Monday, May 4, 2020


Winter then spring was the title of an early poem of mine,
a poem I always liked, and a time of year I've always looked forward to.
This winter into spring Susan broke her ankle on February 10th
while hiking through snow to fetch a funnel from the work truck
while we worked in the woods. I'll never forget her scream.

I had a doctor's appointment and took Susan along
for my doctor to take a peek at Susan's badly bruised and swollen ankle,
swollen to the size of an eggplant — he thought it might be a bad sprain 
and asked us if we wanted to get x-rays of the ankle. 
That's often a bad sign when a doctor is asking you!

In an air cast Susan walked on the "sprain" for a week
until unbearable was unbearable, including the doctor's
front office who at one point was arguing with Susan
because she was now insisting on having x-rays.
Another doctor stepped in and x-rays were given.

Broken ankle. Getting away from one doctor and into
the hands of a surgery team was another winter into spring
moment (bliss), as we climbed the stairs up to the surgery team's 
office we were greeted by a nurse who asked,
"How are you walking?"

Susan entered surgery and post-exams, casts, x-rays etc
all happened as the first Covid-19 face masks appeared
in the hospital waiting rooms, foyers and elevators.
We came home to the woods for two months and
counting of isolation, or hermitage.

In that time I took care of Susan, who crawled around
this 220 year old New England farmhouse on her hands
and knees (with my work knee pads) — I'll never take for
granted the ankle again — hospital issued crutches
were put aside; I bought Susan nice cushioned blue ones.

I also went back to work at carpentry, stone work
and tree work from March through April —
listened to the river break open from its ice for good,
heard the titmouse song come closer, followed
the crows in the sky, barked back at them.

The first building job was a little roof over the Ranger Station,
all used materials I had on hand, including the cedar shingles.
My stencil work attached the new work into the old work all over again.

Next was to buck up a blown down ash tree up in the
woodlot and cart it home with the Ranger. I hand-split
everything up at the job site as usual and stacked the wood
in my customary cairn style roundness.

Before I built this sunroom (seven years ago) we had a stairway
I built from a lower deck to the upstairs bedroom porch. I removed
the old stairway, built the sunroom (from field stone walls I built
when younger and now stole back to make this building) and always
wanted a stairway some day again. As far as the month of March goes,
this one was fairly benign and I was able to drive the Ranger up into
the woodlot where I felled one good size hemlock tree which I
liked because it had a slight sway to its length and I thought
might make an ideal log ladder. I built the ladder all from
one tree. Skinned it at home and set the ladder up.
The bark was later used for kindling.

Here's the finished ladder. Beside its friend the rain barrel.
 The flat rock at the base weighs as much as two of me. 
I took it from the front of the Studio where I once placed it in 
as an ideal sun rock to sit or lay down on. Susan would come
out on her crutches on the sunniest day and do just that.
When I took it away for the log ladder, I had other plans for the Studio.

But first, it's been six weeks, three casts, and now it was
time to remove Susan's final cast, the one that was on the longest.
I had stenciled all the casts but in this photograph you don't see any
pretty stenciled cast, it looks like a crime scene. The surgery team
has a special saw to remove the casts. I had my tool box of hand tools.
Most people seeing me come in with a chisel would ask, "What's
that for?" Susan just smiled.

I have plans to build a wrap around deck for the Studio but before
I get onto that job I wanted to treat all the log work I built into The Lookout,
a two storey and multiple decked cottage built on the nose of ledge, actually
the same ledge that backs the wall of the stone hut you can see in the background
that I built in 1985. I plan to talk a great deal more about The Lookout one day,
maybe write a book about its construction. It was my job site in 2019
from April-November.

Now to the Studio, which I built in 2001 with my teenage son Carson.
It was time to tear down into this building and see how the foundation was
holding up (fine) and see about building a wrap-around porch. Everything
starts at ground level, on your knees, there is plenty of stone
to move out and also into place, including that huge flat rock at the
base of the log ladder, and stone steps I built just a few years ago
and I had plans to keep in place until I started framing the porch.
As you frame, everything becomes a new frame to look through.

If you look at the center of this starter frame work you can
see the stone steps I was planning to keep, in fact the stone
stayed there until I had half the deck built and was a moment away
from cutting down the center of the deck to expose the stone stairway
and I saw it was a bad idea — better to keep the new and long and
sleek first half of the wrap around deck and build new stone steps
elsewhere. Elsewhere will be found as you go.

Here is the 90 degree turn for the wrap-around deck
and as I framed with lumber I followed along and laid up the stone work 
underneath. I love using log posts with large flat stone footings because it's
all around me, I'm in Vermont, and the pressure-treated lumber costs enough.

Those log posts will be eventually brushed stained dark
and in time, when we can get into a store, I'll find just the
stone hue color I'm after to blend the log work into the stone.
It's plenty strong. It's now all about pleasing the eye.

There is nothing like simple balance.

Or a level world 

All along I am saving just the right stone and rock for the new
stone steps. Stone is flat with at least one fine looking face to it,
rock are the knuckleheads. Rock is sometimes how you sum up
what you're looking at here, a rock pile. A stone pile doesn't sound right.
That original stone steps I built at the front of the studio have now all
been moved out and brought to this rock pile. They're talking to one another,
waiting to see what I'm going to do with them.

I'm working on this day at the height of the Covid-19 "quarantine"
and I can't believe the amount of bicyclists, joggers, hikers, cars,
trucks, many from out of state, are slowly drifting by. There's the river
we love to the right of this photograph and at least half the passersby
are looking up and waving to me. I wave back. 
I don't know them. They don't know me. 
In fifty years in this same spot I have never seen this many people, 
or as many happy people. One pick-up truck
slowed down, window down, and is studying where I am working.
The driver shouts up to me, "You do good work!" 
Gotta wave back.

I build with wood, have since I was ten years old, but it's stone work
that is my calling, so as I'm framing in this porch deck I take a
break and start shoving stone into place, all to allow me a
certain eyeball as to what sort of stone steps I'll finally get into
place. The quality of the stone is essential, important, and I
don't have the best in this region, but I'll do my best.

Rest your back.
Smile at the camera.

I now have the porch deck all squared up,
turned right, and screwed down. The stone is happy.
I want Susan to be able to step up onto the new deck with
little trouble as she remains wobbly on the new ankle.
This is a good day to begin laying down the large, heavy stones.
The sun is landing on the stone just right.

While I have been building this porch deck, up behind the studio
are a dozen logs I cut out of the woodlot last fall waiting 
to be peeled: cherry and pine. I plan to use all the cherry as structural
posts for the porch and roof. This deck will be all undercover. I've
also built a small road at the backside of the studio to open up an old stone wall
I built in my thirties and that wall I removed to give me the
stone for this porch. I left enough stone back there to build
a stone cairn sculpture some time in May.

The new road also allows access to this drop-down frame
which will become a small woodshed to hold one cord
of wood. I'll extend the original lean-to shed you can see here,
something I built a few years ago for equipment and storage,
and this little woodshed will be a fine strong ender
for the new porch. We'll be able to access the firewood
from all three left-open sides. A roof will be there to keep all dry.

Here's the view from the second storey porch 
down to the Studio and the new porch deck, also showing the woodshed
I built a few years ago and it's all important overhang arch which is ideal
to store lumber for on-going building projects, and by late Fall, a perfect
location to stack up two cord of firewood for immediate use. The woodshed
itself is stacked tight with eight cords of firewood. There is another woodshed
out of the photograph just as big and just as full of firewood and attached to
the house that we use regularly. The woodshed you are looking at
is Mr Back-up.

Now to lay in stone.
There is no guide.
You feel it as you work.
Big stone and little stones
love one another.

A wheelbarrow load of pea stone
is pennies from heaven.
Set it in under stone, next to stone,
it allows water to drain and
stone to breathe.

Down on hands and knees
is the best view.
Two wide steps are built
and there will be a third.

The third step is there,
it's just not set in.

You wear work gloves, wisely, until you
just have to have a better feel of the rock,
mostso working in the smaller stone shims.
Off go the gloves.

That hand-cart, now at my age, saves my life.
That stone hammer on the ground has been with me 50 years.

Not often, but some times, I'll shape a stone
but usually I like to use what I have as I find
it and then find its home. When the stone fits
into place, it's to my mind, as beautiful
as any well made poem.

Kind of a distorted bottom step with those
wedge pieces between the two large stones
which I am trying to like and every day I'm
liking it more and more. One day in the woods
working I'm going to find just the rock to bring
home to fit into that cleft. Or I won't.

Susan came out and went right up those new stone
steps on her new ankle. Passed inspection. These
two roustabouts are what greet me when I come in
after work. It's lovely to see Susan back on her two legs.
Kokomo wants me to feed him.

 Bob Arnold

May Day 2020

photographs © by Susan & Bob Arnold 


"Hypaethral" is a word Thoreau uses in my favorite
book of his "A Week On the Concord and Merrimack Rivers"
(1849) describing the book as "a hypaethral or unroofed book,
lying open under the ether and permeated by it, open to all
weathers, not easy to be kept on a shelf." 
Naturally, the book for Thoreau remained unsold.

(for the moment)