Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Working in stone.

A friend of mine up north owns a beautiful old stone house on a small lake. It was designed and built, rock upon rock, by an old Finn named Arvid more than sixty years ago, and his work is purely and simply art. The place is holding up well, but there was one defunct doorway my friend wanted to close off—to make part of the stonework—and he wanted to do it in Arvid’s style.

You don’t find master stonemasons just anywhere these days, but after asking around, he finally found the right guy—a man about fifty—a poet who works in granite, not words.

My friend and I stood and watched the man work the other day. He is infinitely patient and deliberate, and he melds his stonework into Arvid’s with respect for the old Finn and an understanding of how he worked.

The two men never met. It’s just one stone man reading the work of another, appreciating the thought and craftsmanship, matching the style right down to the mortar mix.

It’s no small feat. Arvid built perfectly flat walls with square corners. So this isn’t just a matter of piling up rocks and slathering them in concrete. Every stone has to be studied and hand-split. It’s a matter of finding the flat plane embedded in the rock, then using a hammer and cold chisel to reveal it.

Over the years, the man has acquired a reverence for the stone. He says every piece of granite is a billion-year-old living thing.

Each stone has a place in the wall—a spot where it is meant to be. If not in the row he is working on, then further up. Like art, or music—or writing come to think of it—it’s a matter of composition—of harmony—of aesthetics.

There’s a feeling that radiates off someone who has moved beyond mastery—a humility and happiness—a contented wisdom and timelessness that makes you go all philosophical—even if you just stand there and watch. I’ve been feeling that feeling all week long.

What’s a couple hundred years in a wall to a rock with a billion year resume?

Somewhere an old Finlander named Arvid is smiling.