December 7, 2011
Much of the bedrock of Vermont is granite, an igneous rock formed from volcanic magma. There are granite outcrops around my land, granite boulders form the stone walls, and my house is built on granite ledge, with half the cellar taken up by its intrusion into the space. Not far from my home, in Barre, Vermont, are enormous veins of granite that have been quarried for 200 years. The Rock of Ages quarry is reputed to be the world's largest, and has been photographed by Edward Burtynsky, (click "quarries" then "Vermont") a great photographer of industrial sites. I made a trip with friends to see a nearby abandoned quarry last week, guided by the journalist and photographer Terry J. Allen; they thought I'd enjoy seeing the site and photographing there, and they certainly were right. It was thrilling.
I caught my breath as I got my first glimpse of the huge walls of granite, dropping to a still body of greenish water, the gray stone streaked with dramatic bands of black, possibly from mineral deposits. The complex interlocking angles of the stones make the whole thing look like a giant sculptural installation.
In other areas, red streaks, and rock walls topped by long-abandoned fences.
Upon our arrival in the area, the quarries had announced themselves in the village nearby: giant mounds of discarded stones are everywhere.
Trees grow up between these rocks and on top of them, the grays of stone and bark in subtle harmony.
Climbing past those rocky piles and across granite ground was when the drama of the black and gray walls unfolded. Here you can see the old ladders still in place that enabled the workers to climb from ledge to ledge.
And when I looked toward the west, there was a beautiful lake formed by water seeping into the abandoned quarry, the angled rocks looking like an architectural ruin.
Turning back toward the east, I could see the cranes of the working quarry, used to lift the blocks of granite.
There was a large array of discarded tools and equipment, which of course caught my eye, including an entire building filled with old machinery. The relationships of color and form were beautiful, and the huge size (the cables two or three inches thick) astounding.
I loved this group of enormous versions of simple bolts and screw eyes, bits of hardware we usually can hold in the palm of the hand. Here they were made for giant tasks, the heroic endeavor of cutting stone from the earth. It does seem heroic to me, thinking of the men, many from Italy, who worked these quarries a hundred years or more ago, when it was more difficult and dangerous. I see here some grandeur in our industrial past.