Back when my wife and I bought our new house, one of the first things that needed to be done was to raze the overgrown front yard that didn’t look like it had been touched since Nixon resigned. (I blame Nixon for all of my own failures to finish projects.)
As I tangled with tons of ivy and yelled at yellowing yucca, I saw we had a bigger problem to deal with – the wood in our steps and a retaining wall was infested with termites. So, I ripped it all out immediately and began to devise a replacement.
After some thought, I purchased several skids of Pennsylvania wall stone and other supplies, then spent several weeks building things back, all by hand. My technique was to lay out all the stone on the ground, then scan for the next “right” stone – and go until done.
I found that within each skid of stone I had picked there happened to be some larger flat pieces – which led me to build the part I’m most proud of – the new steps.
It was terrifically hard work at times, but I was gratified in the outcome. Until today I had completely attributed my apparent innate ability in this regard to my Czech grandfather, who was a stone mason. He worked in the cemeteries of Queens and also built a summer home and garage in upstate New York out of native stone.
But, after seeing a photo today, I now think my stonework ability is more likely an inheritance shared by both my Czech and Irish sides. Behold a photo of stone steps on Skellig Michael alongside my own off the cuff handiwork…
By the way – no mortar was used in my steps or wall, only gravity.