16: Why build a cabin?

It may seem odd to many that I'd spend time doing something like this, but you'll find reason behind the madness.

First, I love projects -- I always have, since I started building model ships when I was a young boy, or GI Joe villages out of cardboard boxes. Inspired by a painting, I once built a 2' Roman-era sailboat, fully carved and rigged, from a 8x16" block of balsa wood, and cluttered mom's kitchen counter with it for a month. That won a school Latin project contest in 7th grade, but winning really wasn't the point. Since becoming a homeowner, I've built decks, porches, a bedroom addition with a vaulted ceiling, hardwood flooring, workshops, and even a tree house with a 192 sq' climbing wall, complete with overhangs. With work, family, intensive hobbies like bike racing and kayaking, it would seem unlikely that I'd have immersed myself in such things. But, once I conceptualize a project, I begin planning each phase in my head, and it's only a matter of time before I launch the first step. After that, sometimes at the expense of those around me, I feel compelled to preserve momentum and see things through to the finish.

Second, I grew up playing in the 19th century outbuildings and barns at my close friend's farm. Now, with 2 small boys, it's easy to find the motivation to create a playground out of our mountain property. They'll love having a cabin. Wouldn't anyone? We haven't had television reception or satellite since 2002, before either boy arrived to play in the holler. We're taking a stand against video gaming as an acceptable way to spend time at home, too. Not luddites, we do use the computer and watch videos on Netflix, but beyond that, the rest of the time, I hope our boys will thrive in their woods. Having a cabin, a climbing wall and treehouse, bike and foot trails, creeks, and a whole mountain to explore will help. Here's hoping.

Third, I was an English literature major and grew up around books. I also grew up in a Sierra Club family, hiking and then paddling in these mountains. Thoreau always appealed.  He said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."  My cabin in the woods "teaches," as building it has been a lesson in many things both concrete and spiritual, and it may prove to become a place (or process) of self discovery.

Here's his cabin:

And here's another Walden-inspired cabin, in the words of its creator on the House of Fallen Timbers blog, "Truth is there are tons of good reasons for building an outbuilding but when the project is as (unique shall we say) as mine a lot of people think you're strange. Then finally one day I answered the question. Without thinking about it or falling back on my laundry list of practical uses for the cabin I simply said ... "No computer, no phone, no T.V., or any other source of tragedy, anxiety, or hysteria."

For the first time ever I got the feeling that the person I was talking to was completely satisfied with the answer. With this in mind I thought I'd share the following video. I think we all need a "Walden Space" in our lives." 

And here's one of the more rustic Appalachian Trail shelters that actually pretty much resembles what I'm building (from www.nps.gov), another sort of experience that formed my youth:

Then, a friend, Tobias, exposed me to One Man's Wilderness -- nice blog reference to it here: http://blindflaneur.com/?p=2588.

I'm not delusional regarding any sense of true independence or wilderness, but these books still inspire. Also, actually, my own building projects differ from these two stories of self reliance, Waldensian and Alaskan, in that they always serve to remind me how generous and helpful friends can be. It's most enjoyable to make something by yourself, but it's even more pleasurable to share the experience with folk you like and respect. Combine these sources of motivation and satisfaction with the perfection of our mountain cove setting, and a log cabin seems like a natural, good thing to build.

Fourth, I love learning new skills. I'll try to use hand tools as much as possible and reap as many natural products from my own land or local sources as possible.

Photo of Boy Scout log-cabin-appreciators provided by an old friend who is 1st on the left (I'm 3rd from left), taken on the way to the 1983 World Jamboree in Calgary:

Fifth, I grew up in the Boy Scouts, learning scout crafts and working at camp. Got my Eagle. It's been a while since I played in the woods with natural building products, and I hope my relatively new experience with and propensity to use power tools doesn't interfere with the process. Fortunately, the cabin site is far away from any electricity. If it was for some kind of nonprofit cause, this cabin would make for a sweet Eagle project.

I'm in the green boat -- read on; this actually relates to the post...
Finally and maybe not as compelling as the other sources of motivation, I'm only 7 months out from major shoulder repair surgery after tearing my rotator cuff while paddling the Green River narrows, about an hour from here. I need a distraction that'll keep me off of the steep creeks and pushier rivers while my shoulder further heals. I'm capable of manufacturing a strong enough sense of denial and ill-conceived confidence, enough to make a bad decision and do too much too soon. This'll keep me busy until later in the summer or the fall.

Mostly, I'm building it because that's what I want to do.

1 comment:

  1. fernand chandonnetDecember 18, 2013

    Interesting presentation of your motivations. I've spent a lot of time in the outdoors through much of my life: mountaineering, sea kayaking, back-country skiing. But I can't say any of that motivated me to build my cabin. I think I just liked the look of the trees, and I put them to work. I have a replacement shoulder, and so can relate to your injury. It didn't cramp my style, though.


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I use this blog to chronicle certain aspects of my life near the Smokies. I'm building a cabin. I kayak. Sometimes I bike.