The logical story of my becoming acquainted with stone would have stone walls threading through Vermont woods as its theme but truth is stranger than fiction. I came to stone in the canyons of New York City skyscrapers. I was in the city for college from 1969-72. During my last winter there I worked as a bicycle messenger, locating addresses, walking through lobbies, riding elevators. I got to know the buildings of Manhattan and what they’re made of. In the city I became aware of stone’s variety, in type and use.
When I came to work on Rice Mountain my NYC experiences came flooding back. The eclectic mix and match of building stone found along those streets and avenues was all there on the mountain, in the Bone Yard. Mr. Berg’s work in Manhattan over the years exposed him to many acts of architectural destruction and desecration. It pained him to see perfectly good stone, artifacts from by-gone building eras, being carted off to the landfill. It became his personal quest to salvage, save and reuse architectural stone. He collected what he could and eventually brought it to Rice Mountain. The bone yard became my candy store, where I could choose unique pieces of stone to incorporate into designs for hardscaping the garden.
Stone was ferried from supply piles to work site in the loader bucket of a John Deere tractor. Behind the wheel was Leo, a bowlegged, chain-smoking Franco-American. I would shift the stone I wanted into the bucket by hand. Leo would dump it where I was working. The moonscape of exposed bedrock sometimes posed a problem for tractor traction, especially under wet conditions but Leo negotiated the terrain with care and always managed to arrive exactly where I needed the stone. In appearance Leo looked like someone who’d spent his teen years fixing up hot rods and listening to 50’s rock and roll, which he probably did. Thirty years later he still turned his collar up and combed his hair duck tail style. When he finished a cigarette he snuffed out the butt on his pant leg and carefully deposited it between the cellophane wrapper and soft-pack of his Winston’s. Mrs. Berg didn’t like seeing cigarette butts on the ground so this was his way of accommodating her wishes. As the work day wore on his shirt pocket emptied of cigarettes and filled with butts.
Years before he became the caretaker on Rice Mountain Leo had worked quarrying red sandstone in Connecticut. It was an old abandoned quarry that was briefly reopened specifically to supply blocks to be sawed into veneer to clad a new building on the campus of New York University. As he told the story of the red sandstone I knew exactly which building he was talking about. I distinctly remembered watching Bobst Library (1968-72) rise on Washington Square as I bicycled around lower Manhattan delivering messages. While we may have met for the first time on Rice Mountain, in a curious way, Leo and I had already been brought together by stone.