Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thursday's Children 10/25/12 Stone Walls

Before I got sidetracked by Halloween and horseback riding analogies, I had been posting about how houses inspire and inform my writing.
The same thing is true of the larger environment.
Here's the first in a series about settings.

Maine, and New England generally, are in my blood. Our connection goes back to the seventeenth century when some of my ancestors settled in what would eventually become Salem. They probably should have stayed in England - their decision proved quite disastorous in 1692.

The landscapes I grew up with and love are bordered by forests, the Atlantic, and a superimposed grid of stone walls. Sometimes these fences are odes to OCD perfectionism, other times they are barely recognizable as purposeful structures, and look more like some giant left a trail of stones, much as Hansel and Gretel left breadcrumbs.
It's especially easy to spot these relics of early farming life in autumn and winter, when the foliage is gone. Many times Nature has taken over the fields they once bordered, and turned open land back into woods.

Sometimes an artifact even more dramatic appears, like a foundation or this - a naturally deposited slab of granite that during the early eighteenth century formed the rear wall of a dwelling. The rock is called Tyler's Back. The Tyler family ran a mill along what is now called Tyler Brook. It's about two miles from my house. Not far from here a woman was killed by the former landowners, Abenakis.

Stone walls are often the only remaining evidence of early settlers. The cycle of freeze and melt in this latitude pushes up a new crop of boulders every spring. Finding building materials was never an issue.

In 1939 a mining engineer used USDA historical data to estimate that there were 240,000 miles of stone walls in New England. That's almost ten times around the equator, or all the way to the moon. 
That's IF the walls were in a straight line. But of course they aren't. They were built to mark property lines and to corral livestock.

According to one estimate, the labor involved would have built the Pyramids of Egypt one hundred times over.

The formula is simple in dry masonry: one stone over two, two stones over one.

The effort required however, is back-breaking.
Have you ever lifted fifty pound hunks of granite for hours at a time?

A little over a mile from my house

Writing and building a stone wall aren't dissimilar.
You select your parameters (plot, setting, characters) and you decide where you want this wall to begin and end. What you want to keep in. And what you want to keep out.

Then you begin the hard work of stone over two, two stones over one,
only in this case words are your rocks.
When you're done you've built something that defines and contains a world of its own.
If you've built it with care and skill, it may be admired long after you're gone,
even long after anyone who actually knew you is gone.

Tell us what inspires your writing.


  1. Wow, what a beautiful place you live in! I can totally see Unquiet Souls taking place here! I'll try to avoid the water, though ;-)

  2. I love the stonewall. I can see why it inspires you. It's a great setting. I've got a woods near where I live that I'd like to use in a story. I should follow your example and take pictures.

    1. Yes, absolutely you should! My photos act like notes for story ideas/settings. You know, the whole one picture = 1000 words thing. Thanks for joining the hop. Going to check out your post now :)

  3. I use my photos as story notes too! And as much as I love Michigan, I have to say, Maine looks absolutely breathtaking. I really need to take a road trip out there some day. I love stonework anything, but I have a special fondness for field stone houses and walls.

    I love the analogy of building stories being like building walls. Right now, I need some more rocks...

    1. You and me both-or at least I will, once I get done rearranging rocks in my current projects, lol. I do love Maine, we're moving in June to No. Carolina and I am freaking out inside. It's going to feel like cutting off an arm.

  4. Hey Rhiann! I'm tagging YOU. I want to hear about your next WIP.