Who knows how the know these things but some historian claims that there used to be 250,000 miles of stone walls in New England, give or take a few yards. If you want some idea of how long that is the same historian says it a wall that could go around the world 10 times. If you need another example, it’s about the same distance from here to the moon. That’s a lot of stones and a lot of walls.
The rocks that built those walls were once part of the towering eastern mountain range. For a few thousand years these stones lay buried under a glacier that was over a mile high.
When temperatures began rising the glacier began moving across the mountains, crushing them into the stones that fill New England from one end to another. For thousands of years the glacier went slipping and sliding over the mountains toward the ocean, doing an extreme makeover of our New England landscape in the process.
Don’t ask me how they know, but geologists say New Hampshire’s White Mountains used to be more than 12,000 feet high before the glacier did its rearranging. That means a lot of those mountains were lopped off those impressive peaks and ground into stones that were perfect for the stone walls that would be built later. But it would be thousands of years before the stonewall was invented, so it didn’t mean much at the time. Our once mile-high glacier finally slid down to the ocean and eventually melted away to nothing. But it left huge piles of rocks – everywhere.
Geologists say these rocks then sank into the mud and trees soon grew up around them and towered over the land. The rocky glacial debris was buried and completely forgotten until early European settlers arrived on the scene.
I was reminded of all this recently as I sat on our deck and watched someone build a stone wall in our neighbors yard. It was not something I’d pay to watch, but for what I paid it was a good show.
I was impressed by how skillfully he worked as he took a stone from a nearby pile, tossed it in the air a few times to find its balance and then placed it right where it belonged – right where it’s probably wanted to be for the last few hundred-thousand years. He’d then turn toward the pile and grab another stone and another, as he worked his way along and the wall slowly grew.
I thought: why can’t I do this in my workshop where chaos reigns and nothing is where it wants to be, or where I’d like it to be?
But, back to the pile of rocks.
Early settlers here in New England started cutting down the trees to build houses and boats and deforesting much of New England as they went along. When the trees were cut and the land laid bare, glacial rocks bubbled to the surface.
All this activity had to take place just so this master wall builder could come along some warm September afternoon and find just the right places for the rocks in his pile.