A great force held together by a fragile framework.
Seven thousand years ago, the banks of the Nile were protected by substantial stone walls supported by a light frame. This practice continued, essentially unchanged, and is widely used today in civil engineering to stabilize shorelines, riverbanks, highways, and slopes against erosion. These structures are called gabion walls.
Gabion is Italian for big cage. Today, these cages, now of galvanized wire, are used to build retaining walls as well as for decorative purposes. They are made of stone, broken concrete, and sand, in a way essentially unchanged over the millennia.
Looking out the patio door in my room, I see a wall and, towering above it, in the background, a sand dune. This wall retains a mass of earth, allowing me to reside safely next to this imposing dune. The wall looks substantial, but its stones are placed individually, with no cement or other bonding material. Around the stones is what looks like chicken wire. The stones in the cage vary in size and shape, with smaller stones scattered between. I am looking at a gabion wall.
The key to the success of these rocks is the cage that holds them together. This cage is lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to maneuver. Once the foundation is established, the empty cage is set, and rocks are placed inside by hand. This requires a certain knack to make sure that the rocks fit properly. All the work is accomplished, without the aid of machinery. The unobtrusive cage retreats from sight while maintaining the wall’s integrity.
This wall is a metaphor for what our founding fathers accomplished when they gathered dissident colonists and bound them together with nothing more than an idea and determination. The individual stones in this gabion wall outside my room represent the population bound by the barely visible wire cage of the rule of law and the guiding principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
This work, begun by our founders, has been inherited by us. We have the responsibility to preserve the gabion wall of noble ideas in the documents they wrote, which now bind us together as a democracy.
By Savvy Senior
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