Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kilroy was here

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws

The only shadow that the Desert knows:

"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,

"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows

"The wonders of my hand." The City's gone,

Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose

The site of this forgotten Babylon.
There is something basic in the human spirit about building, or at least marking the landscape. Making something permanent. Life is fleeting, and making something that will withstand time and the elements better than our poor selves seems to come from deep in the soul.

Albuquerque is built on volcanoes. Long extinct, the horizon is marked with a chain of cones, and the landscape is littered with black volcanic rock. This makes the site unique in the area, and the ancient Anasazi people used it as a landmark.

They also took the opportunity to leave something personal. As the molten lava cooled, a thin black lacquer formed on its surface. Chipping off this layer revealed a lighter rock underneath, making it a natural medium for graffiti.

The origins of these petroglyphs are lost in the mists of time. They certainly pre-date the current Indian inhabitants, who migrated south from Canada in the 15th and 16th centuries - perhaps looking for warmer climes during the depths of the Little Ice Age. Both they and the Anasazi lacked writing, and while they have great epic tales, those tales say nothing of the petroglyphs. The Anasazi certainly had tales like these, but they are gone, and the tales lost with them.

Only the petroglyphs remain. Permanent, they will be here likely millions of years from now, long after we are gone ourselves.

I prefer stone (and brick) for my building, and have developed my poor skills to the point where I can build a wall that is (mostly) straight, plumb, and square. Dry Stone has a particular magic to it; lacking mortar, all that holds it together is gravity and the friction between the stones themselves. Done right, it will last far longer than I, or will take more work to disassemble than most people will care to do. It says that I was here. I made this thing.

We wonder, and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness

Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,

He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess

What powerful but unrecorded race

Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

- Horace Smith


Paladin said...

My very first job for pay off the farm was as a mason's assistant - although we were doing flagstone patios and sidewalks instead of vertical work like walls. I worked my way up from hauling stone to mixing mortar and eventually setting and laying stone.

This was during the Texas heatwave of 1980 (69 days over 100, 42 days of which were in a row).

I have never again in all my life been payed to do something that gave me the same level of satisfaction at the end of the day.

elmo iscariot said...

A lesser blogger would've used the Shelley version, but look at you bringin' theHorace Smith!

Victorian poetry sonnet-off repre-sent.


Borepatch said...

Paladin, that's earning your money the hard way. But yes, there is a satisfaction at the end of the day that you don't get in my line of work.

Elmo, heh. I like the Smith version because most folks haven't heard it, and so it gives a new twist. You get full marks for obscure victorian poets!

LSP said...

Thanks for that - the petroglyphs are haunting. Never built a wall - laid cobbles though, backbreaking.