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Dry Stonewaller Creates Living Entities

Andrew Pighills doesn't think much of stonewalls made with concrete. But ask him how he feels about a dry stonewall and his face lights up.

"It's a living entity," he says. "Seeds blow in through the stones, the chipmunks and mice follow the seeds, then the snakes and toads follow."

Dry walls are made by stacking individual stones by hand. Their ability to resist weather and time lies entirely in the ability of the dry stone-waller. And Pighills, one of only 25 US-based members of the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain , is one of the best.

Pighills - the name is of medieval English origin - began building and repairing walls on his father's farm in Yorkshire, England when he was 15. "I found that I was good at it," he says.

Yorkshire rivals New England for the number of dry stonewalls that crisscross its hilly pastures. "It's James Herriot country ," he says, referring to the long-running television program " All Creatures Great and Small ," which chronicles the life a country vet.

Ten years ago, Pighills came to visit a friend in Madison, Conn. When the friend urged him to stay longer, Pighills offered to repair a couple of old walls in exchange for his hospitality. The friend was so pleased that he asked him to return the following year to repair all the walls on the 19-acre property. Pighills came back to the US and has never left.

Pighills' signature style is to lay stones in an overlapping brick pattern. He says it makes the wall stronger. He works alone, assisted by a backhoe or by a wheelbarrow when space is tight. "I built a backyard garden for Steve Buscemi , the actor, in Manhattan," he says. "I moved five tons of stone from the street and through the house in a wheelbarrow."

Andrew's artist wife, Michelle Becker, likens a garden to a painting whose colors change every day. Andrew adds that stonework is the foundation or base color in the painting. "It gives the garden its sense of permanence," he says.

Do you have a dry stonewall on your property? Did you know that some of these walls are very old?

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