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Romancing the Stone

Home Design

As a kid, my brother, Ethan, was an escape artist. When he was two, he absconded from our Buxton backyard, kicking off a daylong search that involved the police and fire departments and culminated when a neighbor discovered him sleeping in the woods. Later, an obsession with My Side of the Mountain inspired a few attempts to flee our Yarmouth home for the “wilderness,” the most dramatic being when our mom caught up to Ethan on the Cousins Island Bridge and he refused to get in her car. Eventually, a police officer, who happened to be patrolling the area, pulled over and ended the standoff by ordering the fugitive to “obey your mother.”

Reflecting on these events now, I have two thoughts: Please, God, don’t let my children ever do this to me, and, man, my brother has pluck. His motivation for running off was never vindictive or attention seeking; rather, he seemed genuinely curious about the world and confident he could handle whatever he found in it. And so, with no announcements, no fanfare — not even a backpack — he’d simply slip away.

It was with this same courage and quiet self-assurance that Ethan started his company, Perennial Stone, seven years ago. Specializing in dry stone construction — an ancient, mortar-less technique used to create pathways, walls, and other structures of superior beauty and strength — Ethan never touts his highly skilled work. So I will! The first project he did at our house was replacing a pair of crumbling, mortared-brick retaining walls with dry-laid granite ones. Five years later, I am still marveling at this intricately jigsawed composition:

granite retaining wall

And last week, he completed a beautiful walkway in our backyard. Initially, I envisioned an informal path made up of organically shaped granite slabs — Ethan’s specialty. But our budget was more in line with brick, so Ethan suggested using reclaimed material arranged in an elegant basket-weave pattern. I love the mottled colors and soft edges of the old masonry so much that I’m totally over the granite. Now we just need to plant some grass!

basket-weave brick walkway

Beyond traditional hardscaping, Ethan has created a granite arch crowned with a 1,000-pound keystone at our dad’s place in Baldwin (pictured above), a medieval-style labyrinth at the University of New England in Portland, and Japanese-inspired platform beds anchored by hulking stone posts. He still has his adventures — right now, he’s off building rock walls in Grand Teton National Park with the Dry Stone Conservancy. But fortunately for us, and other local beneficiaries of his handsome work, he always comes back.

What do you think of the new walkway? I love hearing your thoughts.


8 Comments

  1. Barbara Martin

    Ooh, Sarah, thanks for posting. Your wall looks beautiful. After watching Ethan’s comings and goings over the past week, I was very curious what he was up to in your backyard!

    • Sarah Stebbins

      Thanks Barbara! And you know you are welcome to peek and/or stop for a glass of wine! I’ve been meaning to check out the progress in your backyard too. 🙂

  2. Christine Pekar

    Hello Sarah,
    I love how your walkway came out. What a nice entry into your backyard.
    I have had Perennial Stone do a beautiful fieldstone patio and firepit and have enjoyed it till this day. I too have a retaining wall but it was built with mortar by another company and slowly a rock or two falls out. Your retaining wall looks great as well, I guess that will be in my future too.

    • Sarah Stebbins

      Thank you so much for the kind words Chris!

  3. Nancy Gorden

    Sarah,
    Ethan’s walls and your walkway are simply beautiful!

    • Sarah Stebbins

      Thank you so much Nancy! How’s your house coming along? xo

  4. carolyn bower

    I can’t wait to see the brick walk in person – I saw it half done, and I saw pictures. It is beautiful. Ethan’s work is stunning, yet it is quiet in the way it becomes part of its surroundings. Beautiful enhancements to what is there naturally. I have always loved your wall.

  5. Pingback:Romancing the Stone - Down East

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