The chokecherry, maple and birch leaves are starting to turn colors. A young red fox is hanging around and looks like it’s changing into its prime winter pelt.
I have all the holes ready for the footings and all the rocks and boulders from the holes that I could lift are set up as a sort of retaining wall where the driveway turns into the building site. The tools I used are pretty basic: a rock pry bar, a spade shovel and a small pick axe that I bought at a flea market for $4.00. A post hole digger or earth auger would have been pretty ineffective for this site in my judgement; too many large rocks and too much hard clay. I ordered some flared, square footing forms that attach to the sonotube forms, and so I’m just waiting for those to arrive and the weather to cooperate before I begin pouring concrete. I must admit that the foundation has proved to be much more work than I anticipated. I thought I would hit the granite bedrock at a much shallower depth, but that was really only the case where the bedrock was exposed on the surface. Lesson learned for next time.
I also took a weekend and went fishing on the Bois Brule in northern Wisconsin with some friends. We stayed south of highway 2 to avoid the crowds and by doing that, also missed out on the lake-run trout and salmon. Caught plenty of pan-sized native brook trout though and kept one just to taste.
A friend just sent this photo from down the Gunflint Trail at Hungry Jack lake. Apparently the young moose had fallen through the ice and some folks mounted a rescue mission. Not sure I would have done the same for a variety of reasons, but this moose seems better off on top of the ice rather than under it.
Also, received approval from the county to start building (I redacted some info in the picture to honor the privacy of neighbors but most of it is public record anyway).
Stay tuned for pouring concrete piers and drilling into bedrock as soon as the weather cooperates!
I’ve been thinking I ought to dedicate a post to some of the various books, blogs, and other media I’ve come across that have inspired me. I think every one of us has an innate yearning to build a cabin in the wilderness with all that entails: a sense of self-sufficiency and pride of accomplishment, to commune with nature and our primitive impulses, or just simply fulfilling a basic survival need to construct a shelter from the elements. Building a cabin in the woods, in a way, is the root of human ambition. This impulse for the most modest of conquests has been described in literature through the ages with some of my favorite and well-known examples being Thoreau’s Walden, Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil, and Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. I remember seeing an enthralling documentary on PBS, Alone in the Wilderness, about Dick Proenneke who hand built a log cabin in Alaska where he lived for 30 years when I was younger and finding it just as inspiring when I revisited it on youtube a number of years later. In that same vain, a number of bloggers I’ve been following have left me with a similar sense of awe and provided me with some degree of confidence that I could also pursue this dream. Lou Ureneck’s From the Ground Up blog on the New York Times’ website details the account of the author building a cabin in Maine; Philosophy professor Mark van Roojen’s website about building a timber frame cabin in Wyoming’s Sierra Madre; and joiner Peter Follansbee’s blog about working green wood with hand tools have been some of my favorites. These are just a few examples of some of the great blogs out there that have made my dream of building a cabin with my own hands seem so tangible. There are also some great video series available for free online that I watch religiously including Paul Sellers’ Woodworking Masterclasses, Wranglerstar’s Modern Homesteading, and Roy Underhill’s The Woodwright’s Shop on PBS. If you’re reading this and dreaming of building your own cabin, I highly recommend checking out some of these other sites. And if you have suggestions for other great sites, drop a link in the comment section so we can all keep pushing the dream forward.
The Aurora Borealis viewed from Saganaga Lake in Minnesota/Ontario.
I had a friend, his dad, and another friend come up from Wisconsin to help clear some paths from the building sites down to the water. It helped in convincing them that the gill-netting season for whitefish was underway. And even though the weather did not cooperate for the fishing to be successful, I’m thankful they came to help because they were much more adept at path visualization than I am. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the descent from the building sites down to the water is about 60′ and much of it is the bare faces of giant granite boulders. My approach would have been to clear a straight line down to the water and later devise a system of anchoring a staircase into the granite. Luckily, my friends dissuaded me from this course of action. Their approach, and what I quickly realized was the correct approach, was to follow the natural course of the topography in a meandering sort of way all the way down to the lake. The paths ended up longer but much easier to navigate, and felt as though it was the natural way to travel, as if it was a well-used game path. The paths also had the added benefit of winding around beautiful old-growth trees and past little vistas with views of the lake. There were a couple of spots where the path had to cut across a low, swampy area or jump over a little ephemeral stream so we reused lumber from the old docks I referred to in a previous post to make foot bridges. Instead of removing whole trees, we limbed them up to just above head-height. Not only did this make the path more secluded and enclosed, but it also framed the path in such a way that it was apparent which direction one would have to walk. I’ll have to keep up with the trail maintenance especially during the first few years. A lot of the early successional stage vegetation around here is especially adapted to exploit a disturbance that has left a site clear and sunny. As long as I stay in front of it, the forest will grow up naturally around the path and shade out anything wanting to grow underfoot, and I should have a defined, well-worn path in the future.
For anyone interested in building trails of any sort I would recommend checking the resources available at americantrails.org. I especially like the illustrated compendium of tools used in trail building. They also have a section dedicated to wildlife impacts of trails; a research topic in which I was involved with the University of Wisconsin Sylvis Lab.
When the property was purchased, there was an assortment of floating docks that had become untethered and somehow ended up strewn along the shoreline. I’m not entirely sure to whom they belonged but they were clearly no longer functioning for their original purpose. I recruited my sister to help dismantle them into manageable pieces and stack them neatly on the shore.
When the job was finished, there was a fairly sizable stack of usable lumber that must have been treated. Some of the other material was too far gone to use for any sort of building purposes but I thought it might help firm up some softer, boggy areas where I intended to eventually build paths. I took notice of a rubber roller fastened to the edge of one dock that must have been used to help pull a canoe out of the water. I have to keep that clever contraption in mind for a dock of my own in the future. We ended with a five gallon bucket half filled with rusty nails, cleats, corner irons and other hardware. I could tell some of the materials were quite old because not only was the dimensional lumber actually 2″ thick, some of the nails appeared to be hand cut. The nails that were already laying among the rocks would crumble when handled, so I pulverized them, mixed the iron oxide dust with honey and gum arabic, and made some watercolor paint. It took some trial and error to figure out how the coarseness of the pigment would take to the paper, but I painted a few pictures of moose with the watercolor.
I suppose the best place to begin is selecting the building sites. The land is about 10 acres, divided into two adjacent parcels with about 800′ of shoreline. As you can see from the picture, the shoreline is abutted by an enormous granite boulder (characteristic of the Laurentian Shield in these parts).
Building codes dictate that structures cannot be located within 100′ of the water line and require a bluff setback of 30′. This means that for all practical purposes, the only suitable building sites are up on top of the rock. There is approximately a 60′ vertical descent from the building sites to the water. This land was completely undeveloped when acquired with no access from the road, so the first order of business was to clear, fill and grade driveways to the building sites.
I was fortunate to find a local crew of equipment operators who had all their machinery nearby for another job, so I was able to split the transportation costs. There was a gravel pit relatively nearby so that was another bit of good fortune as well. It took about 3 days (with a break for the weekend) to clear, fill and grade two driveways or a total length of about 200′. The job required 432 yards of pit fill and 70 yards of gravel. About one-third of the cost was labor for the truck drivers alone so for anybody interested in filling a driveway, hauling distances need to be considered. I found it was also helpful having people familiar with building septic mounds involved because the driveways needed to be situated in a way that would allow for future sewer construction, both in terms of access, setback requirements and distance to the building sites. Another suggestion I took into consideration was how the driveway would accommodate a snow plow in the winter and ultimately went with a loop design for one driveway and a cul-de-sac area at the end of the other. After the driveways were finished, I applied for two highway access permits from the county (the land is along a county road). Success! I now have two driveways with their own fire numbers and three potential building sites cleared. The grade of the driveways is a little steeper than I would have liked, but I feel good that I saved some money and minimized the environmental impact by having the driveways a little shorter. The steeper slope also drains faster and adds some privacy from the road. It remains to be seen how easy it will be to drive up and down in the winter, though.