As they built the wall, they grew in stature

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Trucks brought two loads of black rocks and dark-green rocks, angular, broken from bigger rocks, and dumped them behind the new lodge. A troop of Scouts from Denver came up to the Girl Scout camp my family and I took care of in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. My friend Mike and I helped the girls build a rock wall without mortar where machines had cut a sharp bank into a gentle slope to level ground for the lodge. I showed the Scouts how to stack rocks into a wall, how to secure the large rocks with small rocks and dirt, and how to pack the dirt behind the wall.

One of the girls placed a long, narrow rock, stood back, and looked at it, then asked me, "Will this work here?"

I checked the black rock. "That's good," I said. "If we wedge a smaller rock at the back, tap it in tight here, and then pack dirt around it.... Use this bar like this and pack the dirt...."

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She took the heavy steel bar, packed dirt, tested the rock, then said, "We could push some of these broken pieces under here."

She packed dirt again and looked up at me with a question on her face. I pushed and pulled on the rocks. They didn't move. I said, "That's just fine." The other girls watched until I pronounced it fine, then they all went back to work. Mike carried rocks from where the truck had dumped them and put them closer to the rock wall.

For a while, every placer of rock asked, "Is this one just fine?" I checked, suggested a few revisions, pronounced rocks "just fine." Questions tapered off. The Scouts saw how to do the work and devoted their energies to building a good rock wall. They advised one another, helped one another, and checked with me once in a while to be sure they had met my standards. I watched them work and kept my advice to a minimum.

There is a theory that says most men have greater physical strength than most women and girls, and this theory at first seemed valid that day. Mike and I lifted the largest rocks into place for the scouts. But the Scouts, aged 12 to about 16, exhibited less evidence of that as the wall grew, as their enthusiasm for building the wall grew, and as their understanding that they could build the wall well grew.

They lifted large rocks. They ganged up on rocks, two or three girls lifting together. They used the digging bar to lever rocks into place, or to lift one end of a rock so they could move it end over end.

After my initial instructions and some close supervision, I said, "Whatever else you do, don't get your fingers under the rock. Stay uphill from it while you adjust it, until you're sure it can't fall and hurt you." After that, the Girl Scouts didn't need me much.

I walked over to see how Mike was doing. The largest rock lay where it had fallen from the truck. Mike pointed at it and looked at me. I walked around the rock. "I don't think so," I said. "Let's leave a space for it at the top of the wall, and we can bring the tractor up later and carry it in the bucket."

I walked back to the wall. A dozen girls worked enthusiastically in mountain sunshine. They had control of the project, but they liked occasional assurances from me that they were doing it right. They liked my aesthetic input. "Some big rocks, some smaller rocks. Don't make a straight line. It calls too much attention to itself"

One girl said, "Where's a good place for this one?"

I turned. A not-particularly-stout young woman held the largest rock, the one that Mike and I had refused to lift, waiting for me to tell her where to put it. I moved quickly, found a good place for it, and showed her. It didn't seem to cost her unusual effort. She stepped over, set the large black rock in dirt at the top of the wall, then moved dirt and small rocks to secure it.

When she was satisfied, she looked up at me, and I nodded. "That's great," I said, "That's just fine."

She stepped away from the wall with me and looked at the newly placed rock, at the wall. I said, "It looks great. We're almost finished."

She rejoined the crew and told them, "This wall looks really great. We're almost finished."

And by noon, we were finished. We all sat on the deck of the new lodge and looked at the wall. We all agreed it looked great. "It looks strong," one girl said.

I said, "Yes, it does. Really strong. You all did a really good job."

The smallest, and perhaps the youngest girl of all, said, "We did. We all did a good job. All of us, and you and Mike."

We headed to the big lodge for lunch with the ready appetite that comes from hard work done well in the open air.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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