October 4, 2021

Stones Rising 2021

Griffith SR21 9160 1200 The Nw Stone gets under way; ropes, rollers, muscle and sweat. Stones Rising 2021.

By Orren Whiddon

On the Wednesday before Stones Rising, the leavings of Hurricane Ida swirled overhead, giving us 4-5 inches of rainfall through the day. We were in the Southern arc of this watery transect; lands North of us received much more rainfall and we felt lucky. I was surprised that the river rose, and rose... and rose again, for what seemed like a not extraordinary amount of rain. By mid-day Wednesday it was clear the river would breach its banks, and soon we had water in the North Crook, at the base of the Lower Shower House, and through the southern half of the Big Bottom. Sweat Lodge Inipi saw almost a foot. Over in New Camp the Wet Meadow was flooded, earning its name. And just as fast as the river rose up, it receded. By Thursday morning we had clear blue skies and everywhere the river was back in its banks. It was enough water to clear the ground of forest debris and deposit a fine layer of silt everywhere. And so riverbanks are made and the bottom lands renewed. As the old farmers say: If you have rich bottom land, don't complain when it floods!

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The Path of Ida – Drenching downpours. Flooded Sweat Lodge. The rising Creek. North Crook knee deep.

We had postponed all work until Ida had passed us, and most of our Wednesday arrivals did the same, so Thursday was a busy day indeed as guests began to arrive. Camp was cleaned up and put to rights, the Sweat Lodge crew dugn in made the Sweat site ready for Thrusday evening's ceremony.. We began digging our foundations for what was a peculiar stone, one that was every bit of 14 inches thick, 10 feet high and lopsided in such a way as to fit nicely into our intention of having as small a gap as possible between the stones of the North Copse Ellipse. Probably tipping the scales at 7-8 thousand pounds, this stone did have a very peculiar base though, a base that tapered forward on one side and tapered to the rear on the other, rather like a cork-screw or twist drill. This will figure in our story later on.

Because the base of this stone was a mere 30 inches wide while five feet broad at the top, it required a small foundation; in fact, only 13 cubic feet of concrete, when the ready-mix company wants 54 feet as a minimum order. Never willing to leave good-enough-alone, or avoid a bit of fun work, we elected to use Sac-Crete bagged mix and pour our own foundation, which we did, accompanied by much hootin’ and hollerin’ from the Stone Crew. This fact will also figure in our story.

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Building the Foudations with Sacrete, a choice we would pay for. A small mishap with a flawed stone.

You may remember that in 2019 we erected a pair of “book matched” Stones, two slabs split from one, to open like the pages of a book. At that time one of the slabs was a good, solid 10 inches thick without flaw, while the other slab was only 6 inches thick and riven by a split that ran up from its base through the body of the stone. We went back and forth as to taking the risk of using this weakened stone, but in the end could not resist the idea of two Stones rising in mirror images of each other. Long story short, as we were grading out the spoil from the foundation pit, we nicked the face of the thinner Stone and “Ting,” the base split and the stone fell. Looking at the stub end it was clear how the crack we had spotted in 2019 ran much deeper than we could see at that time.

This is not the first stone we have lost over the years. Standing in the West is a Stone with a binder strap, it having cracked sandwich-fashion after it was raised. In about 2004, we cracked off a good three feet of a handsome stone as it was being moved towards its foundation on rollers. And in the stone yard is a very large stone that is now two feet shorter than it was when the crane dropped it! To replace the fallen stone, we have scouted out a replacement in our stone yard that we brought in by truck during 2019, so next year will feature a fun and challenging project at Stones Rising.

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Sizing up the new stone and getting it under way, carefylly manuvering into position. The Sweat Lodge made ready for ceremony.

With Thursday's foundation work completed, we greeted friends new and old as the bright weather brought Pilgrims back to the Land. Friday evening featured a full “Etenna Eggun” (A Candle for the Ancestors) hosted by Baba Orren and Baba Juan Casco (with Santera Pamela and much of Juan's spiritual family from Jersey City, NJ.) This is a beautiful candle-lit ceremony of song and remembrance, where we all have the opportunity to name and honor our loved and departed. The first person named that evening was our longest serving Church President, Roger Lloyd Grandstaff, who passed away this last year... to our grief.

Saturday was a full day of activity and ceremony and featured an evening altar walk throughout the Land that is Four Quarters. Sunday morning dawned bright and misty; we gathered in The Green and shared the fresh-baked Loaves of The Corn Mother (thanks Beth and helpers), processed through the Quarter Stations, affirming our intentions and gathering up our ribbons. And then to The Stone!

While quite heavy, our stone had a nice flat underside, and so rollers could be used rather than the sled that we use with awkwardly uneven stones. An impromptu class in the basics of 16-foot wooden pry bars, fulcrum stacks, and how to place rollers was held and then we were off. The 50 people on the tow lines were really many more than were needed, and we had 8 others to manage the rollers and a 5 person team to manage the pry bar. While the distance was a rather short 200 feet, it was complicated by the trees and maneuvering the stone into the small, confined spaces of the North Copse Ellipse.

As a reminder, the North Copse is a 35-by-20-foot ellipse where the Stones are by intention set as close together as we can manage, in some cases with as little as 4 inches between them. Maneuvering a 10-foot, 8,000-pound stone in these tight conditions is quite the challenge and requires many different setups as we spin the stone to change directions. We eventually worked the stone into the very tight slot in front of its target foundation, and then using angled rollers and crab-wise side lifts with our long pry bars, shifted the stone across the foundation and tipped its base into its new home.

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Scenes from the Rising, Nudging a Stone into position, cribbed up, and strarting to raise.

Mike McConnell led the team gently lifting the stone and getting our cribbing (support timbers) stack prepared under the head of the stone. We attached our chains and prepared for the lift. Because it was a rather small stone, Mike and I concluded that we could make the lift without the use of the “A-frame” used for heavier stones. But as the stone was slowly pulled up off the cribbing stacks, we noticed a wobble and unsteadiness traced back to the strange twist we had noticed in the base. Not wanting to be too cocky, we lowered the stone and installed the A-frame. As the stone rose to about the 45 degree position, where the angle of forces is working the most against the pull, the stone suddenly slipped and began leaning precipitously to the South. I shouted out to the Stone Crew, and shouted louder as the lean increased. And as the Stone Crew moved to safety, the stone simply fell over, at an angle to its foundation.

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”Watch out! Get away!" Dodging a tipping Stone as the soaked ground gives way..

We have lost Stones during the pull before with ropes parting, chains shifting and timber stacks falling over. But this was the first failure during the prime pull! The stone lay at an angle to the foundation, with its butt still nestled in the concrete and just a few inches from the neighboring Standing Stone. It lay at an angle to grade supported by a pile of soft dirt, making rather a sticky situation. We lost no time in levering the butt end out of the foundation and raising the head enough to get a single roller under the stone. I asked for everyone present to get on the tug lines, as with all that load on one roller resting on soft earth... it would take quite the pull to shift this stone.

Near to 100 people answered the call, and with the first pull the stone moved a bit but would not shift. The second pull yielded the same result. With the third pull and a call of “Give me your hearts!” the stone answered our intention and rose up out of the foundation pit! Quickly now the various teams prepared the fore and aft tug lines, readied the rollers, and set up two 16-foot wooden bars with their supporting fulcrums. We demonstrated the “Rowing” technique with the great bars, shifting the base of the stone side-wise until we could mount it on rollers. The rollers themselves were placed at a careful angle so that as the stone moved forward 5 feet it would also be “steered” into a rotated position that would allow us to attach our forward tug lines. Now a few quick pulls and we once again had the stone positioned across the foundation and ready to set its “Heel.”

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Ceremony people ‘encourage’ the reluctant stone. Getting reorganized. All hands on the lines.

Now was revealed the source of our trouble. The bagged Sac-Crete that we had mixed and poured two days before had failed its compressive strength in the base of the foundation, allowing the heel of the stone to scorp out a gouge in the vertical face of the foundation that the stone then tried to pivot on. Thus, our stone had never actually been seated in the notch of the foundation, but rather had been held a few inches above, where it could pivot. This was compounded by the cork-screw nature of the natural cut of the base, which did not have proper square corners to steady the lift. No wonder we lost control of this great stone.

We discussed what we needed to change in the rigging of the stone, and in its alignment. It was clear that with the cork-screw base of this stone we would need to mount two side-wise tug lines to control wobble until the stone could fully seat in the foundation. But getting it to that point would be difficult, as the face of the foundation that the stone should pivot on had already been eaten away.

Here a more modern technology came of aid, one that I am sure our honored fore-bearers would have used 5,000 years ago, had they the chance! A gasoline-powered diamond rock saw! In no time, we cut a 4-inch chamfer in the forward base of the stone, effectively lowering the point at which the heel of the stone would contact the face of the foundation... and thus changing the geometry of the lift in our favor. A whirring diamond blade, a bit of water, a few deft hammer blows, and the heel of the stone was shaped.

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The Stone is trimmed. Return to the lines. The singers sang to the Stones, the Spirits, and the People. A finicky bit of rigging.

Now came time to set up four different teams of people, the largest group taking up the tow rope that would actually raise the stone. A small group would provide the back-stay that allows the final precise adjustment of vertical. And very importantly, a small group to each side of the stone, who would provide the scant inches of sensitive, controlled pull that would keep the stone upright and true until it passed the danger point and (hopefully) dropped into the foundation. Through all the work, the Spirit Drum sang to the Stones, the People and the Spirits with a heartbeat rythym and soaring voices.

All was made ready, the A-frame was set, final adjustments were made to the attachment points on the stone. Each crew was spoken to, the plan outlined, their role and responsibilities explained. And so we began with a very slow and steady pull on the forward lines, the cribbing stack relaxing as the lines took up the load, now a bit of visible swaying as the stone moved free and became supported by the A-frame alone. I saw the stone slowly, sneakily moving to my left as it rose up, beginning to pivot on its cork-screw base.

“Give me 10 inches of slack line on the block!” I called out to the left-side stay crew, and as they reduced tension the stone moved back into leftward alignment with vertical. “POP!” shouted a chain as the load became measured in tons of force and the rigging shouldered into the stress. “Slowly now, hand over hand... slowly.” I shouted to the forward line, steadying their growing excitement as they began to be able to see the head of the stone over the spiders-web of lines and rigging. “Right side stay, more slack!” to correct a slight leaning of the stone as it continued to rise, inch by inch.

Then with a groan and the grinding of stone on concrete the great mass dropped from its pivot point firmly into the foundation. It swayed noticeably and the crowd gasped. “It's home in the slot!” I shouted and the crowd Oohh’ed in approval. “In a moment the A-frame will come free, be ready for it!” I called out. And shortly the chains rattled and the A-frame came free, leaving the Stone supported solely by the forward line. “Slowly now, the horse can smell the barn! Slowly, hand over hand.” And as the Stone rose into its full height, a murmur grew through the crown.

“Now!” shouted Mike, one hand on the plumb level. “HOLD!” I yelled to the lines... and the silence was complete. In soft tones the crew applied the binder straps to lock the Stone in place. “Left stays, right stays, you can drop your lines.” And as those critical lines went slack the Stone moved not a whit. I turned to face the people stationed on the long forward line that actually raised the Stone and called out, “Drop your lines... and come and see your handiwork!” An excited yell of approval went out through the Circle of Standing Stones. Another Standing Stone had joined The Family.

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Stone people mixing the bedding concrete. A final inscription. Through the Mother Stone. A faerie child cavorts.

There was still the bedding concrete to be mixed and troweled into the base of the new Stone. Decorations and necessaries to be gathered and set for the coming night's Ceremony of Consecration, every Stone in the circle to be gently candle lit. The Feast of the Standing Stones being made ready down at The Starvin' Artist Kitchen, the breaking of bread together and lovingly shared. Beautiful cast medallions glittering in the twilight. It had been a long day, starting at 10am, and it was now well past 6 in the evening. This Stone had worked us hard, this Rising had demanded our attention and our respect.

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A libation to honor the Great Work and the Land. A new family. A little celebrating. Through sweat, care, and perseverance – a New Stone Risen.

There had been all of the ups and downs that make for a Work of Years... a broken stone, a fallen stone, a risen Stone, and a Great Stones Rising.

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