Stone walls, chimneys hint of days gone by, ages to come | Life
I’ve never met a stone that I didn’t like.
Rocks fascinate me. People fascinate me. This is how old rock chimneys, walls and fences are convincing. Even piles of stones make me marvel at the history behind them.
I had a special reason to wonder about chimneys and walls this spring. Two chimneys once stood in the country near my parents’ house over Big Branch.
Both came down about 3 1/2 years ago thanks to a logging project. (My parents had no choice but to cut the mountainside. Knowing they would never develop the rest of the land, they had it listed under agricultural use / logging for property tax purposes. The county informed them that they had the land “Harvest” trees or the risk of losing that tax status. Given the amount of timber that is being operated at the time, I suspect they weren’t the only ones to receive this ultimatum.
Though lumberjacks tried to avoid the chimneys, they eventually fell thanks to the rumble of heavy machinery. And there they are, beautiful piles of stones.
I had pictures of one of the chimneys and for a while had the crazy idea of reconstructing them. It took three years to convince me that I had neither the skills nor the time for this task.
Now, in spite of my aching back and Mom’s dire warnings about copper heads, I am dismantling one of the stacks, piece by piece, and bringing them home for other projects. As a sentimentalist, I have saved the best stones for a specific section of the rock face so that I can say, “This came from the Robena Bishop cabin.”
Every time I return to the stack, I am amazed at the skills of these cabin builders and builders. Since these chimneys are on a mountainside, the largest stones probably came in on sleds rather than wagons, which might have been pulled by two oxen, perhaps a mule, or a horse.
The thing is, as the story on log houses reminds us, building chimneys wasn’t an easy thing. You had to know how to stack and place the bricks to ensure a good “pull” by drawing the smoke up the chimney rather than the cabin. At the same time, you didn’t want a chimney to be so open that it sucked all the heat out of the room.
I am thinking of these stones that have been in formation for millions of years and were put into function by human hands at least a century ago. It is likely that some of these stones have not been touched by other hands since they were placed. It’s an extended human connection, but for a resourceful person like me, it’s a strong one.
On and around the hollow from the old hut is a somewhat level area not far below the ridge. There are perhaps a dozen piles of stones left there, each two to three feet high. At first I thought they might be the pillars of an old building, but they’re not evenly spaced and too far apart. They can be stacked in an old garden square. Though high on the ridge, I expect people to be farming what they could a century ago. And since it would have taken forever to pull the stones away, they just stacked them up and worked around. Somebody piled them up there and they stay there like frozen sentinels over time. The garden or corn field are replaced by saplings, then forest, moss grows on their north sides.
Some rock formations are a little more revealing. There used to be a series of stones arranged around a tiny branch in a nearby willow tree.
My husband explains that the street once crossed the water there, but I preferred the option of an old springhouse foundation.
Some are not that old. I found a stone fortress on the mountain behind my brother-in-law’s house that I know my nephew must have built when he was a child.
I wonder if in a few generations another forest hiker will stumble over the rocks and neatly wall off a rock overhang, wondering what purpose they served.
What a little time we have compared to these stones! But in those brief moments, we can move these fragments of eternity to suit our purposes – and leave them there so our ever-great-grandchildren can guess.
Or maybe my future grandchildren are just mumbling about their crazy mamaw as they try to figure out what to do with the thousands of stones she’s stacked in her yard.
Kathy N. Ross is a former news editor and reporter for The Mountaineer who is married to Crabtree farmer Steve Ross.