Monday, August 24, 2015

Iconic New England: Rocks, Stones, and Walls

Orange-colored granite on Mt. Cardigan in Orange.
(All photos by author.)
During his recent work on our Tug Mountain property, excavator Dave unearthed many large rocks, which he considerately moved into various piles for later use. He called to our attention one hefty rectangular granite one that could become part of the front step. He moved another, larger, irregular-shaped boulder weighing two tons that was in the middle of where the garage is to be located. Now it is 10 feet behind it. We will be leaving untouched a huge, pyramid-shaped rock that, like an iceberg, undoubtedly has more to it than meets the eye. Doug, meanwhile, is looking forward to having some spare time (and a tractor) to do some of his own rock moving to refurbish a few of the old stone walls that are noted on surveys and mark historic property boundaries.
The pyramid rock is staying put

Two-ton rock that was moved.
Stone wall on Canaan Street in Canaan.
People in New Hampshire take their rocks seriously; they are part of the landscape and the heritage. Stone walls date to the pre-Revolutionary War period when settlers, aided by oxen, cleared land to grow crops and raise livestock. The stones and rocks they unearthed were unceremoniously dumped or tossed into piles near the edge of the field. Only later were the walls re-laid more deliberately, with craftsmanship and artistry.

Stone walls can be classified by the degree of care that went into their creation— dumped, tossed, single, double, or laid—according to stone wall expert Robert M. Thorson, a geologist at the University of Connecticut. Most of New England’s stone walls are tossed walls, according to Thorson, and were built between 1775 and 1825. Today, stone walls are seen by many as ruins of early American civilization, cultural resources worthy of protection.

Same stone wall as above, in fall, looking toward Vermont.
In his poem, “Mending Walls,” Robert Frost writes of a stone wall on his Derry, NH, farm: “Something there is that doesn't love a wall, That wants it down.” But in New Hampshire today, don’t even think of stealing stones from that roadside pile you admire. It is a crime to remove those genuine Colonial New England treasures; one that carries “treble damages.”

Note: I consulted several classic resources, including Doug, to determine the difference between rocks and stones. The consensus is that stones are smaller and smoother than rocks. As Doug aptly said: “Rocks are what you can’t move; stones you can make into a wall,” 

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Whites and Greens from Orange

From Cardigan looking north northwest. (All photos by author except where noted.)

When I reached the summit of Mount Cardigan, hiking it the first time with D two years ago, I recalled feeling as if I was on the top of the world. I experienced the same sensation atop Ben Nevis in Scotland, Great Britain’s highest peak with views to the clouds below. The similarities end there, however, as Ben Nevis was a July summer cable car ride to 4,409 feet and Cardigan was a well-earned 1.5 mile climb to 3,155 feet. Spectacular views, available only on foot, have special rewards.

Cardigan’s treeless granite top in Orange, New Hampshire, affords 360-degree views—towards the White Mountains in the north; the Green Mountains of Vermont to the west; Newfound, Squam, and Winnipesaukee Lakes to the east; and the Sunapee area (Lake and ski) to the south. Who could ask for anything more on a nearly clear summer day? The temperature and wind can surprise (similar to much-higher peaks) and even in summer a jacket and warm hat may be required.

Same place, two years earlier. 

On that June 16, 2013, hike, we were just becoming familiar with the Orange/Canaan area that we had chosen as the principal player in our New Jersey exit strategy. We had been scouting real estate remotely from Jersey, and in person on regular visits north, for more than a year. We had just made an offer to purchase land on Tug Mountain, opposite Cardigan, but were not certain that the deal, which involved an estate and multiple lawyers in two states, would come to fruition. When we gazed from Cardigan toward the few houses on Tug, we did not know that two years later we would be looking at our own swath of paradise—with a view of Cardigan.
The homestead, third clearing from left.

Fast forward to last week when we climbed Cardigan again. Early on an August Friday we left our car in the trailhead parking lot, one of only three, and started our climb up 1,200 feet on the well-maintained (with log staircases and wooden bridges) and popular trail. Hours later when we descended, the parking lot was jammed full with 35 cars.

From “Old Baldie’s” top we got to see what the homestead looks like from above (and two miles away). I imagined how, a year from now, people will be looking at our home from Cardigan. It is humbling to think of living among such raw, majestic beauty—the 5,655 acres of Cardigan Mountain State Park our prominent neighbor. We vow to be guardians of nature, minimally (and aesthetically) altering what the Maker has entrusted.

Ben Nevis panorama by Leo Hoogendijk; Creative Commons license. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Stairway to the Crow’s Nest

D and I spent an interesting Saturday morning at a most unusual store, The Iron Shop in Broomall, Penna., just outside Philadelphia.

D conferring inside The Iron Shop. (All photos by author.)

Our task: shop for a metal circular staircase to provide access to our third bedroom. While the major, living portion of the house is a big open timber frame, there are two wings (conventional, stick-frame construction) on either side of it—one for the master bedroom on the ground floor and guest bedroom above it; and one for the entry, sun room, and third bedroom above that.

The main staircase in the timber-frame section will serve the second or guest bedroom. The third bedroom, which we’ve named the Crow’s Nest—for its indoor balcony views, with a nod to the Canadian Rockies railway pass of the same name—needs a staircase of its own. A circular stair will provide the most economical design solution in terms of space and money.

At The Iron Shop we were fortunate enough to have Ron Cohen, the current patriarch of the company work with us, looking over our architectural plans and guiding us as we chose from many designs and options. Since D and my tastes were pretty much in sync, it was a smoothly enjoyable process to select a 5’ 3”-wide stair in an “olde copper” color finish with 13 red oak treads from the Architectural Series. The rest of the hour was spent pleasurably talking with Ron, who was happy to share pictures of his great granddaughter and a little history of the company.

Architectural series circular stairs sample on display.
Red oak treads.

His grandfather, Max, started Max Cohen and Sons in Philadelphia in 1931, having emigrated from “White Russia” as an apprentice black smith. Today the company employs hundreds at the plant in Broomall and other U.S. locations. It works with architects to design and fabricate elaborate stairways, balconies, and building facades for an impressive array of corporate clients in New York City, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Philadelphia; and for private residences from the Hamptons to Florida. The gallery on their website shows stunning work. The company started offering spiral staircases in 1972; and since then it looks like things have been going up, up, up. Its trademarked tag line: “The leading manufacturer of spiral stairs.”

Thanks, Ron, for a pleasurable design session and shopping experience. We look forward to sharing installation photos and joining your gallery.