Jigsaw puzzles have surged in popularity as people have found themselves stuck at home with time to fill.

Piecing together scenes of nature and old movie posters is fun, to be sure, and it’s a nice way to pass the time. But if you want a real sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, get yourself some rocks and build a stone wall. 

As we worked on our yard these past few weeks, my wife and I dug up lots and lots of rocks. They were everywhere. Digging post holes? Rocks. Planting a dogwood bush? Rocks. Mowing a section of lawn where there were no rocks last year? Rocks.

They gathered into piles around the back yard as we worked, taking up space and not serving any aesthetic purpose. We decided that someday we’d built a new stone wall around a little flower garden at the northwest corner of our home. 

The thing is, “someday” shows up a lot sooner than it used to these days. As it turned out, “someday” was yesterday,” and I spent a few hours tearing apart an older, smaller stone wall and building a larger one in its place. By no means is it a large stone wall, but considering it’s the first one I’ve built, I’m proud of it.

When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time splitting and piling wood. There’s a real trick to assembling a long row of firewood that stands straight and steady. It’s very much like putting a puzzle together. Turns out the same approach applies to stone walls.

Every few rocks, I’d stop and push back and forth from the top, testing the stability of the structure, just like I used to when stacking wood in my parent’s wood shed or my grandparents’ basement. If the structure held steady, I kept going. If there was a wobble, I’d disassemble the section and start over. 

This became a meditative experience. I turned each rock over, looking for the best way to place it against the others. I noticed patterns and colors within each one that I’d never give a second glance to under normal circumstances. And the rest of the world melted away for a few blessed hours.

I love old stone walls. 

The trailer I grew up in – and where my parents still live – has a stone wall framing the front lawn, with a stone pathway and steps built into it. Over the years, it’s fallen into disrepair, but it’s still lovely to look at. The stacked rocks remain a favorite lounging area for garter snakes and squirrels. 

In the rural areas of New England, stone walls are still standing from not just decades, but well over a century ago. They mark out where pastures and fields used to be on wide open land, now covered with forests. Some of my favorites are in Connecticut, where builders transcended mere building and created timeless works of art.

Stone walls are comforting. To me, anyway. They feel safe, orderly, and homey. To have finally built one is deeply fulfilling. The fact that it’s still standing this morning offers a sense of accomplishment, joy, and pride.

I’d write more, but I need to go dig up my lawn to find more rocks.

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