Those things are better which are perfected by nature than those which are finished by art.
Back in February when we cleared out the yard, we built some steps up the front path near the mailbox. Still, on the opposite side of the yard near the house, there was another drop-off with no proper way down. I always felt bad when Jeneane would come over and she couldn’t come down into the lower yard. If she wanted to come into the house she had to go the long way around through the driveway. I had been promising her I’d build some stairs to get down to the house since probably November or December. This is the story of Jeneane’s stairs.
So, this is what I had to start with: A drop-off where the stone wall had fallen down which we had been using as a temporary passage. I wanted the new stairs to blend in as much as possible with the old wall, so I didn’t want to dig out too much of the existing structure. I wanted to build the new stairs using the structure and shape that were already in place; the idea was to merely edit it, using the same rocks that had already fallen to make it functional and aesthetically pleasing without destroying what nature had already created.
The first step was to clean up the existing ledge and begin to fit some new rocks in place. Once I found a pleasing combination, I began the mortar. I had to do it one stop at time to allow the mortar to set as I worked. It was hard work, digging, and moving rocks, but I found the challenge pleasing. I looked at it as a giant earthen jigsaw puzzle, which when finished would also be useful. To me this is the pinnacle of art: to create something functional and beautiful that (hopefully) no one will ever notice to be art. The real beauty in art is not believing that it’s art, but rather to make something indistinguishable from what it truly is.
So once the stones were in place, I began the mortar. I used a mix of natural sand a lime. In a few months, this will take on a wonderful patina and blend nicely with the surrounding environment and the existing century old wall.
Another integral part of the project was incorporating the old bottles which we had dug up from the yard over the last few months. This was more than just using readily available materials: As explained before, sticking bottles in the ground was nothing new. Also, these bottles are part of the history of the house. Some of them are quite old, bearing the marks of various local beers, Pastis, oil, etc. All remnants of the time when the house was a small café and general store during the war. So to me, the bottles are beautiful, but they mean so much more. They are just another line from the poem we call history… lines that hopefully will be read again one day by future generations.
This was likely one of the last major projects I was to undertake at Le Vignaud. Do your work, then step back, I thought. I hoped that I would have at least left something beautiful and useful for whoever may come along next. I leave the rest to nature; To continue and to prefect my humble craft.