no stack here, just some thoughts.

the beach is strange in the winter. it’s a giant collection of rocks on top of sand, dirt, and ledge, and the tide stratifies the different sizes of rocks by their granularity, to an extent. sand is (to the human eye) pretty uniform, so it freezes together in a fairly uniform way along a gradient. the rocks, however, seem to follow their own rules in different zones, and move pretty unevenly.


here we see a spot where the rocks above are snow covered and frozen together with a sheet of ice flowing through them, and another spot underneath where the rocks were submerged by the tide and have another layer of ice, but the middle portion is dry as a bone and all the stones are loose. I could rummage down below the tidemark here, and still saw no signs of ice. did the tide waters not manage to percolate through? why just in this spot? there are spots at the same elevation that behaved nothing like this.


this spot, for instance. is there a freshwater stream coming through at this point of the beach? (fresh water freezes at a higher temp than salt water, if you’re unaware.) there are a bunch of spots that formed this icy travertine at various elevations on the beach, while surrounding spots are dry or snow covered. the dry spots sometimes produce little natural stacks like these, frozen together by tiny amounts of water:

these little guys were really cute to me.

then you have your large stones, covered in sheets of ice. if you look close, you can see where water has melted through and carved rivulets combining with the natural crystallized patterns in the ice. I really want to get a camera to do time lapse images of ice formations.

ice completely changes the game as far as stacking is concerned. the most important aspect of dry stone stacking is actually friction; I’m relying on the roughness of the rocks to negate the incidental lateral or rotational forces I introduce by touching the work or adding a new piece. ideally all the forces are channeled vertically, but in reality there are off balance and uncentered pieces everywhere, being held in place only by friction. making your rocks icy completely removes this restriction, and things are much more liable to spin or slide from the tiniest movement.

contrarily, one could utilize rocks that are frozen together in a configuration that would normally not fly, changing the game from dry stacked to mortared masonry. water mortar… hm. it’s a completely different idea, working with mortar. I haven’t have the patience to purposely glue rocks together with water – that would be wicked time consuming – and I don’t really have a grasp of the strength of an ice connection. it might be something to study later on. what would be really cool would be to make a small stack in a bucket, then slowly and gently fill it with water, let the whole thing freeze solid, then take the block out of the container…. hmmm…

anyway, winter beach is strange beach. more ideas coming.


a frame for flotsam


as I was working on another project, I continually passed this piece of aquatic matter. It had an air of wabi-sabi to it, which I feel pervades my work. Even my most precise work it rounded and fragmented, just by the very nature of the elements used. (I’ve had people suggest I try using bricks in my art, but they’re to regular and uniform for me to enjoy myself.) With each pass by the fungus, I felt more drawn to using it in a piece. I settled on a simple frame to encase it. The box was tucked behind the tree trunk I built my sandwich on last summer – that massive piece of drift wood has been pushed down the hill along with a few other large logs since then. I figured it was sort of a private build, something a little harder to exhibit to others, but anyone who decided to stop and sit might find their focus narrow and their mind settle to a calm place where this little build might be interesting to them, as well.

decayed and discarded objects are very interesting to me. there is a natural impermanence to things; each object has a context and a “home” when it is originally formed, and when the context is lost or changed, the boject takes on new meaning itself. this piece of vegetation is very out of place on the frozen beach, sitting unexpectedly on top of the snow, more yielding and spongy than  its new stone neighbors or the sheets of ice it’s been thrown across by the rising tides. to me, it seemed to be a traveler, lost and unsure. it reminded me of this song.

I’d like to do more frames for small objects later; maybe I’ll revisit this next time I head to the beach.

stolid bench – during the snow


Just as I got into my car to leave after finishing the bench, the snow began to fall. I decided to wait and get a few shots as the soft white blanket fell, adding a muffled whisper to the sleepy roar of the winter ocean. Leaving my car, I sat on the bench and let the snow cake my shoulders and lap, melting into my hair and freezing into my eyebrows. It was a moment of true peace, if cold peace.

I am continually reminded on my trips to the ocean of the enormity and  wonder of God’s creation,  and I am made thankful for the consciousness He has gifted me with. We are matter that perceives itself, both physical and spiritual, intellect in atoms. The structured nature of physics is such a blessing. We occupy a place between quantum and cosmic forces, where the interplay of many principles results in a world that is only mundane because we are used to it. What would our scale of existence on this planet look like to someone from outside our frame of reference? Wouldn’t it be seen as a strange and marvelous place?

Sometimes you need a bench to sit down and think about this kind of stuff.

stolid bench – before the snow


Sometimes you want to make something whimsical, pointless, fragile, and ephemeral. sometimes you don’t. last weekend, I wanted to make something functional, straightforward, and honest. This stack immediately sprang to mind when I saw the log that I used as the seat portion. The wood is smooth and straight as an arrow, just the right thickness to blend with the scale of the elements I use in my more stable builds.

It was warm when I started stacking, but the temps were dropping fast, and as I finished, the snow began to fly. I have a few sets of photos of this build in various states of snowiness; I’ll post the others separately later. The bench is still there, a week and a half later, with footprints all around. Apparently other people are looking for a place to sit, too.


tripoint thaw


We had a few days where it got warm enough for the snow to melt a little here in Maine, and I took the opportunity to get out to the beach and do a little stacking. There’s a large valley preceding the shore I usually stack; I imagine it was mostly swampland at some point before being filled in to create a lawn in the park. There’s a lot of precipitation packed up on the hillsides, so even a tiny thaw will result in enough moisture flowing down the hill to create a vigorous seasonal stream. I was losing light even as I arrived at the site, but the reflections in the water burbling down the slope were too intriguing to pass up.

I was thinking about erosion as I built, resulting in the tapering form seen here. The layering is a little more ramshackle than I usually prefer, with no clear granularity or direction. The tripointed plate on top with the corner piles came from a thought that I might start layering voids, but when I got to this point I just felt done. no need to work further, just wrap it up for the day and be content. Is it just me, or does my arrangement hold some reminiscence of the gnarled, leaf-bare trees seen in the background?

Final observation – the contrast of the lit and shadowed portions of the build made for great viewing in real life, but I’m not sure how great it was for pictures. As a rule (at least, recently), I do not edit any of the photographs I take, so what you see is what you get. There is not (and never will be, in my opinion) an equivalence between photography and actual presence. Something will always be lost, and only persons who live the moment will know what that something is. So, going out in the cold is tough, but it’s well worth it. I really should make more of an effort to get out and work on my weekends. I hope you all are having a pleasant winter. Enjoy it for what it is.

True Arches part II


once I built the first true arch, I decided to build another one right next to it, along with a little lintel arch right next to it. I had begun building a staircase onto the left side, but the second column from the left began falling apart as I was working, so I stopped what I was doing and took photographs. the second arch I built, the middle one, is made up of much smaller elements, though the formwork I built with was the exact same as last time. here’s a couple photos with the formwork included:

I know the image with me in it is wicked blurry, but it was the only photo with any reference to scale, so I feel I have to include it. the whole structure actually IS pretty large. I mentioned this is the last blog post; the more time I spend on a stack, the better it’s going to be, but the worse my photos will be because of how tired I am. the trade-off is kind of depressing.

either way, the stack came out nicely. now that I’ve broken the seal on true arches, I may start using them pretty frequently, no matter how tense removing the framework makes me. I’ve always loved colonnades, and I have some ideas for some ideas for playing with scale and rhythm with the arches; Tatami proportions come to mind as a starting point; Fibonacci ratios are more fancy, but may be hard to accomplish with my limited range of size possibilities (the size of your worker and the size of your elements create practical boundaries for any build), and, frankly, I kind of like Tatami patterns better anyway, simplistic though they may be.

with the sunlight hitting the rocks on these cold days, I really appreciate the golds and yellows hiding in the grays of the stones. there are some beautiful moments of color locked into these rocks that aren’t what you think about when you pick up individual stones.

here’s a video of me climbing up on the stack. it stood up to my added weight just fine, but the whole first arch collapsed when I jumped off… boohoo! all good things must come to an end, anyway, and I have to destroy the work before I leave, so I guess nothing was really lost.

True Arches part I



time after time when I visit the beach, I build corbel arches – arches where the stones simply edge out from one another slowly towards the center; I’ve always been envious of the people out there building true arches.

on the right, a true arch. on the left, a corbel arch. without mortar, the corbel arch (when built without support) cannot sustain stability beyond slightly less than a 45 degree angle, assuming perfectly interlocking elements.

I decided to bite the bullet and try to make a true compression arch last time I went to the beach. the results were alright. I used two large elements as an interior scaffolding just to be sure that it wouldn’t fall as I built it, and so that I could have a uniform shape.

I made sure to get a small set of photos before I removed the interior blocks, as I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to hold up. removing the supports was harrowing. because I work with rounded elements, someone loosely stacked in comparison to a true mason’s work, there is a fair amount of shifting that can take place whenever an element is re-positioned or excised. the little grating, popping, and tapping sounds as stones move across one another to find a new equilibrium strikes fear into my heart every time. sometimes the sounds just get louder and louder, and the whole stack comes crashing down. this time, I got lucky and the whole thing stayed right where it was.

as I recently noted, I am having trouble with the fact that every time I do a quick stack, I can take decent photos after because my arms aren’t tired, but after great work, my hands are shaky as hell and I can’t take a decent shot to save my life. I don’t have money for a tripod right now, but I will be looking out for one at second hand stores and the like. someone recently mentioned they’d like to see time-lapse imagery or sped-up video of my construction process – this could be a lot of fun, too, but once again, my income isn’t flexible enough to buy a video camera. maybe later.

part two of this stack coming soon!