Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Monday, July 30, 2018
The bottom story of the hut was done, only the windows and door to add. The roof was solid — I had spent half a rainy day chinking the interior walls with smaller stone — listening to the rain patter off the wood shingles. The shingles take on a reddish buff after the rain; some of that is the red chalkline left on the roof. The next stage is the gable ends. I’ve thought about building the ends in vertical rough lumber — it would be quick but wouldn’t mend the eye with the lower story of stone. If I go with stone, it will have to be padded with mortar to fix the stone in place — someday kids will be running around this hut, and I don’t want to worry about a high stone tipping away and beaning them. I am down to a few flat stones, mostly it is chunk stone, which I can make look okay but can’t promise it will sit in place. I decide on using stone and packing mortar behind the stone, trying to hide most of it so the stone gables will blend with the dry wall of the lower story. I work off a six-foot scaffold — deliver stone to the site and toss it off the Willys onto the scaffold planks — lay that up…toss more stone up, lay that, then use the stone left over from the side walls piled away in one corner of the site. Two 80 lb. bags of premix mortar is used for the front gable. The stone will be seen outside but not inside; I’ve built a plywood wall inside to form the stone against. Also, another 6" x 6" beam was added to run the entire width of the front interior it doubles up beside the main 6" x 6" support beam and provides a wider and stronger shelf to lay the gable stone upon. Now there are twelve inches instead of six inches to work on. It took a weekend to lay up the front gable and box in a small barn sash window. That was the first window in the hut. It was centered with the ridgepole and doorway. All the other windows were ready to set, each painted light blue. The windows had been found over the years from various places. I bought the two lower front windows, four-light sashes, from my father’s lumberyard for five dollars. The horizontal window on the west side wall was once in our cabin, and the scalloped window on the east side — a lovely window providing the hut with early daylight — was found after we bought our house; leaning in decades of grime in the upper shaft of the woodshed. Before our friend David Emmons moved away from this area — I remember the day he stopped by with his car loaded for Arizona — he dropped off the two small windows boxed into the gable ends. I imagine he figured I would do something with them someday. Eight years later has them looking out of stone.
|A star-design I like to cut into my cedar shingles~|
this one is on the stone hut eastern side roof.
The original one. This roof was replaced,
new star cut in, this time with red cedar.
Jim and Leslie Koller and their two children Bert and Ida Rose visit us on Labor Day. The gable is complete and the rear gable is boarded for the same technique of laying stone against the boards from the outside. Since I will work on top of the ledge — the rear of the hut is roofed over the face of ledge — I can stone the gable without mortar. The barn sash is framed and hinged to open into the loft. The stone will be laid as I have the time in the fall. I have yet to build a low rail for the width of the loft. The loft deck is made of spruce and hemlock planks built onto doubled 2" x 6" crossties nailed to the rear bay of rafters. It is five feet wide and eight feet off the floor and plenty strong. When I was sixteen years old I built a loft in my first cabin away from home a half-mile in the woods behind my grandparents’ house in Cheshire, Massachusetts. Jim Koller was thirty-two years old and living on the West Coast and I was reading his poetry and a publication he edited named Coyote’s Journal. I never read anything like Coyote’s Journal before, and twenty years later, I still haven’t. Eight years after that first cabin I met Jim when he moved from the West Coast to Maine and was running a bookstore in Brunswick and raising sheep at home. Susan and I were returning to Vermont after a long week touring Newfoundland in a VW bug. I took an immediate liking to Jim. He has the animal gentle and wild to his eyes which has been mischaracterized as macho — it is better to align Jim with the title of one of his novels — “If you don’t like me you can leave me alone.” The bookstore job would only last a few years before he returned to landscape work, something he once did on the West Coast with fellow writer Bill Brown and the painter Jack Boyce. In Maine it was seven dollars an hour work, laying sod, trimming trees, mowing lawns. Coming home dirty and finding the time to write the poems picked up from the hands working all day. Jim Koller is one of the truest poets we have, and like life itself the poems read sky blue and rain flat. Few poets I know have put their hands as deep into the dirt as Koller. To appreciate the poems it helps to smell the same smells, hum to the old blues or folk song — from the highway or John Henry’s hammer. Live with it. Jim was visiting the stone hut and taking a close look. He is unpretentious as they come; sometimes he could talk more, but he walked around the hut, smiled at it, felt the edge of stone on the corners, then walked inside and let his eyes look. What he saw was a structure built for the ground, out of the ground. Naturally he understood.
|A meeting on the Willys ~|
James Koller, Ida Rose Koller, Bert Koller, Carson & Bob Arnold
The stone hut in the background
Remember the maple tree growing out of ledge only four feet from the hut? It was the first week of September and already its upper leaves were dying back a pale orange, making me nervous with the hut closing on completion. I thought to trim it, especially the heavier branches reaching over the roof, but it would be a gamble. Instead I decided to drop the tree when our friend Scott Tindall was visiting to give me a hand with the job. We had done treework together in the past — Scott did the climbing and I did the felling. Sometimes we wrapped a rope around the top branches and cut at the stump while pulling the tree by hand into a desired direction; especially if we had to miss buildings or electric wires. We always had a good time. Once on a job Scott dropped my limbing chain saw forty feet from a dead elm. On the ground I counted the saw flips in the air — one…two…then it stuck into the ground, bar first. Lucky. I took the chain off, washed it, scraped the dirt from the bar, greased it again and roped it back up to Scott. Near misses were having to drop a tree between the garage and the house with utility wires strumming the air — we would have our eyes on the house and wires and miss the garage by inches. Drop a tree like that for $100, saw it into firewood, and think we were rich. Like me, Scott worked with whatever equipment he could afford, or what was at hand. The day he arrived to take a look at this maple tree I had a ladder against the base just touching the lower branches, and he got out of his car and scrambled up the tree in a pair of those topsider moccasins L.L. Bean sells. A new pair. He thought we could fell the tree with no limbing; I knew he didn’t want to limb anyway. When Jim Koller was here he eye-balled the tree to maybe fall backwards. I thought it would tip forward toward the pond (now dry) but perhaps lean a bit to its right, which would have it crushing the hut. Scott had his nylon ropes. When we first started out he used hemp ropes, just like I once used a fourteen-inch bar chain saw to drop three-foot wide trees. You learn. With one rope in the top branches of the maple tied to the Willys to steer the tree as it fell (just in case) plus two ropes tied around the base of the stump and then fastened to a pair of trees fifteen feet away to alleviate a kickback into the hut. I cut with my Jonsered, long bar, sharp, and while cutting talked to the tree asking forgiveness since I moved into its territory with the hut. Sound silly? Do the work and watch how you begin to talk to yourself. And it forgave by falling nicely into the pond. Leaves sailed down in the air after the tree was on the ground. I waved to Scott who didn’t have to use the Willys. The tree gave us a cord-and-a-half of firewood stacked near the hut in the sun. Then I climbed up to the big stump and chainsawed a “chair” out of the stump. There is a photograph of Susan, with Carson in her lap, sitting up there on it.
All six windows of the hut are in. The two side windows downstairs are fixed, as is the front gable window. The window in the loft opens inward. The two windows downstairs in the front open inward. No screens. I’ve nailed narrow trim boards around each outside frame to hide the plywood and complete the look. Stained the trim the same smoke color of the beam work. Everything is stained except for the interior gable walls; I’ll do something with them in the spring after I think about it during the winter. Winter is a time to review what you did over the year and to plan for the spring…cut firewood for the following winter, order garden seeds, shovel lots of snow. The hut roof has six inches of snow on it. The windows are shiny black. Two coats of stain on the beam work has done well — no knots bleed through. At every other snowfall I go to the hut and shovel snow away from the door. There is a broom inside to sweep the floor. A bump of snow is on the maple stump chair. The split maple firewood is under black plastic, twenty-five feet stacked. Now and then I see bluejays land over there and crack sunflower seeds they have taken from the feeder outside the kitchen door. A squirrel’s tracks circle the hut in the snow. It has a visitor.
all photographs by Susan Arnold
a builder's notebook
a builder's notebook
Sunday, July 29, 2018
Saturday, July 28, 2018
Friday, July 27, 2018
Thursday, July 26, 2018
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Abandon Me Not
My homeland is your forehead, so hear me
Abandon me not
Behind the hedge
Like a wild plant,
Like an abandoned pigeon
Abandon me not
As a wretched moon
As a beggar star among the branches
Abandon me not
Free in my pain
But hold me
With a hand that pours the sun
Through the windows of my prison
Get used to burning me,
If you were mine,
With passionate love
Through my stones and olives
Through my window . . . my mud!
My country is your forehead, so hear me
Abandon me not !
translated by Mohammad Shaheen
I Don't Want This Poem To End
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Monday, July 23, 2018
|Bob unloading a jeep load of field stone for the stone hut|
On Susan’s birthday, July 29th, I was nearing the six-foot mark on the hut walls, laying in the last woven pattern connecting the outer wall with the inner wall course and selecting the right flat stone to top off the wall where it met the underside of the 6" x 6" beam. By August 1st the lower building of the hut was completed. A square shape of stone. I could walk inside and look out the open window frames and begin to feel a territorial sense that something was now in place. The windows, door, and stone floor would all be worked in last. No sense to damage the windows while tossing stone around. The door would only hang in the way walking in and out of the hut stepping the wall courses together. The stone floor would be a special hunt of locating the best large stone, and very flat. I had my eye on a stone wall further up the woodlot hill. The river at one time provided flat stone, but two years of dredging stone out of it for two terraces had about depleted my source. I would wait awhile for new stone to roll down in the current. Hours were spent in the river with high rubber boots drawing stone out and piling them on the shore. The real work was lugging the stone up a fifteen-foot bank to the road and loading them into a vehicle and bringing them home. Some years that vehicle ranged from a wheelbarrow or my arms, to a VW squareback and the Willys. Put a bow in that VW rear end. Sometimes Susan would help with the work in the river. One summer, a fellow we met earlier that year on a cross-country train trip came to visit from the West Coast, and by the second day of his visit was itching for something to do. He joined me lugging stone up the bank. No complaints, but I think he was bewildered at the primitive logic to the work. It would probably be the last time he wore bermuda shorts if he ever did this type of work again. Wading in the cool river while searching for stone a kingfisher many times could be heard streaking up and down the slow summer water with his chatter. The stone floor for the hut would be found away from the river, up in the woods with an iron bar prying stone away from stone. Flipping the stone down the hill to the Willys parked close to the hill which lowered the truck bed. Two planks were used to support the weight of each stone — and save my back — getting the stone from the ground into the truck. Especially when the stone weighed more than me. Turning them end over end up the plank, or pushing them up— no good flat stone for the job was ever left behind— they were rare enough.
|The Stone hut spruce 4 x 4 rafters are up and the purlins|
are on for the cedar shingle roof
I ordered 4" x 4" rough spruce for the hut rafters from Smead Lumber in Vernon, Vermont. A good lumberyard with smart drivers who know how to unload lumber and pile it straight. Russell’s sawmill didn’t have the spruce, and I wasn’t willing to deal with green hemlock — tough lumber, but a headache to handsaw rafter angles when green, never mind lift all that weight into place. It was only twelve pieces of 4" x 4" and I cut them out during the next two evenings after supper. A good change from the stonework. The sawed off ends of the spruce were used in the cookstove the rest of the week, that’s how dry the lumber was. I would find out over the weekend, when I planned to lift the rafters for the roof, how far out of whack the outside walls were from the front of the hut to the rear. The ridgepole was centered. The pitch of the roof was a basic snow-shedding 45° angle. Each rafter was sawed the same length from a pattern rafter. The hut was built by eye and it looked good by eye and the top plate 6" x 6" beams were resting sound on the stone walls. Saturday morning, with Carson asleep in his carriage near the sawhorses, we lifted all the rafters. I nailed while Susan steadied the lower end of each rafter…and sometimes she had to jump down off the step ladder and rock the carriage if Carson stirred. The rafters didn’t pattern out perfectly, but almost. A half-inch difference from the front to the rear — that was easy to live with and it certainly wouldn’t show to the eye. I was building with the trust of the eye, and when I stepped back to look at the rafters I saw the dream and dimension of the hut rise into the air.
|Bob working the hut gable end|
Dressed hemlock 1" x 4" strapping was also ordered with the rafters. It was delivered together and I piled the strapping to one side while working with the spruce rafters. The rafters were nailed two-foot-on-center while the roof strapping was tacked down with any free time I had during the following week. I would have loved a slate roof, but I had no resource to obtain it at a good price, and asphalt shingles would look pathetic on a stone hut. It has to be either slate or wood shingle. I bought four squares of white cedar shingle, clear grain, from Russell’s sawmill. He bought it from a mill in Maine and it cost me $80. I’d end up using a bundle over three squares. The roof scaffold was nailed in place after I finished with the strapping, allowing a seven-inch space between each length of strapping. I ordered fourteen-foot strapping and let it run past the rear edge of the roof where I could stand on the ledge with ease, snap a chalkline, and saw the strapping for a six-inch overhang. I started slipping shingles on the roof that first week of August. Taking my time, enjoying the view, smelling the cedar as I pounded nails. On the eastern side of the roof — when halfway up the side — I built in a four-pointed star design; it was a design I once saw in a magazine and had carried it around in my head to someday do. Now was my chance. Each shingle for the star was cut with a sixteen-point finish saw; the idea was to achieve a sharp edge to the design and also be subtle, and it shouldn’t leak. So the widest shingles for the star were chosen, they provided the most cover, fewer openings. A chalkline was used for a few of the shingle rows, allowing five inches to the weather. I had a large bucket of galvanized nails from another job I could spare for this roof. It went smoothly. The thing about wood shingle work is once you start you never want to stop. That is one reason I saved the work for the evening hours, around the late bird calls, tree frogs, and one bullfrog in the pond that made a companion of me all summer. By the end of the week I cut a hole out for the stovepipe — nailed down the chimney flashing — and flashed the entire ridge, where a 1" x 10" ridgecap built of dressed pine was set over the flashing. The roof was done. In a few years its light color would bleach closer to the look of stone. Now I would wait for the next rainfall to see how the shingles watered.
|Bob setting-up a three story chimney at a house he's building|
The cathedral builders of medieval Europe were famous for their development of religious architecture — eighty cathedrals, 10,000 parish churches and hundreds of great churches were built, stone-cut, sculptured between the 11th and 13th centuries. More stone was quarried in France during this time than all of ancient Egypt. The stonecutter that became a sculptor stepped up the ladder into the intellectual world. He learned from theologians, studied the abbey’s manuscripts and his horizons broadened. His work, carvings, outlook benefited both materially and spiritually. He saw what it was to observe and think. His mind worked as his hands labored, they were inseparable. Knut Hamsun writes about the same thing in his own life when as a young man he worked with illiterates in the ditches of Norway. Dug all day. He wrote that it gave him the opportunity for his mind to think — write in his head — while becoming one with his hand labor. No stuffy intellectual chatter in those ditches; it was sharing a lunch, smelling one another, working in dirt and water. He brought all of that into his writing, filled books, and you can feel that muscle and thought in the books. I don’t think about poems or writing or books when I’m laying stone; the mind is sharpening to balance with the stone, it’s a rhythm of the work that is picked up. That rhythm returns to the writing, speaks in the poems. Stone balanced over stone might become line balanced over line.
|Carson will build this studio with me when he is 17 years old|
and 17 years later it is doing beautifully
all photographs by Susan Arnold
a builder's notebook
a builder's notebook
Sunday, July 22, 2018
Saturday, July 21, 2018
Friday, July 20, 2018
Thursday, July 19, 2018
Clifford and I have been exchanging gifts and poetry hardware
for decades now. He is one of my small press heroes
going back to the beauties he printed
from the Cranium Press.
I have his broadside Star Treatise by Janine Pommy Vega
in our kitchen library.
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
The Vernal Equinox
How important it must be
that I am alive, and walking,
and that I have written
This morning the sun stood
right at the end of the road
and waited for me.
Copper Canyon Press
Monday, July 16, 2018
|A front yard retaining wall and stairway I built at a home one mile down river from us|
A friend asked how long it took to build the stone hut. At a guess I answered 500 hours, and a third of that time was spent in the woods finding the stone to build. We don’t have great stone in this valley, it is old country rock, random rubble, odd shapes of chunk, or smooth river stone. Some call it trash stone. I work with it and make something of it because it is all I have, and it blends back into the rural landscape. I know someone who bought all the stone for a large retaining wall he wanted built, and every stone was delivered in dump trucks — loads of flat, wonderful stone, with at least two good faces on the stone. It was a breeze to set up this wall with a crew of workers, but when finished it showed only uniform structure and no character in the overall expression of the wall. There were no quirks in the stone arrangement, no wisdom of perfect stone meshing with oddball rock. It was boring to look at. It works as a retaining wall, so the money is well spent, but there is no soul. The stone in this valley has a rough look, it takes patience to work and occasionally you turn up the surprise of a flat stone, with even one good face, and save that for a corner stone in the hut, or a stone pad under the windows. I did find quite a few long flat stones that were used in the hut as tie stone: the length of the stone turned inward joining one section of a wall with another. These stones are essential. Though some stonemasons will use the full length of the stone to show off its beauty, this is okay if you have enough to spare, I didn’t. I used all as tie stone and continued to hunt for good face stone. I usually took the Willys into the woods for a few hours in the late afternoon and loaded stone and delivered them back to the hut site. After six deliveries enough stone was gathered for a full day’s work. The stone was spread on the ground — piling shim stones into one heap, saving the face stone in another stack, and basic stone being the largest pile. I would lay the face stone for the outer section of the walls, saving a few for the interior wall, and filling in-between both walls with rubble rock. Each course had many tie stones weaving outer wall with inner wall. I shimmed with the smallest stone as I went along, concentrating on fine shim work at the end of the day…filling gaps, providing extra strength with a two-inch stone. There would be gaps showing daylight, but no gaps in the stonework. There has to be an understanding with the material. It wasn’t the best stone, but it would build, and by the end of the week, mid-July, the hut walls were over four feet high. Gaining.
|Years later, still grubby at stone work|
Maybe it is the work, but stonemasons seem an independent bunch. Most, like myself, work alone. The work requires it — unlike carpentry where a 2" x 4" is used in an obvious job location, nothing is too obvious with stone. It always boils down to a reliance on balance, at what will work and what won’t. There is much picking up of stone, tossing it back down if it doesn’t feel right in the hands, then picking up another stone. Some days everything fits. Work runs smooth. The hands, the eye, the feeling of stone is all netted to a coordination. Nothing feels better on those days. I’ve heard from others that John Regan was an independent Scot stonemason. He lived in southern New Hampshire but did a fair share of his work over in Vermont. I’ve worked at different places and seen his work, both brick and stone. The basic uniform of the brick work never caught my eye but the stonework always had a flavor that stuck. He was a fine dry wall stonemason. Worked the flat and round and oddball stone together into a mosaic of his skill. A retired doctor I once did treework for was still talking about the merits of John Regan ten years after Regan had done work for him. He told me of different places in the area where I could see Regan’s stonework: a chapel he built for another doctor, stone walls, and terraces. I searched the places out and continue to return for longer looks, enjoying new detail in the work at every visit. His style has the charm and strength and body that is built by a man. No tell-tale signature of any heavy machinery at work, and being man-made allowed my appreciation to light all over the work, never tire, really marvel. When I heard about John Regan he was already retired and into his seventies. By now he might not even be around. When workers and customers remember him they recall a tough man of principles — he’d walk off a job if anything crossed the grain of his ideas and all you have to do is visit his work to see the principles are everlasting. John Regan left us that. Awhile back a barn was torched by vandals and it burned to the ground. What was left in the smoking lot was the library of a stone foundation. John Regan was hired to move that stone to the roadside and build a long stone wall two feet thick, with gateways. The property owners were wealthy enough to afford the monumental effort. It was done. I won’t tell you where this happened…driving the backroads of southern Vermont sometime you might see this wall. It isn’t classy work, it’s rugged beauty. Stone talking to stone. I drive by the wall from time to time and always study it closely. That’s John Regan’s signature.
|Susan and Carson having a visit at the stone hut work site|
Five feet high with the front wall of the stone hut I stopped at the end of the work day and jumped up and grabbed the 6" x 6" beam over the doorway and let my body hang, for two minutes. When I dropped back into a stance my back felt better, at least for awhile. I would do the same thing again, this time inside the house hanging from one of the kitchen beams. The back is abused in stonework. It can’t be helped unless you are fortunate to have a pliable frame. Fingers can be busted, thumb nails blackened, toes crushed. I can wear gloves loading stone onto the Willys and then unloading, but often I have to feel the stone I am working with and gloves get in the way. I had two bouts of back trouble while building the hut, but nothing that was serious, I could still work. Both times happened from working too long and stretching the possibilities of the back. And I only blackened one thumb when a stone I was loading onto the Willys broke apart; it dropped my hand down between another stone and the broken stone met it all. Luckily I got away with only a bleeding thumb nail. Of course I wasn’t wearing gloves — not that the gloves would have helped much — but I put them back on. I used that broken stone and know right where it is in the hut, buried between the outer and inner walls. Wrenching the back — and that’s how you feel when it happens — is all part of the work. Since the back is essential for stonework it is best to be conscious of the body that goes into the work. Five hours of hard paced stonework, especially when working alone — performing the pick up of stone and laying down — is almost enough for one day. A good deal is accomplished, the back isn’t beat on, and you can work seven days a week with that treatment. Eight hours a day doesn’t accomplish much more — it abuses the body. Somewhere in those hours, one to two hours is wasted on coffee breaks, talking, and the exhausted pattern of being driven by the work. I would rather work with the work. Enjoy the work with good health and that enjoyment will show up in the finished job. With a driven voice the worker that tells me he works a twelve hour day tells me nothing except that he is stupid, or unlucky. He no longer owns himself, the job owns him. The stone builder should feel the stone on his hands during the day, then other things: someone he loves, firewood to split, music that comes to his ears. Life has to be allowed. All that life returns to the stone he lifts, and with inspirations he has picked up elsewhere, he sets that stone down.
The days away building the Hauptman house were long days. The twelve hour day kind, but I loved it. Nine hours of carpentry and travel between locations, then stonework in the evening when back home. Between the carpentry and stonework I would swim in the river with Susan and Carson, which was icing on the cake for a long day. The river has been for many years our summer bath. We would carry Carson down in a small plastic tub and wade one arm of the river that shallowed to our knees to reach the main flow of the current where it was deeper and private and the sun lasted until late in the day. Carson was now over a month old. We would prop him up in the tub left on the shore while we swam, and he watched us with a steady eye. Nothing got by him. The third day of his life, upstairs in our bedroom where he slept with us, his eyes were already following the upper wall of the room, above the bed, where dark green stencilling trim was laced. I had painted that on three winters ago never thinking a child would be with us to enjoy it. After supper, walking to the stone hut with Carson in my arms, he would open his eyes to the singing robin, and as weeks went by he eventually found that robin and stared up at it, studied it for awhile, then laughed. He was finding things. Other parents warned us he wouldn’t distinguish things for weeks. Whenever he smiled, and he did on his second day, it was chalked up to gas. For some reason people won’t allow anything to follow its own course — everything that happened to them has to happen to you. I stopped reading the childhood guide books the first week of birth. It brought back the enjoyment of learning with Carson, watching him; allowed the delight of surprise to return. Susan read one helpful book on nursing to get the hang of it. Otherwise, it was paying attention to the child and listening to a few friends who realize the commitment to trusting yourself. A plank swing in the backyard, hung from a low apple branch by two chains, something put up awhile back. One evening of Carson’s first week of birth I sat in the swing and moved him gently to sleep. I was learning. Resources around you are the best tools. A swing.
all photographs by Susan Arnold
a builder's notebook
a builder's notebook