During the chalkboard years of not-so-long ago, before the smart board, before the laptop, when chalk dust ruled the air and made us sneeze, my young elementary school classmates and I would compete for the privilege of washing the slate chalkboard or banging the erasers together at the end of the day. O joy! To race with the wet sponge across the broad board, wring it in the bucket, and then go the other way; to stand outside the school building and, in a demonstration of lofty bravado, turn oneself into a dust cloud amidst the soft smacks of felt. Ha! Behold! I am the chosen one! Let all know me as a student standing head an shoulders above all others on this fortuitous occasion! Pay no attention to the fact that I’m choking on this stuff. On the stairway back up to the classroom I would brush myself off, shake my hair, and rub my eyes. It never occurred to us that these were bad jobs, delighting the teacher to no end that she didn’t have to suffer any of it herself.
All this, and more, came to mind as I donned my Woolx yet again to ward off the evil spirits of winter and walk to the grocery store. Some of the biggest sheets of slate boards in the city, short of a slate quarry, lie between my home and the store. These behemoths of the pedestrian world act as a reminder that Upstate was and remains one of the largest suppliers of natural bluestone slate found anywhere in North America. For generations the quarries of the Catskills have supplied slate as a building material not just for the cities and villages of Upstate, but the cities further to the south – especially New York City. Brooklyn City Hall for example, a place recently visited, is surrounded on the street level with slate flagstone from the Catskills. Up here, it isn’t too hard to find barns and homes with slate roofs, sometimes solid grey, at other times a mixed use of the various colours slate naturally occurs in. I once had a barn with a slate roof that lasted nicely. Alas, the rest of it didn’t and the barn had to come down. Its slate now adorns the inside wall of a big dutch barn converted into a residence in Pennsylvania.
9 feet x 6 feet. What a stepping stone.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015
Hopscotch, tic-tak-toe, flower drawings, and much more decorate these stone canvasses during warmer months, something I eagerly anticipate. One of the more interesting developments is the sighting of Persian and Arabic writing as the neighbourhoods of this ethnic urban landscape change yet again.
Though slate is relatively cheap for upstaters, local municipalities seem to shy away from its use today (fortunately, some residences do not). There is a tendency for slate to crack if not made in sheets thick enough for strength; it tends to flake over time as evidenced in the many 100 year-old buildings extent throughout the area. Separated foliations in the slate can be easily seen in the steps, headers and sills of many structures. It doesn’t help that unthinking people sometimes back over these grand stones with automobiles, testing their ability to withstand the pressure of modern machinery. Still, stone represents an aesthetic advantage over concrete and, at least for sidewalks, it is very pleasing to look at as it changes its characteristics with every step. Local authorities might be wise to look at replacing slate with slate, rather than falling back on the cold and dull monotony of concrete.
You can say that again.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015
So back to the those chalkboards we go. They haven’t all disappeared by any means, though the wonkies of the new high tech education system continue to wave hammers at them. Teachers continue to find them very useful, me included. They still have great utility, long ago earning their place in the basket of necessary teaching tools. The trouble is, my students just aren’t as cooperative anymore. If you need me, I’ll be out back, banging erasers together. Just stand back lest you start sneezing.