Friday, November 22, 2013

The Dog Line

one of six stone sentries

I was cutting up firewood when I became distracted by some odd shaped rocks left in piles where a stone wall had once stood.  I had hauled away what remained of the good building stones a few years earlier, as previous rock snatchers had left nothing but a horizontal heap along the edges of the depression formed by the wall's foundation. The chunky, irregularly shaped stones just seemed to leap up and start dancing, so I put down my chain saw and joined them.  Together we created an installation I call the "The Dog Line," named after the guard post on the Tasman Peninsula north of Australia's Port Arthur Penal Colony.

The narrow "neck" that leads from the Tasmanian mainland is only a hundred feet wide at its most narrow point. In the mid nineteenth century, when the Port Arthur prison was in operation, a wide furrow had been dug through the dunes to visually connect the two opposite beaches. This groove was then carpeted with a layer of crushed white shells. Torches burned all night, reflecting off the floor of the trench. A line of ferocious attack dogs were staked and chained along its length in such a way that no man could pass in between the canines and not feel the agonizing bite of their blood stained teeth.

It would be to the water for a prisoner trying to escape, and most would drown in the dangerous and fickle currents along the Tasman's rocky shoreline. If an escapee happened to outwit circumstances at Eaglehawk Neck and managed to get past the dogs and the armed, ever vigilant sentries, then it was assumed he would to starve to death because there were no fruits or berries or game available to be eaten in the dark, heavily canopied forest. And there weren't any villages, just miles of rough, forested land to the west and an ocean to the east.

My Dog Line is nothing like the one in Tasmania, though there is a long ditch and the forms that emerge from the stones feel watchful, like sentries, looking out across time, through a young forest that seventy years before had been a well tended corn field.

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