Monday, September 17, 2018

STONE HUT ( 15 ) ~

stone cairn by
Bob Arnold

Finally this book comes down to a little dog. Of course, a little girl, too, our granddaughter Layla, born as I write these last chapters, while this book started off with the birth of her father, Carson. 

Now this little dog is right before us in a hidden sort of cul-de-sac parking lot in a town where we were the other day visiting, and I’m guessing this very small dog’s owner — the man my age in the worn jeans — has parked his pickup truck and trailer with heavy lawnmowing machinery into a corner lot like he knows this town, like we know this town as well. He has the little dog out on a walk with him, and the dog is smaller than a cat. Our house cat Kokomo is larger than this dog, and mainly small dogs turn me off, until we pass by the man and his small dog, and the dog turns to us like the tiniest and bravest of souls, and it’s then I see its white muzzle and shaky legs, and I can see this dog is quite old. He’s done everything within his power to turn away from his incessant sniffing of the small lawn he is on, like a momentary island, with the man who is just giving the dog a little run, and the dog spots my wife and me and wants to know who we are. The dog’s eyes are searching, brown and beautiful; whereas his owner’s eyes are vague, distant and noncommitted. We decide to pass the dog by so we don’t cause any discomfort for the man. He’s on his routine. 

We leave the parking lot and cross the easy street into a park and find a bench and sit awhile as a couple just looking around. There’s some kids over there under a large maple tree playing, and nearby three young girls sit in a grassy circle of conversation. By the time we have the immediate area pegged, here comes the man and his little dog. They’ve also crossed the street the same way we have and now the dog has a wider grass spot to fidget and sniff and investigate. He appears quite excited, even if he looks like he is close to dying. The man doesn’t look close to dying, but he does look like he is alone and this dog is his complete affection. He stands patiently and waits for the dog to go through its tiny tour. On short legs the dog won’t cover any wide ground. The man only has to turn this way and that, make a few steps, guide the little dog here and there, and the little dog is so immensely easy to please, old as it is and happy as it is, that the dog begins to bring tears to my eyes. Here I am falling for a little dog, which yes, may be my granddaughter, may be my son, may be myself, may be just a little dog in the world making its way. 

After ten minutes or so of nose in the grass scavenging, the man picks up the little dog with its little legs going a mile a minute, and as soon as the dog is lifted those little legs stop and the dog is obedient and still. He looks up to the man and his face who is busy walking back the same way he came, and he crosses the street exactly the same way, the little dog held against his chest. I notice as the man gets away from the park, the street, and is walking alone up the solitary driveway into the parking lot, he brings the dog closer to his face and they kiss. He takes the little dog to his pickup truck in the corner and sets him in the cab. He rolls down the window a few inches and proceeds to add more money to the parking meter to lengthen his stay. He’ll walk away from the truck and twelve feet away turn and walk back to the truck and look into the passenger window where the little dog is. Who knows what he says, but he says something. He then walks back in our direction, crosses the street again, walks up the shady pathway of the park, crosses a busier street, turns up the sidewalk and walks a short distant where he stops and takes no time to choose a table at an outside cafe where he will have supper. It seems he has been there before. I stand up to have a better view of the man and see him sitting there and feel content for him. He’s alone on a Saturday evening, in his work clothes, his cap still on, staring into a menu, and we can forget about him. 

An hour later we will come back to our car and see the man’s pickup truck still in the corner, the passenger window rolled down a crack. We walk closer to the truck and suddenly see movement as the white of the little dog’s eyes gaze out at us. He’s tucked into a compact car seat all his own, waiting, acutely aware, with those searching eyes. He’s changed my mind forever about little dogs.

Stonemason — you’re probably wondering what is all this talk about a little dog? What’s the importance of little? Look in your hand at the all important stone shim you hold — how with this little stone it balances what’s big.

Bill Porter (Red Pine), Bob & Susan Arnold, Vermont


Today we drove north to an orchard we haven’t been to in decades and walked the soft farm path a quarter-mile out to their blueberries and picked twenty pounds on a gentle hillside of blazing sunshine cooled with an intermittent breeze. It couldn’t get any more ideal. And I’m not asking for it to be any more ideal. Here it is. 

After blueberries, we stopped at a used clothing store where the proprietor was very pregnant. We overheard her tell someone she has had a child every seven years, and now she’s forty-four; this rings more in our ears a few miles down the road when we stop at a farmstand we like and pick up a half-dozen ears of corn, the first of the season. It will most likely be hard yellow and tough, but we don’t care — it’s been eight long winter months since we’ve tasted fresh corn.

We run into an old acquaintance while there and share mutual recent news like her son has finally moved out of the house, and that we were just made grandparents. This delights the woman to congratulate us but she doesn’t quite understand we can’t jump for joy with her since our bellies are sloshing with fermented blueberries we’ve gobbled like good bears a half hour earlier, and we also have the very pregnant woman back at the used clothing store on our minds. We want the woman, now somewhat old for an expectant mother, to be able to have her baby, safe and true.  

In another hour we’ll be in a northern Massachusetts town, quite old, Colonial and actually a little eerie, bicycling the region six, seven or eight miles, we can’t keep track, because we’re simply exploring and looking and poking around. You can get into places all over America on a bicycle where you aren’t permitted on foot. Would you rather see someone roll into your driveway on a bicycle, or wander in on foot? Right, on a bicycle, it looks friendly and usually is friendly, and on my bicycle I can get into backlots, back streets, backyards, and see where stonework is best at play as old barn foundations, mill cribbing, boundary lines, fences, steps that turn, and disappear into foliage or flowers, grand slate on house roofs. I’m wheeling by, having a look.

Bob carrying out logs cut on the river after
Hurricane Irene

The stone builders are going to take care of themselves. They don’t need a book to learn how to handle, move, and place stone. But they do need a heart for it, and the stone will follow.

I always liked what William Saroyan had to say, “Take it as it comes — soon enough the past, the present, and the future will be the time it is.”

Little Layla will now keep Carson in clover for the next twenty years. When he’s fifty, he’ll again look up and around. She’s his eyes for now.

Colleen & Michael Hettich

Gerald & Lorry Hausman

Mike Luster & Otis

An Afterword

The original book On Stone, published in 1988, is now out of print and I figured there is no better time to reissue both the original text of the book, along with an expanded text and many dozens new photographs — and may as well change the title for this new edition while I’m at it — then when having a granddaughter come into the world out of the life of our son, Carson, the little critter running around throughout the first book.

So there we have it.

It’s Fall 2013 and we’ve just torn apart the porch I built thirty years ago. The pressure treated lumber on that framing is as sound as the day I notched them into place, but the PT used on a staircase between a lower and upper porch turned out to be bad stuff, from an entirely different lumberyard, and maybe I should have known better. I took the staircase apart. And with everything clear on the original deck of the first floor porch I’m slowly devising a sun room idea…it seems almost common sense to now have this constructed. It’ll buffer the northeastern wall of our already challenged old Colonial house, which means both the living room and the small cellar. It will also shorten what snow shoveling we’ll have to do when we step out the door. Nothing like a roof. Maybe steel. In the summer we like red cedar shakes or shingles on a new roof plan; by winter we sure like our slippery and sliding steel roofs. Let’s watch to see who wins that argument in my head. Susan is building this structure with me.

J.D. Whitney, Lisa Seale, Jonathan Greene
Kim Dorman

The work over late summer~fall is to find used materials — primarily casement sash or tall sturdy barn sash windows with many panes. The room will remain as a sun room with no extra headache of heating the space. Like the small kitchen library I built off from our kitchen a few winters back we enjoy the room eight or nine months of the year and then simply shut its door and let it hibernate winter away. We live in two rooms downstairs with whatever heat drifts from the first floor woodstoves into the upstairs, while the rest of the house has become overgrown by our bookshop and personal libraries. The books don’t mind the cold. I continue to work in an unheated tool room where you can’t even swing a cat, but I can still dance a few steps in there with Susan. I carry my table saw outdoors to work, a roughened up Makita on legs.

some photographs by Susan Arnold
& others

Stone Hut
a builder's notebook
Bob Arnold
1988, 2013