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I was watching a guy build a stonewall the other day. It's probably not something you'd pay to watch, but for what I paid it was a great show. I couldn't believe how gracefully he worked as he took a stone from a nearby pile, tossed it a few times between his hands and then placed it right where it belonged; right where it's probably wanted to be for the last few hundred-thousand years.
Then he'd turn toward the pile and grab another stone and another as he worked his way along and the wall slowly grew.
Why can't I do that in my garage where chaos reigns and nothing at all is where it wants to be or where I'd like it to be, for that matter.
But I digress. Let's get back to the stonewall.
Here are rocks that were once a very small part of our once towering eastern mountain range. For a few thousand years they lay buried under an ice-age glacier that we're told was a mile thick if it was an inch.
When the temperature started rising the old glacier started melting, first to a thickness of three-quarters of a mile, then half a mile, then barely quarter of a mile thick. And it began slipping and sliding down toward the ocean, doing an extreme rearrangement of our ancient New England landscape in the process.
Don't ask me how they know, but geologists claim New Hampshire's White Mountains used to be more than 12,000 feet tall before the glacier came along.
That means trillions of cubic yards of rock were lopped off those once impressive peaks and ground into pieces just the right size for stonewalls. But it would be a few thousand years before the stone wall was invented, so it didn't mean much at the time.
Our once mighty glacier finally reached the ocean and slowly 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 now buried and almost completely forgotten until early European settlers arrived on the scene.
These settlers started cutting down the towering trees to build houses and boats and to make room for hay fields and gardens, deforesting much of New England as they went along.
Never at a loss for words, geologists go on to explain that when the trees were cut and the land laid bare the long-buried glacial rocks bubbled to the surface.
These rocks are now part of our New England heritage and over the centuries people have come up with a few ideas on what to do with them.
One of the better ideas was to use the seemingly endless supply of rocks to build walls to separate pasture land from crop land.
Again, don't ask me how they know or when they measured but some claim there used to be over 250,000 miles of stonewalls in New England. If you want some idea of how long that is these same people say it's a wall that could go around the world 10 times. If you need another example, it's about the same distance as from here to the moon.
Anyway, all this geological activity had to take place around here just so this master stone worker could come along some warm August afternoon and find the right places for the rocks in his pile. It took a few thousand years but he finally put them where they were supposed to be.
I just wonder if this guy does garages.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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