In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

Author: Rick Page 2 of 323

New decade thoughts

We’re just two weeks into a new year and a new decade. I’m not about to regale you with all my new year resolutions, because I have none. The change of a number on the calendar doesn’t make me any more likely to make successful changes in my life. In fact, I hold the very thought in disfavour because if you see the need for a change, you should make the change rather than wait for the end of the year to do it. Why wait?

What has me thinking is not the change of the last digit of the year, but the second last. The 2010s have given way to the 2020s. What’s coming?

I’ve been thinking a lot about climate change. I was going to tell you what I think will happen if we continue along the road of lip service to the changes we need to make, and also what will happen if we get down to business and make the changes we really need to make. But frankly, there’s no need to lay out two scenarios because we’re not going to get down to business. Individuals feel inertia in their habits, and the more people you consider, the larger the inertia gets. This is before even considering that our current way of doing things is very profitable to many people. As a result, they’re actively putting the brake on changes. As a result, change is slow.

With our foot-dragging, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing. I’m not sure, but the rate of increase may be increasing as well. The weather is growing more severe, climate is changing, seas are rising. The pleasant inter-ice-age climate in which we developed civilization will soon be over. There will be fewer comfortable places to live and less arable land. Less arable land means less food. Wars will break out over food and water, squandering the precious resources remaining.

A century from now, things will be very different than today. I just can’t decide how different. Either civilization will regress, leaving behind the highest technology we enjoy today, or civilization will completely collapse. Either way, population will drop significantly. I’d suggest the worldwide population will drop by half, with large cities being the most affected. Whether this is a best-case, or a mid-way between the extremes, I can’t decide.

By 2250, I would be absolutely stunned if the world population is significantly greater than 20% of what it is today. And it won’t get better from there. Unless we discover an easy and energy-efficient way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in a deep-time durable form, there won’t be any coming back from this new normal any time soon … and ‘soon’ is geologically speaking. It’ll take millions of years for natural processes to bring the carbon dioxide levels down. The question is whether we can develop the technology to do it ourselves before we lose the technical and manufacturing means to put it into action in a meaningful way.

I would suggest that biggest impediment to taking action today is the average adult’s inertia. Things seem okay so people go about their business. Although most people are in favour of reducing their nation’s carbon footprint, they are not so enthusiastic when confronted with the bill. I really think a few things have to happen before people change. In no particular order, everyone over 40 has to age and die. People currently younger than 40 have far more skin in the game and were therefore more willing to make a greater sacrifice. Also things have to get worse. To my amazement, there are still deniers out there. All but the most hard-core will come around when things get much worse and there’s no denying the truth. At that time, the tide will carry those hard-core, regardless.

It’s our habits and what we consider problematic. No one I know would think of not recycling. At the same time however, most people I know don’t consider the carbon dioxide created by a trip via aircraft. This has to change and it won’t while the older among us are still around. I do wonder how much it will change as you young age, however. When I was very young, the first energy crisis struck. We all learned to turn lights off when we weren’t in the room. A small thing, to be sure, but the young don’t worry about even this any more. And by young, I mean anyone under 30.

I’m thinking things will have to get much worse, far past the point of no return (if we’re not there already) for people to change their habits.

So severe climate change is coming. In my mind, there’s only one question. Will it damage civilization and set technology back a few centuries? Or it destroy civilization and set technology back a millennia or two? Either way, a lot of people are going to die and everything is going to be a hell of a mess for a very long time to come.

Looking back…

What is the worst slang that became universally accepted in the 2010s?
"adulting" by a fucking mile

Hear Hear!

So tired…

I’m in the home stretch. This week is my last week of classes for the term. When I leave Friday, I won’t be back until January 7, when I start the second term.

When I left school today, I came home, ate, and promptly slept for an hour. I wouldn’t say the day was hugely demanding, but still I slept. Yesterday I slept for two hours. The only explanation I have is that I sometimes push against going to sleep but I haven’t been entirely unreasonable about that. Reassuringly enough, some of my classmates and even a few in their second year brought up how they’re feeling the same way, entirely without prompting from me. None of us seem to have any explanation for it.

20191203-103745 iPhone8 IMG_2451.jpg: iPhone8, back camera @ 3.99mm, 1/2700, f/1.8, 25 ISO
The Willowbank upper campus was a picture-perfect winter wonderland today.

Perhaps learning and physical activity is just demanding. At least I hope that’s it because I have no other explanation!

As much as I want a shorter Christmas break, I will certainly take the time to rest and make sure I’m ready to attack the second term next month.


Two weeks ago we had our first glass class. Most of the morning was a lecture about the history of glass right up to the current day. So interesting! Especially how glass was/is manufactured.

Then we went to the glass shop and started an exercise. You know the yin/yang symbol? With the two lobes rotating around a common centre? Our exercise was to draw a three-lobe version of the same thing. Then we were to cut the lobes out of glass. So check out this mess:

20191003-152900 iPhone8 IMG_2197.jpeg: iPhone8, back camera @ 3.99mm, 1/120, f/1.8, 64 ISO

You can see the three middle pieces form an extremely rough circle with three lobes. The two extra pieces are even more rough so I re-did them. Well, even my best was poor and I left class that day incredibly frustrated.

Today was our second glass class. I tried not to think too much about how I felt at the end of our first class. We were told to have a small stained glass design in mind. I had a rough idea, and you can bet that it did not have nearly as many curves!

20191003-120702 iPhone8 IMG_2192.jpeg: iPhone8, back camera @ 3.99mm, 1/30, f/1.8, 25 ISO

There’s my plan drawn on paper, surrounded by the pieces of glass I selected. You can see the circular centre … it was originally a square on a 45º angle but I suggested to my instructor that I could use a circle. He readily agreed. I thought I should be able to manage it, even though it meant cutting a complete circle, and four matching quarter-circles.

I got started and today was very much a different day, as compared to two weeks ago. I still don’t have the curve-cutting skills some of my classmates demonstrated, but I did a decent job. I made some mistakes of course, and it’s certainly not at a level one should aspire too, but I am very pleased with how it’s going. This is how I left it at the end of the afternoon:

20191003-152103 iPhone8 IMG_2196.jpeg: iPhone8, back camera @ 3.99mm, 1/30, f/1.8, 32 ISO
Progress! Note the lead between the in-place pieces.

It’s not as far along as it looks. Note the square yellow glass, with a quarter of the circle cut out of it. At the point where the yellow, the blue, and the circle meet, you can see the yellow glass has a larger gap than the lead covers. I am going to need to discard that yellow square and cut another, with a better curve.

Note also that the pieces that look black or dark-brown are actually a dark red. It only appears black because it’s a dark colour and no light is going through it. The other colours are much lighter.

I am so pleased. I can’t begin to describe how crestfallen I felt after the first class. I certainly don’t expect to walk into a class for the first time and produce expert results, but I do expect to understand why I broke piece after piece where they should not have broken. After some suggestions, and a completely different design, I think I’m on the right track.

I’m going to stay late some night and replace that yellow piece before the next class.


This past week was the most intense I’ve had at any school. We spent the week assembling a drystone wall. It is about 30 feet long and 40 inches high. That might not seem like a lot, but limestone is heavy, and we had no idea what we were doing.

20190923-102854 5D3 4M6C6776.CR2: 5D Mk.III, EF 17-40mm 1:4L @ 28mm, 1/160, f/5.6, 400 ISO
The excavation is nearly complete.

Our instructors for the week, Dean McLellan and Andre Lemieux, certainly remedied that situation! We started with a pile of stoned and the spray painted outline of where the wall was to go. Our first instruction was about the batter frame and how we use it to level the courses and have them narrow toward the top to strengthen the wall.

Once the batter frames were placed, we started with the foundation, digging to packed soil, and laid the first course. We quickly learned how to position the stones and how to fill the area between with smaller stones, a procedure called ‘hearting.’

I cannot stress how much of a physical labour shifting all this stone is. I was flabbergasted when Dean told me that he and Andre could have put up the wall in one day … a job that took the six of us nearly four days. But they’re the professionals! Even beyond their obvious skill, they have the physical conditioning that we do not. I have never been so wracked with muscle and back pain by any activity as this. Yes, I’m older, but my classmates (half of whom are in their twenties) echoed my complaints about stiff muscles, especially upon waking.

20190924-140434 5D3 4M6C6810.CR2: 5D Mk.III, EF 17-40mm 1:4L @ 34mm, 1/1600, f/8, 400 ISO
Work progresses. Note the wood batter frame on the left with the string to indicate the level of the top course.

Slowly but surely, our efforts at sizing the stones with a hammer became more and more accurate, our placement of those stones more creative and tight, and the courses more regular and level. Of course we made mistakes, some of which came back to complicate things later, but we learned and improved. We’re no where near pro calibre, but we learned the basics, and that was the whole point.

Over the first two days, the wall slowly took form. Slowly being the key word. Working with heavy stones so near the ground is hard work. As its height increased, our work seemed to speed up. By the end of the third day, we were pleased with what we saw. We had a wall!

The forth day, we laid the last course and the cope stones. Those are the heavy stones placed vertically to anchor the top course with their mass. With the wall being so short, we needed no through-stones to tie both sides together.

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The completed wall. Our instructors stand in front of the wall, my classmates behind.

What surprised me is that such a simple structure can be so strong and so ridiculously resilient. If the ground heaves and settles through freeze and thaw, the stones will move against each other as necessary, maintaining their relative positions. No cracks form because drystone construction not locked into place. It is far more plastic than masonry. Well-constructed drystone walls, if left alone, will stand for centuries. More often than not, maintenance is required because of poor construction or damage.

I am absolutely in love with how these walls look. I’d love to get the first level of drystone building certification and work on them for pay. But I know myself … I just learned how and am still excited by the experience. I’ll give it some time and see if I’m still so enthusiastic.

If I am, I know a couple of guys in the field I can contact for information.

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