every rock I’d gathered over 27 years right where it was before hauling in more.  A lot more.

It took time to do it, even using a pulp loader.

When we were done, I stood back and viewed the finished product.

My jaw dropped.  I’d lost track of the overall picture while involved in the minutiae of construction.

The rock wall between our house and barn is no longer inconspicuous.  Neither is it haphazard or likely to fall.  Erosion won’t be an issue, at least not in my lifetime.  It’s a 7-foot thick, 5-foot high and 40-foot long barbican of cross-stacked granite.  It’s an escarpment, Hadrian’s Wall and Levant-henge all rolled into one, missing only a few Druids to complete the picture.

I scratched my scalp, giving Scott a lopsided grin.  “Well, there.”

“What do you think?” he asked, just assuming that I could.  He smiled, looking at the wall, stating the obvious, “No one’s going to steal it.”

“No.” I agreed.   Common sense arrived then, too late, as always.  “And I’m not paying you to move it again, either.”  I shook my head, laughing at my own folly.  What else could I do?

I never did know when to stop.