On Saturday at Muscoot Farms, Park Ranger Christopher Gezon of the National Park Service presented a stone wall repair workshop to 20 weekend apprentices eager to take the hobby back to their own stone walls.
Mr. Gezon began with a history lesson that stretched back 3 million years. The cooling of the earth brought an ocean of ice south, and with it, a force that moved rocks like a river into the Northern United States. When the earth warmed, the ice receded and left behind the rocks that were dragged in with the cold. Stone walls emerged as farmers piled the rocks they unearthed to make the land arable.
At Muscoot Farms and other property of the farming era in New York, these piles were called thrown walls, built to separate fields from grazing livestock. Functional walls are the impressive, manicured walls that surround property such as the one seen running along route 100 bordering the farm.
“One over two, two over one,” he said is what links the wall and gives it the aesthetic appearance the gentleman farmer was looking for. Fitting it nicely into place, though, took more than just randomly pulling the right rock out of a hole.
Rocks were quarried and shaped to right angles as one man hammered and the other held the spike. “It was an act of faith,” he says, but Mother Nature always has something to say when it comes to human ingenuity.
Functional or Thrown walls are subject to the elements – particularly water. It seeps underground, freezes and then recedes, causing the wall to crumble. “It’s like a small earthquake over time,” he said, and growing tree roots would have the same effect over time.
Today, besides the many walls visible on residential property, many crumble out of sight in testament to a life that has long past, according to the Park Ranger. “Walls are pathetic monuments to vanished men,” he quoted from a late 19th century poem lamenting the end of farming in New York State.
But Somers resident Elizabeth Swezey would rather celebrate the past and hopefully be part of the future of a place that she just loves. “It’s something for me to do to be part of the history of Muscoot farm,” she said of the wall that the 20 participants would be rebuilding.
Among them was Loretta Annese of Ossining, who has always had an affinity to stone walls due to the walls her father built, but she has put some limitations on his passion. “I’m lifting the little rocks, and if there is poison ivy, I’m not lifting,” she said.
Chanda Visweswariah and his wife Patty Buchanan had a more pragmatic reason for attending after seeing it advertised in the paper. They’ve got a lot of stones laying around their new property and learning how to put them to use on top of a wall seemed just the thing to do on a Saturday.
As for the hard, heavy lifting that will be involved, he’s got it covered. “If you want something to look nice,” he said, “you’ve got to pay the price for it.”
Tim Curry of Somers had the same thing in mind, but he might be on his own when it comes to getting a little help around the property at wall building time. “I have kids, but I don’t think they are too eager to help,” he concluded before getting on the wall to do some heavy lifting.
Rich Monetti coverage of event with Christopher Gezon, Loretta Annese, Chanda Visweswariah, Patty Buchanan, Elizabeth Swezey and Tim Curry