John, my friend Eve's father, has worked as a stonemason in the Berkshires for years. With the unpredictable weather, he is quickly finishing up a stone wall in the entryway before winter sets in. I gave him a hand, always eager to test my brawny side.
The first thing I had to do was mix up more cement, which is a lot like making cake batter. Sand and the two cement additives are mixed together dry before adding the water and mixing it to a cakey consistency.
While John placed the exposed slabs for the face, I followed with alternate layers of cement, large rocks for the big gaps in the center of the wall, and gravel to fill in the smaller spaces. I got into a rhythm and used the same principles for assembling a wedding cake- keeping the layers level and alternating rows of materials to make it more stable.
It's important to really fill in all those tiny cracks, as the wall is only as strong as its weakest spot, he said. Nothing would be worse than having to go back after the cement has set and break apart the rocks because of poor reinforcement.
The biggest thrill was getting to use the diamond power saw and cutting through giant slabs! Sadly, my camera battery died so I couldn't shoot the dramatic video I intended. Since I try to live by Eleanor Roosevelt's great quote, "Do one thing every day that scares you," I felt like I got my quota for the day.
Stonework can be a bit tedious, but it's amazing how much it parallels working with pastry. Only you get to use a sledgehammer while you are assembling the layers.