Sunday, November 14 2004
For the past few months, there's been an unfinished tiling project in the living room. Back in August after Gretchen complained yet again about how ugly it was, I'd impulsively taken a hammer and cold chisel and smashed all the ugly bathroom-style tile from the heat shield behind the woodstove. The plan has always been to retile it with native bluestone, but in terms of priorities, the project kept being bumped by more urgent priorities, particularly those that required the assistance of warm weather. The last such project was the recent boiler room ventilation expansion, the exterior cement portion of which just barely squeaked in through the slamming doors of wintertime. From now on, though, it's unlikely I'll be able to do much at all outdoors. So the heat shield retiling looks like it might finally get some attention and graduate from its present state, 30 square feet of ratty backerboard patchy with ten year old thinset.
The weather today was sunny and a little milder than it had been and I was able to do a little outdoor work related to the heat shield project. First I gathered some sheets of bluestone from what I could call a "natural quarry" along the top of the escarpment, less than a hundred feet south of the house. Our house sits almost exactly on the line where the "Hurley Mountain" 600 fasl (feet above sea level) plateau becomes a steep slope destined for the 170 fasl Esopus Valley, and along this line there are many clifflets of exposed rock. The topmost layers of this rock tends to be flat-lying thin-bedded bluestone. I found these layers split easily using a putty knife and a hammer, and from one several-hundred-pound fragment I was able to split more than half of the rock I needed for the heat shield. It came off in sheets several square feet in size but only a quarter inch thick. Some were a little warped along the edges, but they were better than I'd expected to be able to get so close to the house. I've noticed that even the flatest beds tend to be a little warped on the edge of the escarpment. The weakness of this warped rock probably has something to do with the fact that the escarpment begins here and not somewhere else.
More interesting than the thin beds of bluestone is what lies a couple feet beneath. This lower rock is a disorganized mass, more like a lava flow than anything built up gradually in layers. I'd seen many pieces from this lower layer, and they're so crazy looking and concave that they resemble broken pottery. I could be wrong about this, but to my eye I'd guess this layer is a fossilized rubble field comprised of football and tennis ball sized stones. Since I never (or rarely) find the stones themselves, it seems they must have dissolved away long ago and gradually been replaced by material similar to the overlying bluestone. But I would gladly entertain other theories. I'll post some pictures of this layer soon so my readers can weigh in on what it might be.
After I'd gathered a sufficient amount of rock laminate, I went off in search of more durable rock, the kind that isn't thinly bedded. I wanted to make triangular supports to hold up a stone shelf at the top of the heat shield, and that would require pieces at least an inch thick. The only way to be sure you're getting a solid piece of rock around here is to go and fish one out of the bottom of a valley. Rocks in those places have been hammered by all sorts of forces: glaciers, frost, and flooding, so what you see is what you get. They're unlikely to break unless you subject them to the effects of modern powertools. I found a couple nice pieces in the Chamomile River which I took home and cut up into triangles with my wet saw. Since they were so much thicker than tile, I had to cut them from one surface, then flip them over and cut them from the other. As I worked (outside, in the driveway), the spray of wet rock dust painted a two-inch-thick band of grey from my forehead to halfway down my chest.
This evening I set about to fix a set of high-style steel-mesh shelves in the laboratory. The sections of these shelves had been imperfectly held together by Legoesque plastic disks which had a tendency to work themselves loose. I don't know what I did, but as I was fixing things somehow the whole thing just collapsed on me, spraying the shelves' contents everywhere. "Damn modern furniture designers!" I thought. "I'll grant them their Ikea-pioneered planned obsolescence, but why does my stuff have to suffer the collateral damage of their business model?" Actually, nothing valuable was broken, but there was some broken glass to clean up and of course I cut myself doing that. Interestingly, the shelf collapse provided a valuable service because it reacquainted me with all the small beautiful things I'd collected, put in jars, and immediately forgotten about. All those perfect sea shells I'd collect on the beaches of South Africa, there they were, one of them now being batted around across the floor by Julius the Cat. I decided to display them next to my Red Rose Figurine Army on top of the north window. You can't see any of this stuff unless you're going out to the north deck, but they're a lot more visible now than they used to be.
After putting my high-style shelves back together, I wired the segments together using segments of 10, 12, and 14 gauge copper wire. I don't think those bastards will ever fall apart again. (Indeed, I'd already wired some segments together with twist ties, and those had all survived this particular incident.)
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