88: My Dad's hike

Here's my dad, and his two boys (my brother David and I) at the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine in 2001.  That's the cold, isolated, Northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, which begins not too far from our home on the shadier top of Springer Mountain, Georgia.  At 5267 feet above sea level, the summit is lower than most of the 6000 foot ridges surrounding our valley and holler here in North Carolina.  We can see the second-highest point West of the Mississipi, Clingman's Dome, a 6,600 peak, from a three-minute walk above the house.  But Katahdin's high latitude places its upper reaches way above the timber line.  It feels like Colorado up there on the scree-littered plateau.  Despite plenty of oxygen, the wind-swept, wide summit with its knife-edged ridge and steep, white-blaze-on-rock approach evokes a "Rocky Mountain High" even though it's "Down East," in Maine.

Dad completed the Appalachian Trail that day, after two decades of hiking it, section-by-section.  It was a huge personal achievement, and a special moment for all of us.  The previous summer, instead of summiting with him then as planned, we had almost lost Dad when a previously undiagnosed condition resulted in immediate open heart surgery.  Enough to send waves of shock and emotion through a family under more ordinary circumstances, it had been even more of a surprise, not least of all to him, given his lifelong, competitive, and almost pathological passion for daily, intense exercise.  "I run," he'd simply say when asked about his health.  Despite years of road and then track racing (bicycle) and other outdoor activity, I've now long known things about my own health that parallel my Dad's, stuff I've had to address since I want a long life of climbing my own Katahdins, with grown boys at my side to celebrate.

Here, the boys visit a newly-roofed cabin with Dad and Mom, last fall (2010).

87: Building a cabin, and bringing up boys

We're getting close to being done, but finishing a cabin isn't really the goal.

In Chapter 16, a year ago today on April 25, I wrote about my motivation to build a cabin. I described lots of reasons, but the important paragraph was about boys. I became a father to Abel and Angus later-than-average; at age 42, past the vigor of my own youth, having a sensitive and eager-to-please 6yo and a plucky, larger-than-his-britches 2.5yo brings unexpected freshness and brightness to every day. They are our life, and feeding the joy of any child is a fleeting but consummately worthy way to mark time. If I could bottle and sell it, I’d be rich. Building a cabin has been just one way to spend time with our boys and nurture their childhood. Blogging about it here has been an attempt to “bottle” that time. The pictures and short stories depict a wealth of blessings.

Here are just a couple of my favorite posts, because they deal with deeper stuff than carpentry – but many others show pictures that may speak for themselves and are worth more than my words…

Chapter 28
Chapter 36

More recently, I wrote briefly about perspective, about a book I'm reading that steers me toward this subject. I'm not good at writing about my faith, but it's there, and so is my determination, with God's help, to be the father they deserve. I have excellent role models, beginning with my Dad and Grandad, and including a number of friends I'm lucky to know.  After thrusting them into the world, we owe our children everything. If anyone is keeping score, it's the boys who matter.

Here's a thoughtful article written by a friend of mine, Bill, about his daughters. He's a terrific dad. He closes with, "And how do I help my other daughter, who is so much like me? Because one day she might open her eyes to the world and discover she’s forty-five." Yes. I relate to and admire Bill's sentimentality and concern. His little girl, she'll be fine. Belated enlightenment of any type is nothing to fear, in a life lived in good faith. She already knows her father's love, even as we all stumble along, sometimes in the dark.

Here's another one of Bill's reflections.  Obviously, Bill's a fine writer.  But what I especially appreciate about Bill is his way of letting the world slow down a little, during moments that matter.  His girls will remember that when they're old.

Building the cabin, spending time, creating memories, and writing about it -- that's how I'm stumbling through life at the moment, within the parameters of this project and blog.

86: Stones and old tools, and ladders

I built two windows this weekend, and I'll post pictures soon.  I chose Lexan, because it's stronger than plexiglass but stays clear, like glass.  Here are some random pictures from the weekend...

I spent some time moving from a 60 grit water stone to a 4000, trying to get this plane iron sharp enough to shave...

My Granddad was a civil engineer of some prominence in upstate SC.  He had a reputation for being totally committed to only the highest quality work, and most of all for his integrity.  I only have a few of his tools, including a plumb bob, which he must have used to inspect work sites (he was the principal engineer for lots of our paper and textile mills, including Champion in Canton).  This weekend, up on a ladder in the cabin, I discovered his initials (JHB for "John Henry Bringhurst") 
stamped into its stem.

It'll be a while before I build a wooden ship ladder, so the boys will have to make do with this stepladder...

85: Chinking, soccer, hiking, windows

Night before last, using a headlamp, I almost finished chinking the last wall.  It's much more complete (less ventilated) now.  This weekend, between Easter services, Abel's second soccer match (he's so excited!), a family hike, and some other things, we'll add railings and I'll rip some trim to frame the upstairs windows.

84: Almost finished play loft!

All I need to do is put in lexan on the ends and a railing across the middle, and build a wooden ladder...

83: Cutting a board

Here I am, cutting a decking board for Abel's and Angus's sleeping loft, with Mark Budden's sharp Stanley ripping saw...it's not a 19th Century tool, but it operates on the same principles.  Sharp, quality steel I appreciate.

The loft will be a close quarters experience, perhaps and hopefully less so for small-to-medium size boys.  For now, you can glimpse the end of Ralph Morgan's rough-sawn locally-milled lumber under the gabled eave.  Later, I'm going to attach a row of log rounds across the board, laterally -- it'll look cool, like a cordwood-style row of log under the glass above.

82: Where we live

I came across a picture of me with Sloan and Abel and Angus, taken just before Christmas, a few miles away, near the top of Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We can see the shoulder of Waterrock from the cabin in the winter.  When I was racing and training lots, I used to climb on my bicycle the several-thousand foot ascent from our nearest town of Sylva.  I might have to relive that experience, and soon.  It's special to live in such a beautiful place.  My boys are lucky to enjoy such an amazing backyard.

81: Beams are up

Yesterday, I installed two top plate boards on top of the windowless side of the cabin.  These provide a solid, flat surface on which to rest the three beams that will span the interior and support the floor boards of our loft,  The perimeter beams are single, rough-sawn 2x6s and will be supported from the rafters above at intermediary points.  The center beam, covered by flooring, will have to work with no support between its ends, so I doubled it.  For now, you can look up from the outside and see their ends; later, I'll rip a log in half and cover them, so it'll blend right in...

I'm using hand tools again -- this saw belonged to my grandad!

80: Raisin' it (not just the Loft)

I bought a passel of locally-cut and milled boards from Ralph today, to build a sleeping loft in the cabin.  Pictures and descriptions will be posted soon!

Here's the dialogue with lots of gaps between my fedora-wearing 14 year-old nephew Jackie and father-in-law "Pahpah" Jack, at my table this evening.  Maybe Pahpah will teach the boys how to play Texas Hold'em, and the loft will be a great place for the boy posse to congregate over some cards:




Get a white one.

I got two pair, I got queens and dueces and a king kickin.

Ahight it's on you Jackie boy.


On you again.



Hah.  That deuce pays off for me.

I'll be the small and you'll be the big because you'l be the dealer.

Mmm.  I call.  You can check or raise.

You got to raise at least 200.

Ahhhight.  Burn one and flop three.

200.  Call.  Oh oh, I done that wrong.  Call.  Burn one and turn one.

Let's play for 1000 straight up."

Big time eh...

Burn one and river one.

Check.  Check.

I've got you skint.  I got a pair of aces.  You've got a pair of jacks and you didn't make the straight.  mmmm getting back some of my money.



You can do betternthat.  You folded a winner.  Cause all I had was three sixes.

Ima fold my pair of Kings I think you've got a heart.


Give me back my money.

Yeay you've gotcher money back.

What you want to do the way a person bets it can tell you a lot about their hand.


I'm gone call.


Eheh. You've got a queen or ace.


A lot of gamesmanship.  When you set down at a strange table you pay cautious till you learn how people bet.

Oh. You had me beat.  I had a pair of deuces...

100 on me.  I call that hundred.


Ahight.  200.




I'm gonna fold...

I was going by the seat of my pants there... needed a seat belt.

Your time to dance.  On you again.


On you one last time.

I see a check.


That dudn't work.

I was hoping I could bluff you out there.

I had a pocket pair.

and so on.......................

79: Canyons and cabins

I picked up a book, Out of the Canyon, and it's a tough read, for a father of two boys. Here's an amazing blog about it, and here's the cover:

I've often driven the stretch of road the authors, Art and Allison Daily, describe in the first chapter, back in 95' when, as newlyweds, Sloan and I spent a summer with my brother and sister-in-law where they lived in Vail, just a few miles East on I-70 from where Art Daily's accident had just happened that very February;  thankfully, I've not driven the metaphorical road that the book chronicles. But make no mistake -- we are all on that same journey.  It makes me grateful for every blessing, in this life and the next.  Especially my family, my wife, Sloan, and my two small boys, all of them so overflowing with joy and life and promise.

Personalizing Art Daily's tragedy isn't enough, though.  It's true that being a loving father of two wonderful little boys  makes it easy to visualize while reading (in a brave, first-person voice) about, with dread and sadness, his loss.  It's true that this vicarious experience stimulates real emotion, and a sincere empathy.  It's untrue that I can really grasp his own feelings, or the depth of his sorrow.  I'm just so sorry that such a thing happened, and all that I can really do is live life as he would have if given the opportunity to trade places, and love my boys. 

Almost a year ago, as I was first felling trees, I wrote about the many reasons a busy professional man with lots of chores, priorities, hobbies, and other demands on his time might build a cabin with hand tools and sweat.   I came up with many rationalizations, but one sentence always feels legitimate:  "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?

I hope so.  I hope the cabin's a metaphor too: more than a place my boys will play, something their daddy built, a memory, a childhood.  The cabin's just a structure, but these moments are precious.

78: Daubing, and more daubing...

The third wall has been chinked and daubed, and I can smell the barn.  This is very hard work.  The last remaining wall has no windows or door -- that'll be easier in a way but overall more difficult -- more to do.  I've decided that wool insulation will invite pests and dust.  I'd use fiberglass bats if I were going to chink and daub the inside walls, but I have no more energy for such and also want to avoid any crumbling concrete dust on the interior.  Spray foam insulation is the way I'll go.  It's not cheap, but it does seem to go a long way.  It's insulating and it's hypoallergenic.  It'll cover the back of the lathe nicely.  "Good Stuff," to be exact -- whether that's a description or not it's soon-to-say.  If it looks ugly, I'll cover it with ripped strips of wood, which could be stained like the walls.

About Me

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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.