The Nature of Walls

Photo: Jonathan Olley
Photo: Jonathan Olley

BUILDING a dry-laid stone wall is an exercise in patience. The first step is to figure out where the wall goes on the land. To do this well you need to decide what the wall has to do. Does it retain earth behind it? Is it free-standing? Does it mark a boundary? Then you have to choose the stone.

After varying amounts of effort and the expenditure of a significant amount of money, you face a rather daunting and even poetic situation: you must make order from a chaotic pile of perhaps a hundred tons of stones of various shapes and sizes. They sit heavy on the ground. When you build a wall you have to arrange and stack them. Usually they are placed on a foundation of compacted gravel dumped in a trench, and as a general rule I lay the biggest stones low in the wall. Then the stacking and bonding starts. It took me a few years to learn how to find the “face” of the stone. It is easier now.

The most important trait needed to turn an enormous pile of stones into a wall is not strength, though it helps. It is persistence. The wall in progress is a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that on completion can last for hundreds if not thousands of years, and it all gets built a little bit at a time.

When you examine a wall, the skill of the mason becomes obvious straightaway. Are the joints bridged? Are there bonding stones that go deep into the wall? Do the stones fit well? I have studied walls for the past decade or so. They have a beautiful logic of stacking and solidity. They are fixed, but when laid righteously they are flexible. They can move in a fluid way along mountains, as do the agricultural terraces in South America, or they can anchor a people to history, as does the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Though the requirements, materials, techniques, and design of walls are as varied as the people who build them, all walls have one thing in common.

They all fail.

The barbarians eventually get through. The city gets sacked.

Water undermines the foundation and the terrace crumbles. The excluded arrive. The contained escape. Time and nature always win. Now we dig below ground to find the traces of the proud stones that once lifted the ambitions of their builders into the sky and held the threat — be it famine, flood, or invasion — at bay for a short while.

When I stack a wall, I imagine the specific threats to its stability. Is the ground around the wall shaped to shed water?

Is there a way out for the water that builds up behind a wall?

Are there tree roots or foundation faults that will endanger sections of the wall?

The process of imagining failure leads to a better wall every time. In addition, it becomes a creative driver of the specific form of the wall. These problems require solutions, and to make a good wall is to adjust to these specifics. Of course, there are terminal failures awaiting my walls that I cannot imagine, and some of the threats I dream up will never come to pass. These efforts are not a waste. They help me to animate my little projects, and they have led to some larger-scale thinking.

When you build walls, you have plenty of time to think. The focus of my thought has been on walls of the mythic past, like the Servian Wall in Rome. In the West, ancient walls like that are early examples of a practice that continues to be important to this day: walls are the way that people mark their place on the land. Those walls mark a critical point of intersection between ancient culture and nature. Ancient walls made a magic circle inside of which the accepted rites of “the people” were performed. They marked an exact line where culture met the raw matrix of what we consider the natural and the ancients saw as a supernatural world. Where citizen rubbed up against enemy. Where the city both touched and turned away from the wild. The prime inheritance of this beginning is that culture is “us” and nature is “other.”

Defensive walls, however, have an overlooked consequence. A wall designed to keep something out has to restrict whomever it is protecting within its confines. While it seems a success that nothing can breach the walls and give threat, in the end the walls will fall — and in the meantime their standing creates a deadly problem: people held within the walls are trapped with whatever internal threats the walls contain.

If nature’s story were to have a brief synopsis it would be this: life, cataclysm, survival, adaptation, and regeneration. The natural world and evolution have a robust and proven track record of several billion years. Humanity, in contrast, is new and frail, and our many cultures are just a tiny part of this brief human history. The modern defensive walls we have set against nature — be they engineered, medical, military, or religious — seem designed more to maintain the illusion that we are in control and in a privileged position than to resolve the underlying tension of our own insignificance and our inevitable failure to overcome death.

The “other” is surely a threat. Life is fatal. But I am worried that the walls we have built to keep us safe preclude our participation in the world that surrounds us. To hold to our internal “us” identity, we reject the external signs of our similarity to the foreign “other.” Trapped behind the security line between nature and culture, humanity stagnates in a swamp of self-reference, where the signs from without are discounted and the signs from within overblown.

What possibilities await if we consider that we are the “other” as we are “us”? We are trained to take comfort within the walls of culture, but I am afraid those walls, like all others, are failing. Insomuch as these walls reinforce our detachment from nature, we are less for our desperate efforts to shore them up.

Jon Piasecki is a landscape architect and stonemason for his company, Golden Bough, in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Comments

  1. I loved this article, but it had a different meaning for me than the nature/community meaning of the author. I’ve had mcs (multiple chemical sensitivities) for 27 years which requires that I live my life largely cut off from society, and so much of the article had a lot of meaning for me because of this … I live in a place where I can luckily spend a lot of time on uninhabited offshore islands and I feel more at home on that side of the wall than on the community side of the wall, which I am shut out of by chemicals …

  2. A couple years ago I took Canadian Literature at University of Manitoba. My final project was based on a poem by John Newlove called “Ride Off Any Horizon”. I did a sequence of photos that portrayed the false horizons we provide for ourself to make us feel more secure, and argued that by losing sight of the natural horizon we lost a connection with something far bigger, and far more meaningful than the walls we have erected. I would like to contribute that poem to this discussion of walls. It’s quite long, so I won’t include it, but please take a minute to look it up. I found it really hit home.

  3. It is refreshing and liberating to be reminded that walls, however cleverly crafed or aggressively fortified, do seem to always fail.

    Yet, it seems to me that when a wall fails, another always takes its place. If one wall fails, in its place another always succeeds. So, perhaps walls do not simply always fail. Maybe there’s just always a wall.

    It’s weird to say it, but walls succeed and fail at the same time because they are not just ‘things’ but relationships. They are, in other words, a medium, and like a relationship, they exist, remain intact, and function, while never totally succeeding or totally failing. They’re contradictory. They more effectively mediate between some things (success) and less effectively with others (failure). Put slightly differently, they always fail and they always succeed. And either way, they always exist, for without them–without relationships–It, This, and We would be meaningless.

    To help anything thrive in this world, I think it doesn’t help to be afraid of walls. And ecologically speaking, it certainly doesn’t help to be afraid of the wall between nature and culture. It is the romantic fear of culture that perfectly reinforces this very wall. Is it not apparent yet that this wall, this relationship, does not work? Without the individualized romance and heroism of nature vs. culture, without the traditional fears–from either side–that sustain this bankrupt dichotomy–we pragmatics can build some walls and relationships that help things, as best we can see, live and thrive.

  4. Jon Piasecki seems more an architect of the mind. A lovely and deep article! I feel a local identity for all of us is a must; without it we may not be able live. But we must remember that this identity is a temporary gift given to us to be used sparingly. If we hold it close to our chest, never letting go of it at least for brief periods in our everyday life, we lost our global identity where the ‘other’ becomes myself.

    Once again it’s a great article.

  5. The author mentioned a lot of walls but unfortunately he did mention the unique walls that were built over 5000 years ago – that is before Stonehenge, the pyramids and the great wall of China.

    These walls that were used to build temples that are found on the Maltese Islands right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.

    It must be mentioned that limestone is a wonderful stone with which to build a building.

  6. Hello to all of you who commented.

    I wrote that article. And I am so touched that you all took the time to comment and think about it.

    You have made my day.

    Thanks

    Jon

  7. As an old nature mystic I spent many years trying to live as close to nature as possible. I lived in a tipi for several months. The sides are raised for air when the weather is warm, the earth is the floor, the sky visible through the smoke hole which is adjusted to accommodate the wind and at night our silhouettes are visible from outside. I’ve also lived in a yurt with windows all around and it was a similar feeling so my experiences with living within walls during that time in my life was that they were interpenetrable with my environment.

    I loved the article and the thoughts behind it but I just wanted to say that in my experience walls are not necessarily all that solid.

    And also, to Kathi, now I have MCS too and live in a city which is very difficult and if it were not for the very solid walls of my centrally heated and air conditioned apartment, I could not survive. Now I am glad that my walls are not interpenetrable with my environment! I’m writing about environmental matters in my blog at http://goodwordswan.wildflowerstew.com

  8. To Laura

    What an amazing and eloquent poem. Thank you.

    To Kathi

    I hope the people that think walls work so well never decide to use chemical walls. Maybe they already do. Please enjoy those offshore islands.

  9. To Zachary

    One common working assumption is that there is a line between nature and culture. This line has troubled me.It seems to me that there is a problem intrinsic to any duality. You can’t have one without the other.You can’t reason yourself out of the box if you can’t entertain the notion of destroying the box. You can’t destroy the box if you exist only in reference to the box.
    This is very hard.

  10. To Ramesh

    Thank you. It was my intention to use walls as a vehicle to examine mind.

  11. To Paul
    Beside my drafting table I have 10 little postcards that I look at at times for inspiration.Three are from Malta. I have the Hypogeum,an overview of the Ggantija temples on Gozo, and one detailing the alignment of the temples of Hagar Qim. They are unique in the world and they predate and are perhaps markers of a very different attitude toward nature than I addressed in my article. I am very interested in this other attitude and am trying to learn about it. I have not been and would love to see them.

  12. To Rebecca

    I find it amazing that 2 people with MCS commented on this.I don’t know anything about this condition. Is it that the biology of you is recoiling from the chemical residuals of our culture?

    I think you are right that walls need not be solid. One of my favorite not solid wall is called a whistling wall
    built by Native Americans on Martha’s Vineyard. They have lots of holes and they whistle in the wind. I am not sure that this is true but i like to think that the Natives, who were essentially enslaved by the colonists to build the walls, took the opportunity to provide the wind the opportunity to sing while they were forced to build the very markers (the walls) that disenfranchised them from their land.

  13. Dear Sir,

    Your claim is that walls always fail. Certainly walls fail, but often after much time, and after much success.

    The citizens of East Berlin, of Ramallah, of North Korea; the two million Americans behind bars; and the exploited in every country regularly experience just how resilient and successful walls really are. Perhaps the grandchildren of the imprisoned will walk free; too late, I think, for the imprisoned.

    Your metaphor is touching, but rings hollow in a country with the highest imprisonment rates in the history of the world.

  14. Dear Bill,

    You are right.

    I like to imagine and work towards a world where those walls will come down. I had hoped my opinion on the ultimate futility of such containment
    would be clear. Perhaps i failed.

    Sorry,

    Jon

  15. Jon,
    I understood you to be using walls and the metaphor of walls to argue that the more we distance ourselves from Nature, from “the outside”, the less dynamic, well-rounded people we become. I appreciated this argument and thought it was a well-timed article in a world where Progress is measured by the expansion of our concrete jungles. The discussion of walls can go far beyond nature and culture even to walls being icons of separation and hate, as Bill has noted. But I think in any case, walls are less about understanding, freedom, and community, and more about separation, entrapment, and fear.

  16. Hi Laura

    That was amazingly well said.

    I think walls and the division they represent and provide are a vestige of an earlier cultural rapport with nature. Sadly, in my opinion, it has morphed into a negation of the natural world. Religion and materialism have conspired to undo nature, energized by this ancient nature/culture animosity first sighted in print in the epic of Gilgamesh.

    I am afraid the progression might go like this:

    culture defines itself in opposition to nature/ culture expands erasing nature/ culture collapses/ nature wins (there are no people)

    I would prefer the following progression:

    culture defines itself in opposition to nature/ culture expands erasing nature/ culture realizes it is putting itself at risk denying its obvious dependence on nature/ culture realizes it is nature/ culture adapts to this new fusion/ Nature wins (people are still there to play a part.)

    There several fantastic books dealing with this topic from a variety of perspectives which i will list for anyone interested.

    Aby Warburg, The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity

    Walter Burkert, Homo Necans

    George Hersey, The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture

    Robert Harrison, Forests the Shadow of Civilization.

    Sorry to be so long.

    Jon

  17. oops I forgot one of the best books.

    Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

  18. I think Frost said it best:
    “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
    What I was walling in or walling out,
    And to whom I was like to give offence.
    Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
    That wants it down.”

  19. Hi April

    Thanks for that.

    I am not knowledgeable about poetry.
    I build a lot of walls though and I think that is it.

    Jon

  20. Rebecca & Jon:
    I kept watching this too, to see if someone else with mcs would pop up. It was neat to see that someone did …

    I lately watched “Rivers and Tides” for the first time, and saw the amazing wall there … I wondered if you had seen that wall, Jon? Amazing!

    Rebecca: I live in Nova Scotia, and I’m not as dependant on air conditioning here, but I do use it about one month of the year …

    -Kathi

  21. To Rebecca,

    I looked at your link. I thought it interesting that you tied your health to the health of the planet.

    After Kathi’s most recent post I did a cursory web search for MCS. I saw that there are a family of maladies associated with it and that there is some internal discussion as to a biological or psychogenic “cause”.

    I could not find estimates of the number of people affected and would love to know. It seems entirely plausible to me that the synthetic chemistry we spew into our world would negatively impact us in both biological and psychic ways.

    I have noticed lately in a variety of scientific and cultural sources , including Orion, that there is a movement growing examining our lack of exposure to nature and its negative impact on our immune systems and cultural identity. I have, perhaps mistakenly, read this as a critique of our notions of cleanliness. It has spilled over into our funeral customs as well with at least one book, Grave Matters.

    These are intense taboo topics that are deeply etched into our various cultural cores.

    I wonder if perhaps a common fear of death drives these cultural patterns? We are not forever young. We each die, and we rot. Just like road kill racoons or opossums.

    Advertising and cosmetic surgery promise eternal youth and several religions promise an afterlife. We know about embalming and mummies.

    But few people discuss our shared certain death outside a religious or health framework. There is a natural system that reuses each and every molecule of our being again and again and again.

    From a biological perspective if we can imagine being no different than animals, the stuff that is us never goes to waste or goes away.

    It changes forms.

    Maybe we are meat flowers?

    We germinate, grow, flower, set seed, fade and die. Up until now we have provided for the next generation. Maybe that is our calling?

    Maybe that is enough?

    Jon

  22. Jon:
    According to MCS America, “The prevalence of MCS, based on sample populations, provides an estimate of 16% of the population and 33% of Gulf War Veterans who experience chemical hypersensitivity (Gibson, 2005; Meggs et al, 1996).” (The figures are slightly different in Canada, where I am …) You can find out a lot more about MCS at the MCS America website, http://www.mcs-america.org.

    -Kathi

  23. Meat flowers? How Zen . . . however nothing eats us. We are the top of the food chain.

    Sure when we die the body rots – compost – pushing up daisies. In Tibet they practice “celestial burial” – the ground being too rocky and frozen to dig a grave. They chop up the body and throw it to waiting vultures. The vultures are white. It’s quite a visual. Or there is cremation – ashes to ashes. All matter transformed one way or the other.

    But we are talking about more than molecules here. The energy that animates molecules moves on. How aware is the psyche that rides that energy? Who knows?

    I know that my molecules have been affected by the toxic substances my fellow human beings have put into the atmosphere. These substances did not naturally occur. They were deliberately mixed by humans with agendas other than the physical wellbeing of other humans – like to make more money for themselves. They are innately corrupt. This is a corrupt use of human energy.

    Electromagnetic fields are real. Everyone is affected by cell phone towers, for example. The way that influence is manifested is individually unique. I may have migraines from it, you might not have any noticeable symptoms, one of your children might have a genetic change that would not have occurred had you not been affected. There is really no way to trace all this and really no need to. We are already equipped to know what is naturally beneficial to us and what isn’t just like a deer knows not to eat the jimson weed.

    We don’t trust our instincts anymore. That may be our downfall. The building of the wall as you describe it is an elegant example of trusting your intuition. We can do that in everything. We can retrain ourselves to do it.

  24. Hi, Jon –

    I enjoy your way of looking at things – the mingling of human geography, the impact of cultural metaphor, and ecology. And I like that you came to this thought because of your love of building walls – it’s poetic. I could imagine you standing there, puzzling out a stone, thinking about how your wall will be overgrown and buried one day.

    To add to the discussion: I agree that walls, existing to separate, have often been used to separate culture from nature, and that this leads to a blindness and otherness that allows us to rationalize harm. I also agree that all walls fail, eventually. (But, like Bill, I see that walls serve a valuable function while they’re up – that value is why people build them.)

    Where I differ is the interpretation of this separation. You equate the separation that walls bring with the false dichotomy of “culture vs. nature”. But, just because walls HAVE done this doesn’t mean they MUST, or that they ALWAYS do.

    The underlying principle: separation is not opposition. Walls often act as partitions to prevent mixing, the same way cell walls and organelles prevent mixing. The separation of parts allows the functioning of the whole. Plants and animals create their own separations – termite mounds, with different chambers for each function, and defenses; wolf territories with scent-marked boundaries, to avoid conflict; seed pods with strong hulls to stay safe until germination. The concept of ORGAN is tied to the concept of WALL – and, without the chambers of our hearts, our blood would spill out into our chests. That’s probably a good metaphor for it: life itself is made of walls.

    The trick with separation is that our minds DO often confuse it with opposition. And it can also go too far: becoming too rigid to adapt, too tight-fit to move. I don’t hope for walls to end – I hope they’re used well.

  25. Dear Anthony

    What a marvelous letter.

    The false distinction between nature and culture is in my sights.

    I think about it like a pointilist painting. The painting is thousands of dots. Something in our minds puts them together to form an image. I think the calculus that does that inside our heads is prone to cultural priorities and lessons learned.

    For instance In Peru, home to the apex of human stonework, I think the Inca masons were not trying to use walls to make culture separate from nature but were trying to tie their culture to nature with stone as an artistic medium of this endeavour .

    Inca walls were clearly homologous with our western walls in their intent to aggrandize the ruler, and to express mastery over hard stone.
    I think in a way that is very different than most European walls, They were trying to weave their culture to their animate land.

    I think a similar phenomenon is at work in the Maltese walls mentioned in an earlier comment in this discussion.

    A big part of what walls are, is what we make them. They are frequently used to do terrible things.They can do good things too.

    Perhaps it comes down to what we ask from them? Or perhaps what we are able to perceive them doing. And there have been many questions posed to stone by culture, on several continents and in various time periods.

    Thanks again especially for the cellular and organ reference.

    Jon

  26. When Neolithic people lived in huts or caves they did their very best to build unique temples to their gods and the temples were built close to the sea on a hill facing the rising rising sun at its equinox.

    Nature and man’s walls creating a unique environment still vivid today 7,000 years later.

  27. The ancients, however, came to realize what they had lost by building the literal and figurative walls of “civilization” around themselves.

    All mesoAmerican civilizations, other than the ones Europeans later destroyed, abandoned their cities and returned to the wild. These include the Maya, the Olmec, the Toltec, the Hohakam and the Anasazi.

    We, the moderns, are the only civilization which has failed to learn the lesson of your poetic treatise. And even as the walls fall in atop us, we no longer even see them.

  28. i think that we build walls to block out nature but thats not the way to handle it there has to bbe some way we can keep people safe and still enjoy nature! THINK PEOPLE THINK!!!!!!!!!!

  29. Dear Robert

    Thanks for your comment.I am worried that when these walls fall we will feel it severely.

    I once had the good fortune to speak with a great elderly environmentalist. I asked him after his years of work if he saw a way to protect nature. I was much younger and thought there was one cog or gear that could be pulled to bring down the mess we have made and save nature.

    He told me that nature is not really in any danger. It has handled catastrophe before. What is in danger is us.

    The green side wins. The question is will our species be here to see it.

    Jon

  30. Dear Punky,

    I think there are a bunch of ways to do this. I bet there are even more that I can’t even think of. Some are part measures, and all are welcome.

    I wonder about safety though. I know it might seem callous to someone in pressing danger but it seems to me that the one thing all humans, and other biological entities, have in common is that we all die.

    The safest, the richest the best educated, the most at risk the youngest the oldest, democrat, republican, all races, all religions, in every country throughout all time. All die.

    People in Europe and Japan on average live longer than people here. People here live longer on average than people in some less developed places. But that is on average.

    The time will come for each of us to die.

    I do not think that we should in anyway spur this.

    We should work to improve safety, justice, ecological sustainability.We should make a world where each person and other creatures can live to their potential. We should enjoy life and do the great things we are capable of.

    But I think it would be a mistake to assume safety. Perhaps a new way of looking at what has always been the ultimate danger might be helpful.

    Maybe the physical requirements needed to support the presumption that it would be better to live forever,or that we can be forever young, or that each person should live like a king, or that humanity is the apex of evolution ask too much of our world. Perhaps our assumptions about success put all of us people at risk.

    Thanks for writing

    Jon

  31. I am lucky enough to have actually helped make some stone walls, so I found the article especially appealing! The ones I have helped with are within the Mohonk Preserve in upstate New York, and are exclusively made to help reduce erosion of the steep talus slopes.

    Most of our work is covered by dirt, so people might not even know there’s a short wall below their feet as they walk the cliffside trails, but I can tell you that I always get quite a sense of solidity and connection with the land when I am passing through a section I worked on. It’s almost as if I can sense the land saying “Hey, thanks! It’s hard work staying in place when everything’s downhill from here….”

  32. Anthony et al,

    You said: “Walls often act as partitions to prevent mixing, the same way cell walls and organelles prevent mixing. The separation of parts allows the functioning of the whole.”

    But this is the analytic error of most of science and the culture that gave rise to it. It is, in truth, the interaction and integration of parts that creates the whole and allows the flow of life to continue.

    The photosynthetic chloroplasts of plant cells and the energy-producing mitochondria of animal cells were once independent bacteria that formed a synergetic relationship with their hosts to allow the flowering of higher life.

    All natural “walls” are permeable. It is only our walls which, intended to keep the “other” out, have instead imprisoned our souls.

  33. Hi Terrie

    Thanks for the note. The sense of accomplishment when you finish a wall is quite something isn’t it?

    Jon

  34. Dear Robert

    I do not know much about the Judeo/Christian concept of the soul that is pervasive now, but I have the impression that it falls into the wall/nature dichotomy my article was about. It seems there is something pure “soul” held in something foul “body”. I am skeptical of this.

    I know a bit about the Roman concept of soul. They were of fond of beans and super important.

    I know a good deal more about masonry and I am going to tell you a secret and give you a quote.

    The secret is that a good masons craft is held in the shadow between the stones. This joint is the primary surface we shape.

    The quote is from George Hersey who was an art historian at Yale and a friend. It is from page 21 of his book “The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture” where he presents a fairly radical interpretation of architectural meaning.

    “Another aspect of the column base is its rich endowment of horizontal shadows. The moulding that achieves them is called the scotia.
    This is a fairly significant word in Greek, as Scotia is the goddess of darkness and underworld things. Darkness or shadow was perceived by the ancients not as the mere absence of light but as a palpable substance, a vapor that was dark because it was dense with the tiny mote-like souls of the dead. So if we look again at the shadows cast by the scotia moulding, we are to see them as thick with souls.”

    Regards

    Jon

  35. Aha – you just gave me an amazing insight with your description of scotia about a problem I have been working on for years – what is the purpose of darkness? what is the attraction to dark places? what is in there that makes me want to go there, know more?

    I always come up with the answer of contrast – absence of light – but there is something more, something inside the darkness itself that beckons . . . wow, thick with souls. Now there’s something to think about!

  36. Jon,

    The soul I was referring to is the universal soul that all ancient traditions understood.

    In Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit the word for soul was also the word for breath. Native Americans called it the Four Winds which infused our physical bodies and through which we became as one with the landscape.

    It was only as we built our metaphorical and physical walls higher and deepened the gulf between us and our landscape that we began to embody this separation. And, it’s quite true, that this separation sanctified the light and banished the shadow to the detriment of our wholeness.

    To the Kogi, the only intact pre-conquest culture of the Americas, the great mother Aluna is the primordial darkness from which all things grew, as a seed would only in black earth, as we do only in the dark of the womb. The shadow is fertility.

  37. Here at our 1400-acre wilderness preserve and retreat center we ponder what to do with the foundation walls that have fallen down from logging community houses and barns dating back to the latter 1800’s. We saved one 35′ chimney. There can be something beautiful about a wall. In spring we’ll have a celebration of the vision and approach of Andy Goldsworthy in creating at-hand and natural works, only to see them return, sooner, to the soil. It’s a journey. Friends Wilderness Center, Harpers Ferry, WV.

  38. Dear Tim S.

    Thanks for your comment. I love those ruins in the woods.

    Good luck to you.

    Jon

  39. Jon,

    Great article, very thoughtful and provocative. It brought to mind several references which I think you may find of interest. I recently finished up the book “Stone Work” by John Jerome which deals heavily in the psychological, physiological, and and philosophical aspects of wall building; I think you would find some great parallels to your work in this book. Regarding the false dichotomy between nature and culture Michael Pollan has some great thoughts in his book “Second Nature,” wherein he urges a more subtle collaborative relationship between human culture and the natural systems that support us. Again great work and have fun with those books if you so choose.

    Best,
    Nic

  40. Hi Nic

    Thanks for your comments and your book tips. I think I will start with Mr. Jerome as I have not heard of him before. I was looking for a new book.I have read a bit of Michael Pollan.

    Thanks again.

    Jon Piasecki

  41. I thought perhaps the article was going to speak about the wall we are building along the US/Mexico border. The intent of which is to divide cultures, but too little is said about the impact on our environment this silly notion will create.

    I cannot decide if this wall we’re building is futile, feudal or both.

  42. Hi Lydia

    There was some mention about that wall in the text prior to editing. It got cut as the theme of the futility of walls like our little border fence was pervasive in my article.

    I was listening to Democracy Now the other day and there was a piece about our border wall. It turns out that when it gets to the land owned by any rich friend of Bush it suddenly stops.

    I guess the illegal immigrants know not to cross onto a rich man’s land.

    Come to think of it weren’t almost all of our ancestors immigrants?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Jon

  43. Yes, all of our ancestors were immigrants and mine especially so because after 1836, the border divided my family.

    And yes, in Texas they are taking land from people who do not have the power to fight imminent domain.

  44. Wow…

    All my life I’ve been mesmerized, hypnotized by stone walls. The shapes, the shadows, the placement that seems at once random and planned, following some higher blueprint. As a teenager, my doodles in pen and ink were of stone walls. My first logo was a stone wall with a single vine growing around it. My vision for a healing center has a low perimeter stone wall and a huge stone fireplace and chimney in the main house. There’s something so comforting about the way a stone wall measures off space.

    Now, as a therapist, I speak of walls in terms of boundaries that delineate personal space and teach others how to treat us. The higher the wall to keep people out, the more imprisoned the builder becomes. It’s an important distinction in human interaction.

    I loved your article, needless to say. As you can see, it took me on a lovely ride.

    Thank you so much.
    Margie

  45. Hi Margie

    Thanks for reading and for your comments. It is funny how walls and therapy have so much shared language and really so much in common.

    Good wishes.

    Jon

  46. I love this article and discussion. As one who helps people create landscapes to include native plants, the first thing up is a cage (open wall) to keep out the wildlife. Still over the years I have admired the efforts of layers of stone walls. And yes they may fail, but perhaps it is more that they merge back into the land (Darwin would say the worms are at work). Andy Goldsworthy creates poetic but ephemereal walls (my favorite) – brief anchors in time. My wall-to-be will include the many stones/rocks I’ve gathered to admire. I now understand the Naive American view that in essence stones are children of the earth, and sometimes I just take them farther on their journey. They keep me grounded.

  47. Hi Susan in Texas,

    I love Texas. I used to live in Big Bend back in the 1980’s. I worked in the park. The place was outrageous. The legend is that it is where the Gods dumped all the leftover rocks when they were done with creation.
    Thank you for your comments. I am glad you enjoyed it and keep on having fun with rocks.

    Jon

  48. I live in an old house on a hillside in poor rural Okla..On my land there are 2 beautiful stone wall retaining structures.I think they are the most beautiful thing in the World.I look out on one from the kitchen sink,trying to figure out how it was built so well and beautifully(the article helps me figure that out)I’m glad I know of the person who built them.Then there is the hog wire fence I put up to keep my dogs in and the neighbor dogs out…I think of “Good fences make Good Neighbors”…an ironic statement.

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