When you build with stone you learn as fast as a stone reaches your foot from about waist high that stones are stubborn when it comes to location. You also learn that, as our local Japanese stone gardener said, every stone has a face. And when stones become individuals, it is indeed a new world. As well, in building with stone the spirit of each stone must fully enter into the compact you are making with gravity; a dissenting stone will eventually make its opinion known; and stones generally follow the leader.
Working with stone means entering stone time and beginning to think like the stone builder who said: "a roundstone wall built haphazardly with no maintenance won't last more than a hundred years."
It is long, too long, since I have done the simplest tasks for which the body is fitted, such as carrying stones. It is good, very good, to do things for which standard education is of no avail. It is good to pick up a large stone in your hands and carry it to another place, to sense the true dimension that informs all worthy tasks. And the solidity and gravity of stones is good to get to know again in the deeps of the bone, as in the muscle and sinew, for stone, bone, muscle and sinew are all first cousins, and glad to acknowledge one another when they meet again.
As vehicle for this elemental gladness, I partake of it from fingertips to toes, by way of the root of the spine; it glows on my face amid grime, grimace and sweat. And simple in base function as they are, the bone and the muscle need to be reminded by such brute doings that they are still essential, still highly purposed, that they are more than mere potatoes to lay upon a couch, that in fact they still work, and can do more than operate a remote control; that it is to them we owe our lives, and not to digits in a bankbook, or signatures on deeds or contracts, or buttons on a panel. As well, the mind secretly loves to watch these actual physicalities take place before its very eyes, and silently ponder their meaning in the vast scheme of actions going on in the miracle, with the mind borne along in true gravity.
Building with stone for the first time meant hefting stones in a way I never had before. Most of my earlier stone hefting had been in preparation for throwing; the rest was just the unalloyed, aimless hefting that comprises most human/stone relations. Never had I sought to address stones in their individual natures. I began to turn them over in their beds and behold their personalities from all angles, and saw the light that shines from a stone that has anything like the shape of that particular emptiness in the wall you're building, and how the stone that fits acquires a very valuable value and cannot be replaced.
The stone builder also learns what hands actually evolved for: not for derivative things like grasping handles, pounding keyboards, turning steering wheels or operating remote controls, but for holding stones! Hands evolved to lift, heft, and hurl stones (such hard, straight, primitive words those three, clearly made for use with stones). For of course man the word-user first 'lifted' stones; first 'hefted' stones; and first 'hurled' stones. The palms are made to hold stones, the fingers to adapt the grip to stone facets, in a way not necessary with a fruit or a club or a martini; there was need to be able to quickly pick up something heavy of non-repeating shape, what else fills the bill in every respect but a stone; thus the human hand evolved from mere treelimb-grasper into quick stone-grabber, which doesn't say too much for the evolution of our disposition, but does explain the ongoing need for stone walls, and the basic and somehow surprisingly right-at-home feeling hands feel when holding a stone.
And stones for their part have much to say to us, in their own forthrightly reticent way, of time and purpose, of trust and constancy and patience. If one can fall sufficiently silent to hear them, they are well worth listening to.
Thus in a pleasant place on a pleasant day, it is pleasant indeed, particularly in retrospect, and more than fully organic, to have one’s head filled with stones, that rattle around and crack open new thoughts, polish old attitudes to a new sheen and grind up fixed ideas into the wherewithal of germination.