In which we periodically examine how art imitates life and life imitates orienteering.

by Peter Amram

In Sermons in Stone, a cheery rumination on that staple of off-trail orienteering in the northeast, the stone wall, the author, Susan Allport, declares:

Taken together, the states of New England and New York had more miles of stone walls [in 1871] than the United States has miles of railroad track today. The work that went into them, according to one estimate, would have built the pyramids of Egypt one hundred times over. It has been said that two men could build about ten feet of stone wall a day, an estimate that included the time required to gather the stone and lay a foundation. (p. 18)

Think of that the next time you gratefully scamper alongside some long-dead farmer’s boundary, in hopes of locating a little orange-and-white triangular box kite.

Allport's prose is philosophical and imagistic:

Stone walls are the anonymous epics of earlier generations, lyric forms of rock, which, when they were being composed on the face of the landscape, were never signed and rarely reflected upon - at least in writing. (p. 104)

Hikers come across stone walls in the woods and they are surprised, puzzled until they dig back in their minds for the key that opens the lock of these mysterious works of backbreaking effort, as out of place and evocative as the shipwreck on the ocean floor. (p. 17)

A stone wall, it seems, is not just another linear feature.



Sermons in Stone, The Stone Walls of New England and New York, by Susan Allport. Paper, 205 pp, line drawings. W. W. Norton, 1990.

Also. attendees of the annual West Point event should consider a visit to the nearby Storm King Art Center to experience the several stone walls designed by the land-artist Andy Goldsworthy.

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