Half Dome

My first dry stone walls for Mrs. Berg’s gardens were built to support terraced planting beds. I gathered stone for the steps and walls from talus slopes lying under ledge outcrops on a wooded mountainside in Townshend, Vermont. I discovered the gold mine of building material while working for the property owners a few years previous. Jon and Anne not only encouraged me in my early career but allowed me to purchase raw materials from their land at a reasonable price. With the help of excavation contractors, Archie and Winn Clark of Newfane, I drew hundreds of tons of stone down from Tobey’s mountain and trucked it up to the top of the Berg’s.

The terrace walls needed to be practical for walking on and through, so there would naturally be steps and pathways included in the design. They also wanted to be interesting, spatially. Inclusion of the half-dome niche in the design was a response to what would otherwise have been a large, unvarying section of wall surface. The creation of the concave feature was also a response to the offerings of the bone yard. An impressive heap of granite cobbles, salvaged from the streets of Bellows Falls, informed the decision to make the unique vaulted shape.

While I labored under the summer sun in the stark topography of the bedrock covered entrance area, others were at work on the house construction. One individual seem to assign himself specialty carpentry projects, and at the same time, generally keep tabs on everything else that was going on. Bill was a tall drink of water from deep in the heart of Texas. Before retiring to spend his summers tinkering for the fun of it on Rice Mountain, Bill was an engineer who’s family business did large-scale projects all over the world. His Texas twang and easy manner made him a welcome addition to the cast of “employed” characters on site. When I began making the false-work form that the cobblestone dome would be erected over, Bill helped me devise a shape made out of plywood fins and sand bags. The sandbags prompted a story from Bill. One of the projects his firm contracted was the dredging of a harbor in the Middle East. His company came up with a method that sucked the sand off the sea floor and shot it, cannon-like, a half mile out into the bay. This was the quality of mind I had at my disposal for finding solutions to my very basic design problems! Bill helped me invent the processes that made the “one of a kind” projects I was doing there, possible. But most of all, for me and others, his presence on site was a daily spirit-lifter.