Stone Walls

I’m spending Memorial Day building a stone retaining wall in my front yard. Three thoughts come to mind:

I meant to start this retaining wall about ten years ago. That seems to be a long time to put something off. Then again, this particular project was never very important to me. It’s going to make the front yard look better, but I figured as long as I got it done before my time was up, I’d be satisfied. Well, I don’t think my time is going to be up soon, but I’m glad I’ve bitten the bullet on this project. Are there other projects sharing a similar standing with me? Sure. These are dreams. “One day I will…” or “I’d really like to…”

Second, I’ve gotten quite rusty at building stone walls. The stones I am using are random. Many are twenty or thirty pounds, and spherical like glacial till often is. So the rocks are not ideal. But stone wall building is an art, and people who are good have a skill that the rest of us do not. Is it rocket science to build stone walls? No. Could I lead a satisfying life if I spent my days building stone walls? No. Should I have hired someone else to build this stone wall? No.

And third, stone wall construction could be easier with computers. Fitting together a stone wall requires figuring out jigsaw puzzle relationships between oddly shaped objects. Each stone added to a wall needs to fit well in a certain place. The visible side of the wall should be as planar as possible. The top should be level and flat. If I somehow scanned each stone and ran an algorithm that checked the wall for the optimum location and orientation of the next stone, I bet I could build a better wall, faster. As it is, stone wall building is both a physical and mental challenge. It’s a simple way to go about producing something that has great intrinsic value, but little utility. It’s really a good metaphor for the way life has changed now that we are all interested in efficient production.

Follow Mike Sealander, Maine Licensed Architect:


Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.