Stone Puzzling

This time of year lends itself to quiet activities around the home hearth. Maybe one of the holiday gifts you received was a picture puzzle, and the time has come to tackle it. How do you start a jigsaw puzzle? Maybe, digging through the box to find all the edge and corner pieces is the preferred process. Then there’s the tried and true method of spilling the box out on a table and flipping all the pieces picture-side up to pick out and make collections of pieces that display a similar color or pattern.

However you go about it, the goal, from start to finish, is to order chaos. With every piece that’s successfully interlocked with another, the chaos subsides and the order grows. Each connection is barely noticeable but it moves the project toward the goal and offers a small, momentary satisfaction.

The eye guides the fingers and the ear hears the soft “click” of the perfect fit. A jigsaw puzzle piece excites the senses. It engages the imagination through its possibilities. Before the picture is complete, each small piece will have had its 15 seconds of fame. It will have attracted the attention of a mind at play by becoming a curiosity, a frustration, a triumph; perhaps all three before settling into place.

Unlike jigsaw puzzle pieces, stones aren’t predestined to a place in a dry stone construction.

The pile of loose stone that tumbles out of a dump truck, or, is scattered across the ground at a gap in an old field wall, does, like a boxed puzzle, have pictorial potential, order can come from the chaos, but the final result will be new, never seen in exactly that way before.

A stone wall builder creates the puzzle as they complete it. The way each piece is picked and positioned answers an immediate question and offers up a new one. Every choice invites another. Action in the moment reduces the work ahead while increasing the choices to be made. Though the labor is demanding, it’s tempered by the gifts brought by doing it. Many small satisfactions weld themselves into the gratification of a desire to complete the picture of a stone wall settled into its place on the land.

As an introduction to my recent presentations at Northern Green, the premier green industry event in the north central region, I compared dry stone walling to jigsaw puzzle solving. The audiences were attentive and appreciative, which made my time talking about the art and craft of stonework easy and pleasurable. Our thanks go out to Susan Flynn and Tyler Grissman for inviting me to Minneapolis, and to Dan Peterson and Daniel Arabella, and to everyone else who made us feel welcome, honorary members of the Minnesota landscaping and stone community.