The trouble with straight lines

fish pond.JPG

We’re trying to avoid straight lines as much as possible at Roundrock. Primarily this relates to the routing and building of paths through the forest. The point is to leave room for surprises and discoveries. If a path runs straight, then you can see far ahead, and there is nothing left to come upon, at least in theory. So the plan is to put turns and curves and bends into our paths so that what’s ahead is obscured and awaits rather than seen from a distance and no longer surprising. (I also tend to think of straight lines as soullessly efficient; that is, their primary purpose is to be quick or most direct or most resourceful or other values that engineers tend to favor.)

This hasn’t been a completely successful campaign though. When we first blazed the trail from our entrance to the old pond, we more or less went in a straight line. There were two reasons for this: the first was that we were new to the forest and were unfamiliar with the landmarks, so we wanted to create the route of least confusion. The second was that we were passing through those “mysterious” grassy clearings in the western end of our forest. These tend to run north and south, which is also the general direction of the path we were cutting. It made sense, then, to use one of these clearings as part of our path since it saved us a hundred or more feet of trailblazing.

When the time came to cut the road through the trees leading to the lake, we had to follow the topography, which left us little option. Also, we were paying the dozer man by the hour, so it wasn’t cost efficient to wind and weave our way through the woods. Yet both the road and the path have a few turns and curves, which you will see when you come out to Roundrock for a visit.

As I said, though, we’re trying to avoid straight lines in whatever changes or contributions we make to our forest. But then I come upon things like what is shown in the photo above.

This is a (former) fountain in a fish pond in a park in a town in Missouri not too far from Roundrock. In the park there is a mineral spring that I wrote about in this post. Some ambitious and creative fellow had created this small grotto fish pond/fountain thing years ago to adorn the park. (There were goldfish in the pond on our last visit.) He also created a full-sized bandstand in the same style. Round rocks, a geological oddity of the area, were put to use in building a structure. It makes a kind of sense, and I know there is an aesthetic that encourages building with native stone.

So it passed through my mind once or twice that when the time comes to build our house at Roundrock, we should use the hundreds of round rocks we have as construction materials or at least adornments.

But then I think of this fish pond.

And I cringe.

I don’t have the adjectives to give voice to my distaste for this. I respect the man’s creativity and hard work. I respect his desire to add something visually significant and whimsical to his community. I can even let myself think of it as a sort of historic treasure. But I hate it. I’m not sure why except that it is so obvious. There is no subtlety to it, no artful use of the round rocks. They are merely used as bricks, and so many of them gathered in one place rob them of what is unique about them.

Thus when I see something like this, all thought of using the native round rocks for building our house in the woods get banished.

Fortunately, there is other native stone at Roundrock. Not too far under the forest floor in the high places of our woods lies a lovely pinkish sandstone that cleaves nicely. It is abundant enuf to allow it to be quarried for building stone, and I’ve long envisioned using it as a facing for whatever it is we build the exterior walls of the house with. In its current conception, our house will be built into the slope of the hill overlooking the diminished lake. Thus it will look as though it is emerging from the ground, which means that it must be made of native stone.

And this takes us back to the trouble with straight lines. Building with round rocks would allow me to avoid the cold, soulless efficiency of having a house with straight lines. Except that it would look hideous. Building with nicely cloven sandstone will add straight lines to the face of the house, but it will allow me to avoid an overwhelming mass of round rocks (which I think I would subconsciously be afraid was going to roll over me as I sat before it drinking my iced tea — unsweetened, of course).

The straight lines called for by the sandstone can be mitigated, of course. Staggering the stones in the walls is the most obvious solution, and this can be done in a pleasing way (to my eye). Also, I’m thinking that the house front may not be a straight line itself. Perhaps it will curve so that the face of the house is concave. Thus the house itself will help me avoid those pesky straight lines.

Well, all of that is still down the road, and that road has enuf twists and turns to keep surprising and challenging me.

Missouri calendar:

  • Red admiral butterflies search for overwintering sites.

8 Responses to “The trouble with straight lines”

  1. Marvin Says:

    With all due respect to the good intentions of the builder of the fountain, I share your distaste. He’s managed to combine natural elements to create a very unnatural finished product. I’m sure you’ll work out a much better solution to the straight line conundrum.

  2. karl Says:

    it looks like a giant foot and your precious rocks serve an bunions.

  3. Ontario Wanderer Says:

    I’m not crazy about this construction but, in our nearby village of Paris, Ontario, there are several buildings and fences built with cobble stones. They were used as “bricks” but look better I think. I need to go and photograph some of them as theyare unique to the area. I believe somewhere in New York State there is another village with cobblestone building too, but it is not a common way to build.

  4. Rurality Says:

    Well it sure “wastes” a lot of good round rocks but other than that – hey, it’s folk art!

  5. robin andrea Says:

    I’m so glad you said that you hate it, because when I saw it I thought, “Oh no, I hope this isn’t something Pablo is planning to build at Roundrock. ” To each their own, I guess.

  6. FC Says:

    Yeah, it’s not a joy to behold.

  7. Walter Jeffries Says:

    I’ve seen mortar work like this and cringed too. I’ve thought a lot about this. Interestingly, people seem to need to learn _not_ to do it. My kids went for the straight lines in laying rock and lines until I taught them to add variety for spice. I’m glad to hear you prefer something other than the pictured fountain. Round rocks can be a challenge…

  8. Pablo Says:

    Marvin – Thanx for stopping by. I intend to get the help of professional designers when it comes time to build my house.
    Karl – I will always look at it in that way now.
    OW – I have no doubt that at the time this (and other places) got built, it seemed like a good idea. There’s no reason I can’t benefit from hindsight.
    Rurality – Yes, it is folk art, but I’d rather hold those rocks than look at them trapped like that.
    Robin Andrea – Yikes! Did you really think that?
    FC – I should get a picture of the bandstand. Maybe that will justify it.
    Walter – A line of bricks looks good to my eye, but stone should be staggered. And round rocks should be free!

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