Monday, October 20, 2014

Reminiscing about the olden ways

A version of the following essay, along with the photograph below, 
was published 10/24/14  in the Concord Monitor 
Stone Culvert, Boscawen NH: 10/16/14
CC Jean Stimmell
Last Thursday we enjoyed a fall walk along the Merrimack River in Boscawen on a newly opened section of the Northern Rail Trail, following what was originally a Boston and Maine rail line.

At one point I stopped to ponder how the workers who built this rail bed 150 years ago, without modern equipment, had been able to move the prodigious amounts of earth necessary to build a raised causeway over the expansive swamp we were crossing. Standing on this raised roadbed, we watched a sizable stream snake toward us through the swamp and disappear under our feet only to reappear on the other side.

Being an old stonemason, I was curious about what kind of culvert the workman had constructed to let the stream pass through, a passageway that was obviously still working perfectly, even after all these years.

It wasn’t easy. We had to make a long detour to find a not-too-steep route down off the causeway and then backtrack to the brook. The photograph above is what we found: a beautifully arched culvert, 12’ high, built out of locally quarried granite, dry-laid without the use of any mortar or cement.

The craftsmanship is superb from the precise way the arch is constructed to the structural alignment of the granite pieces. But more than that, it is pleasing to the eye in both shape and composition. To my biased eye, this arch surpasses craft and is capable of standing alone as a piece of art.

Yet, as hard as it is to believe in today’s world where everybody is straining to achieve their 15 minutes of fame, this marvelous arch was not concocted for the applause of others or to wow a crowd at a gallery opening; it was simply built as a utilitarian structure in the backwaters of Boscawen in a forgotten swamp that no one would ever see but trappers and river rats.

Oh, how I wish I could have lived back in those olden days where workers had the luxury of building beautiful things like this arch, just because they could, before we all became ruled by the clock: when we had time to finish things without hurrying, when we could stand back at the end of the day and admire our work, not because it was cost efficient but because it met our own standards of what is good and right.

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