In the spring of 2007, Fred Lashley and I undertook the most ambitious masonry project of our time together at the Unturned Stone. For two summers, we built a stone cabin for a private owner in a remote site in the Black Mountains of western North Carolina.
Everything had to come down this steep trail: hundreds of tons of stone, mortar, sand, water and tools. The daily commute was forty-five minutes one way, until a landslide on the Blue Ridge Parkway forced a detour that more than doubled the time spent riding to work. And though I can’t prove it, I think stone is heavier a mile above sea level.
My strongest memory of the place is arriving to work in the mornings. The long winding drive would lull us all almost to sleep. The cold snap of the air was bracing. We’d trundle down the trail, shaking cobwebs out of our heads. In the cabin clearing, clouds would blanket the mountainside. The misty air always reminded me of being at the ocean on a foggy day.
Just on the other side of this wall of thick haze something amazing hummed with life. When the sun finally broke through, if it was able to, there was an endless view of the mountains and valleys, some of the wildest land left in North Carolina. And the cabin itself, half done, growing out of the ground like an ancient ruin. The walls opened wide to the sky- which was closer up here- like arms in prayer. It was, and remains to me, a sacred place.
The cabin is solid stone, through and through. The side walls, which bear the weight of the roof, are three feet thick at their base and taper to eighteen inches at the top. The front and back walls are two feet thick all the way up and all the arches are load-bearing. We used lime mortar that had to be imported from France, as no one locally was producing it at the time. We built a derrick crane in the center of the cabin to hoist the window lintels into position. Everything about the cabin was old-school, built to last, the real deal.
The completed cabin is something to behold, stout and sturdy, a timeless building, humble and majestic all at once. I have visited the site a handful of times since we finished. When I first walk into the clearing and see the cabin again, it always gives my heart a jolt. The cabin has a physical presence unlike anything else I have built. It stands there, a silent monument to perseverance and passion, hard work and a certain type of beautiful madness. I am crazy proud of it.
The cabin was a labor of love for an accomplished group of craftspeople: Fred Lashley, Jody Maney, Jesse Friedrichs, Scott Fargo, Jill Bowen, Ian Kelley, Jessica Beckwith, Pete Mallett, Bill Baddorf, Grace McDowell, Kevin Ballew, Marc Archambault, and Walt.