The Stone Wall Whispers


It’s the week after Easter and I am building a stone wall. Well, not quite. I am an apprentice to a real stone mason, my neighbor Mike. For months my only job is to find stones and pile them at the work site. The land here in Pennsylvania is mostly rocks, but the stone finder’s job is to sort through misshapen slabs and boulders, sift through rubble until the right rock appears: flat, with at least one face. My wife tells me I’m on an Easter egg hunt.

Finally, on the last wall in a terraced series, Mike allows me to try my hand. I place the heavy foundation stones, which plays to my strength: I can line up big boulders and wrestle them level. Then Mike gets sick, he is waiting for a kidney transplant; days go by. Without permission, I start building the next course of stones. I go to my strength, lining things up, getting them level. But when I step back twenty paces and survey the sweep of the wall, I groan. All that work and it looks…contrived. Mike’s walls look like they made themselves, fell into place like a flinty cascade. The face of his walls have both irregularity–which draws the eye into a whimsical stone dance–but also a clear architectural line that pulls from one end to the other.

After two days and about as many feet of progress, I sit, frustrated, on a rock. We’re not building a cinder block wall, I hear Mike say. He means it’s an art. I’m good at puzzles, he says. (I’m not.) I think of him, turning a stone six different times, feeling where the rock wants to go, letting the stone settle into place. It clicks, he says.

I am pretty good at making a plan and executing it. In other words, I would be great at building cinder block walls. But to borrow a line from the Bard, the course of life, like that of true love, never did run smooth. It doesn’t follow the plan. We want life to run on a straight line. It won’t. We want our destiny to make sense. It doesn’t. When the material at hand to build a life doesn’t “work” or “fit,” we imagine that all we have to do is go find better stuff. The stone we need is right here, in this pile, Mike is saying, we just can’t see it yet.

Patience. Trusting not what I think so much, as what I feel. Letting things (yes, and people) be what they’re going to be, content only to nudge them slightly until they click. That’s some of what I am thinking as I sit on that rock. That, and the fact that, if Malcolm Gladwell is right about the ten thousand hours, I only have about 9,900 to go.

11 Responses to The Stone Wall Whispers
  1. Bob McCann
    April 12, 2018 | 11:21 am


    You nailed it again. Keep up the great work.


  2. Michael
    April 12, 2018 | 12:36 pm

    Yes, the essence of great art is the absence of contrivance. You may not be there yet with stones, but with words you’re a master builder!

  3. Juliet
    April 12, 2018 | 4:34 pm

    Wonderful! Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Ric
    April 12, 2018 | 6:10 pm

    Really enjoyed this one David! I think there’s more stories (and perhaps poetry) there.

  5. Michael Moore
    April 12, 2018 | 6:56 pm

    Yet another great insight, Master Builder. Makes me think of Ireland’s tors and great stone archways with nothing to hold them together but the stonemason’s ancient art, and a bit of Robert Frost, and also of Jung’s stone tower. Jung carved into his entry way: “vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit.” (“Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”) Those words are on my front door too but, alas, I did not have the skill nor patience to carve them in stone.

  6. Megan Solis
    April 12, 2018 | 8:58 pm

    David, thank you, this reminds me of my dad who would collect rocks in a wheelbarrow in the forest around our house in PA to build walls when I was growing up. He built beautiful walls around our garden, and I think it must have been therapeutic for him. At the time dad was just out building walls. But in a good way. I hope your friend got better.

  7. Wilder
    April 13, 2018 | 12:23 am

    So true and so well written.

  8. Anne
    April 13, 2018 | 2:41 pm

    Reminds me of Ken Weeks and Walter Taylor. Thank you for bringing them into the room…..

    • David Anderson
      April 13, 2018 | 2:48 pm

      I was about to tell a Ken Weeks story!–he was the master stone mason.

  9. Christine Stark
    April 13, 2018 | 3:08 pm

    Wow. Great read. This really hit home….the concepts of trust and patience.

  10. Ginny Lovas
    April 14, 2018 | 12:15 am

    I would not have the patience to build a stone wall. I see it already complete, and am so glad that someone else was able to see this to completion!

    Joe’s grandfather came from Hungary, and from what I have been told was a fine Stone Wall builder.

    Special prayers to your neighbor,

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