60: More on Chinking, some on horses, and advice from the Last American Man

There's a place nearby (Boone) where they do this kind of thing all the time. It's called Turtle Island Preserve. I would have gone over there to learn some things if being self-taught hadn't been part of the game.
I wrote this letter some time ago:

Hello Mr. Conway,

I'm writing with a couple of questions. I understand that you may not check email regularly, and I'd be grateful for any small amount of time you take to respond.

I live in the mountains and have heard some good things about what you are doing from folk who have visited there. Then, I read The Last American Man, and I visited your website.

I'm a rank amateur, but I've been building a small cabin on my property, for the experience and for my boys to use and play in as they grow up on the mountain. I've made many mistakes and will do some things differently the next time, and I'm doing all the work during some of the scarce moments that I'm free from my day job.

I'm specifically interested in how you'd chink the thing given that I have some very big gaps, due to differing sized logs (a mistake, for sure). I was thinking about nailing down some scrap planking split to size, waiting till the spring while the poplar dries and shrinks, and using a homemade mortar mix with lime, concrete, and sand. But how would you do it?

After it settles and dries, I'm going to build windows and then have glass cut for them at a local glass shop here. Any suggestions regarding very simple joinery for these? I can get rough sawn wood at a local saw mill a couple miles away.

Thanks for any thoughts or advice. I hope to visit over there so

me time. Turtle Island seems like my kind of place.

Here are pics of the cabin (in progress) on a blog I'm keeping:


I received this reply:

[Dear Michael]

...use a mix of 1/3 red clay and 2/3 sand, with some straw squashed up and worked in - or shredded up horse manure works well. This is much better than cement products, is authentic and doesn't cost much if any...

Yes, do let the logs dry a year or more before finishing out and chinking windows, etc.

You can use 1/2 used motor oil with 1/2 diesel fuel to oil-sludge against rot and insects.

Best Wishes.

What do you think? I think I'll pass on the petroleum-based insect repellent, but I'm realizing that Portland Cement isn't the best bet. I'm not going to use manure either, but I'm beginning to think of going back to nature more than I'd planned. Maybe sawdust, maybe horse hair if I can get it? Wonder where I can get red clay in large quantities?

Maybe I should have used a horse to haul logs out of the woods. This almost happened, actually. My oldest friend owns a large horse and carriage company in Savannah, and he breeds draft horses on his Statesville, Georgia farm. He has the experience, skills, and tack, and on multiple occasions, he has offered to bring up a team and put them to work on the site. Wouldn't Abel and Angus and all their small friends be into that? This sounds like a digression, but here's Conway doing just that at Turtle Island:

Anybody who buys and reads the book will intuit that I'd be pleased to receive any kind of response from Eustace Conway. If I'm a passage in some text about trying to do something special using the old ways, well, then he's the book itself. Read about him, or beat me to the punch and visit over there.

Conway's compulsions and philosophy around the acquisition of land, his aggressive, even fanatical focus on both method and results, the balance he seems to need and imbalance he creates between fellowship and solitude or some kind of peace, these things I feel. At least according to somebody's gift for description -- I've never met the fellow, and I'm not usually one for pedestals. But he sounds interesting to know. Certainly a great resource, given my interests. Maybe a good friend to the select.

The next time I participate in some inane (they all are) group icebreaker that requires me to identify the "ideal dinner companion," I might share a vision of a small party comfortable in the blaze of a large campfire in some transcendental spot, maybe in a national park, or better yet around my own fire pit above the cabin surrounded by all the colorfully decorated trees that escaped my saw and bark spud and adze, during one of the full-on winter evenings masquerading as fall in our frozen, high-elevation North-facing holler, enjoying the added warmth of smoky scotch, and conversation with the likes of Ed Abbey and Mr. Conway.

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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.