The View from the Old Stone Fence is an impression of a moment. And the moment is a sensory experience of wonder etched somehow upon the fabric of self.
You see, the print you see on this page is story—all art is story and all story is art. This particular tale is about following a path, past the ruins of a Puritan chapel in the mid-seventeenth century. The foundation, quite visible with evidence of masterly stonework, also kept some of its walls. The congregation. dispersed and the pastor, John Myles founded Swansea, Massachusetts, in 1663. The community of Swansea was really more of a church plant, bringing some intrepid parishioners, and their Welsh town’s name with them, to found a free congregation of believers. Such was the expansive vision of Christians of that era. They came to America to establish a part of the Kingdom of Christ, from which they might worship freely, and launch out to fulfill the Great Commission. These were our founders, unknown to most, but wonderfully typical of those who establish this nation. Let me pause, and return to the picture. To do so, I will have to go back to the moment I was awaken that morning, before the walk, before the church ruins, before the old stone fence.
We lived in a cottage in Ilston, Wales, near Mumbles, and Swansea, during my PhD research at the University of Wales. I remember awakening on those “fish-frozen” (Dylan Thomas) mornings in autumn, buried beneath the warmth of quilts that came with our borrowed bungalow, undoubtedly handmade by Welsh women from, at least, the early twentieth century. I remember the stillness of Ilston at dawn. Yet, stillness did not mean silence. For there were sounds, rural sounds similar to those of my childhood, but also quite new. These sounds harmonized: the bleating of a lost lamb, or a distraught ewe, and the gurgling movement of the River Willy Nilly rushing over smooth stones; settled and seemingly immovable in their eternal rest after flood and deep frozen earth deposited them at that very spot. Feminine fingers moving sensitively over the delicate strings of a fine harp: that is what heard. On one of those cherished mornings I left my wife and my little son, who by this time was snuggled closely to his mother, secure beneath the warm flakey biscuit layers of faded indigo and wheat field colored patches, happily quilted. I dressed quickly, started the old gas heater, with his briquettes charred by decades of such mornings, yet still dependable as an uncomplaining, and mostly compliant factory worker. Never bothered, as some lesser mortals might be,nthat the labor is repetitive p, and, for the most part, unnoticed. But he knows. He knows that the products he assembles are needed by those who never consider his work, his dignity. Thus, the old heater. He only coughed but once when I struck the kitchen match near his wheezing breath. As he came back to life, I thought I heard him say, “So, what do you think of that, eh Yank?” I ignored him. I opened the front door, glass-bottled milk from the local dairy already at the doorstep, and moved into the new sunlight and remaining shadows. I huddled into myself, as if doing so would really warm me. I maintained this cramped posture, causing a hobble, as I crossed the little river. I realized that I walking down a sheep path, and into what I thought looked like a fairytale forest. After morning prayer at Pastor John Myles’ chapel ruins, I resumed my journey through the magnificent wood, a dipping and ascending experience of a mostly forgiving forest floor. Then, I halted and held my breath. For I could see that the well-secured woodland canopy had given way to a spectacular vista. I uttered something to myself, the forest, the ruins, and the Lord, “Amazing.” I began walking double-time towards a meadow painted by Beatrice Potter. I breathed in the air greedily as if I was drinking the coldest and purest of all waters on the earth. The Celtic country air tasted like it had been sweetened by the serendipitous scene before me. Yet, my footsteps were suddenly slowed by something before me. An ancient but sturdy creature stood immovable and quite formidable before me. I stood in awed stillness before this grand old edifice, this ancient stone fence. The dreamy view beyond the fresh morning meadow, a splendid scene that invited me to run into the opening, seemed, then, impossibly out of reach. The meadowlands became a Turner-deserving landscape that stretched across strands of woods, and hymn-singing hills into the pale blue, and misty distance. Now, though, the beauty was suddenly, likely never to be experienced. Was this old man, this ancient stoney border, a mysterious guardsman from Briton’s early days, those pagan days of unrecorded time, before Saint David came ashore and preached the Gospel of grace? Or did the wall between here and there mean anything at all? I remembered the Scripture: “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (Proverbs 22:28). I touched the stone fence, ran my palm over the top and the side, as if examining a thing that could just as well come from outer space. I withdrew my hand, made colder by the icy rock, and returned it to my coat (borrowed from the cottage-owner’s closet). I paused. I thought about crossing it, but I couldn’t. It was as if I was suspended in awe and even a kind of respect, or, perhaps better-put, a reverence.
There are beautiful things that shall ever remain unpossessed, and even unreachable in this world. The ancient boundaries will remain until we are transported by Saint David’s Redeemer into that fair land—past the forest, the ruins, and over the river; to a place of peacefully bleating sheep, gurgling brooks, and faded quilts made new.
This artwork seeks to recreate that impression. I hope you enjoy it.
The print of View from the Old Stone Wall may be procured in various sizes and formats at the online gallery. All artwork proceeds fund the nonprofit, Faith for Living, Inc., a Christian nonprofit established to reach as many possible by all good means available. The images are free to share for non-commercial use.