On my land there are many stones. In fact, the whole land is more or less made of stones. I live on a small limestone hill.
When I first came here there was hardly any soil. In order to garden one had to take out many, many stones. Americans would call them rocks, and some of them would be even big enough that English people would call them rocks as well: slabs of limestone, more than a metre long, often heavier than I could lift on my own. I had to learn techniques for getting them out of the ground. Wherever you dug: Toujours les pierres! That meant I had a lot of stone as I gradually developed the land. The soil is now deep enough to grow carrots.
I had to take out huge amounts of stone. So, what do you do with all this stone? One thing you can do is build walls. Stones make walls. So, I would pile up stones and make walls.
Well, to begin with, I wasn’t very good at it. The walls were a bit ramshackle. What you think of intuitively doesn’t work very well. You think: “Oh, I’ll put a big stone right down there at the bottom, that’ll be a good foundation.” Mistake #1. So, it goes on. After a bit you gradually learn by trial and error. You build something, you lean on it, it falls over. You think: “Oh, well, now, what happened there?”
Slowly you learn the technique. You learn what is a stone that’s suitable for the outside of the wall and what’s a stone that is suitable for the inside of the wall? How do they fit together? What are the best shapes? Where you put the big ones; where you put the small ones; what you need for the top and so on. Initially, this involves quite a bit of thought and some deliberate effort and gradually you get the feel for it. Gradually you have a sense of it.
Just recently I’ve been building a new dry-stone wall around a part of my garden. First of all, you dig out a small foundation and then you start laying stones, and you have to gather a lot of stones - obviously - in one place, so that you can pick out what is the next stone.
Once you get into it, it’s like being in a kind of trance. It’s not really that you make some calculation or that you take a stone and then you wander up and down the wall and choose exactly the right place, nor make any measurements - certainly not - but somehow, you pick up a stone and that stone seems to know where it belongs. And there it goes! Wow, actually it fits there! And how did that happen? So building the wall becomes a kind of instinctive activity. This means you can do it at a fair speed. Once you’ve got the foundation dug, you put in stone – stone – stone – stone. They all go into place.
Occasionally you make a mistake. The cat comes and helps me. She walks along – if she walks on a stone and it wobbles, it’s in the wrong place, but, largely, they just go into position, just like second nature. The stones know where they need to be and there’s a right place in the wall for every single stone. Isn’t that amazing?
In the art of gardening in Japan the positioning of the stones is where you start. Don’t think it’s just the plants that are alive: the stones have a mind of their own.
So, I’ve been working now for 20 years in this piece of land, working with stones. My relationship with stones has grown and I have the greatest respect for them. There’s something deeply satisfying in letting the stones be your guide. This is the natural way.
Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much