Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jan. 2007

My second trip to the land after New Years 2007 was again unseasonably warm and it was possible to camp again. A local soil tester from Monroe named Ted Pelorin met with me and collected some samples of soil and deemed it good for drainage. He staked out a site for a future septic area and my much sooner to come outhouse.
I spent the next few days camping and walking around. I built a platform to keep my tent off the ground as it rained for most of my stay. Again I was hit with an almost blissful feeling of ...something...belonging? The work I did amounted to the clearing of brush from the general area of what was later to be my driveway. I did some sketches of what a small shack could look like. I was going to have to erect a shelter of some kind that I could heat if I was to stay there during the winter. I planned to build it on the platform I had made for my tent. It measured 8'X12'. Cozy.

House progress, April 2009

House circa Dec. 2008

My last trip was too short. I am rarely ready to come home to Cape Cod. I want to keep working. This is where I find purpose. When I am in Maine, working on this project, I feel I am where God means for me to be. I am however, always disappointed at the speed of my progress. For some reason I am under the impression that God has a deadline to meet and I showed up late for work. It pains me to leave, the work is never done.
But I have found a place where I need to be! What a relief! After years of driving back and forth across the country, living and working in a myriad of places, always searching, I could never shake the feeling of not belonging. The internal observer of my mind would never let me forget: "You don't belong here!" I tried to kill the voice with mass quantities of alcohol, but it did not relent. It would say nasty things to me that were no help whatsoever: "Fuck you!" or "You could always just kill yourself, you have options."
Eventually, with the help of a therapist, I came to the conclusion that the voice was a phantom from my childhood of growing up in a cult called "Jehovah's Witnesses". I was trained to be socially estranged from my peers. The realization gave me some momentary peace, and when the feeling returned I was able to look at it with some clarity. So, my childhood had a very strong influence on the adult that I am today; same as everyone else on the planet. At the time I was living in New York City which is an amazing place but not where I needed to be anymore. New York is a great big classroom in the School of Life and I was done with it, at least for now. I needed to be in the country with trees, my own home with a garage where I could build Hot Rods and Mud buggies.
It's never that simple getting from there to here, but that's another story, and the important thing is that my life is now going in what seems to be the right direction, albeit amid a tempest of doubt and second guesses.
At the end of April, 2009 I believe I am somewhere around the midway point to reaching the goal of having a small comfortable home with modern conveniences like heat, running water, plumbing, septic and electricity. Currently I have heat by wood burning stove and electricity for lights saws and TV. I had running water for a short time, via a dug well/ jet pump combination I dug and installed last Fall. Unfortunately during one of my stays in February, the outside temperature reached -23F. The pipes inside and leading up to the house froze and split open. There are a few reasons for the mishap, most boil down to my ignorance. I'll fix it later.
For now, I get water from the creek by the bucket full. It's the best drinking water ever!
This last trip was eventful and satisfying. Up till now a slide-on truck camper had been sticking out the side of my house. In fact, the house started with the camper. In 2007 I bought a truck and camper combo so that I would have a place to stay while building the house. Because my budget was is so limited I decided to simply expand the camper and make use of it's many appliances. The greatest disadvantage of the camper was it's heat source. It's propane/12v system was inefficient and difficult to maintain. I decided that by building a box containing a wood stove off the back of it, I could have free heat without the need of electricity. (please refer to the drawings in the post "House Sculpture").
Now, at the end of April 2009, the 16'X16' "box" is doing it's job and has become more elaborate than my original plan. The camper had gone from asset to liability. It was drafty, cramped, rotten and ugly. So I cut it off.

Well, not all of it. I had already added a little eating nook off the side and I still needed a place for the propane cook stove and refrigerator, so I cut off the front half with a Sawsall. It felt really good, like popping a big pus filled zit on your neck. I cut the sides then the top. The whole front section crashed to the ground as it hinged along the floor. The outside light poured in. The camper had been blocking the most beautiful sunlight of the day; late afternoon and evening. Sproket, my cat who had accompanied me on this trip, trotted downstairs to examine my progress.

I spent the rest of the day cleaning up the mass of metal and rotten wood that was formerly the southwestern corner of the house. As I had suspected it was also home to several mice and had been for years as I discovered that the walls were literally filled with mouse shit. Looks like I had also eliminated the mysterious odor coming from the kitchen.
The next few days I spent building a foundation out of stones from around the property and framing out a section of the new kitchen's floor with 2X8s from my friend Randy's old garage. The addition will add roughly 128 sq. ft. and will house the kitchen appliances and a washer and dryer.
Sarah came to pick me up the following weekend so that we could leave our little Subaru (which has been leaking oil profusely) in Maine before picking up Sarah's new ride (a '97 Saturn) in Maryland from her Grandmother. It also gave her a chance to check on my progress.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Land: first impressions, Dec. 2006

It was absolutely necessary that I camp out on the land as soon as it was mine. I could not believe that I had become owner of 55 acres of Maine woodland. The property had just recently been logged so it was quite cheap. Even I could afford this! I figured that in terms of investment, if I just let it sit for 20 or 30 years, until it's ready to harvest again, I could sell it and with any luck make a few bucks on which to retire. But that is not what immediately came to mind for me. Nothing in particular did, nothing but a compulsion to be there. I sensed real purpose connected with the land. The possibilities seemed very great! But for what? A house, a home; yes. But more. Finally I had a place that I could call mine. I could build anything!

So, it was very important that I camp out for a few days. I needed to walk around and drink the water and think about what to do. I spent a lot of time thinking while tending the fire, a very contemplative activity. The land felt good and ripe with opportunity. But the December nights were brutally cold in the small tent, even though the 30F degree temperatures were warmer than usual. The ground was lumpy and uncomfortable and the tent was impossible to heat. The other great hardship was that of pooping with dignity. I felt like an idiot squatting with my pants down around my ankles while hanging backwards from a tree trunk. Silly as I must have looked, it seemed the best way to hit the hole I had dug and miss soiling my clothing which was bulky and heavily layered. Luckily there was no one to witness how clumsily I performed one of natures most base and universal functions. I did however hear a squirrel chirping from somewhere.
So, a list of priorities began to form in my head while tending the campfire. That night, bundled in a full body sleeping bag and blankets I dreamed of a little shack with a stove and an outhouse with a real toilet seat.

House Sculpture

I am making a house sculpture. I am forming it out of whatever materials come my way: from friends (who may have extra house parts), from the dump or whatever I can find or buy locally within a 15 mile radius of the sculpture itself. A great deal of the materials come from Buxton's building supply or my neighbor Peter Cormier who sells rough-cut lumber that he mills himself with a portable mill; sort of a big table/chainsaw on wheels.
I hesitate to simply call this a house. House sculpture seems more fitting. I am much more experienced at accomplishing tasks through my own "artistic process" than from any traditional methods. I have no experience building houses, but I can read and I am very adept at making mistakes of all kinds. What more does a man need to build a house sculpture other than the desire to do so? I did some sketches before hand but I am not working from a specific plan. I change elements of the design as I go according to what might be best in relation to the sunlight or view or aesthetics or the materials that I happen to have at hand.
I started out very ambitiously. The property is varied and large (55 acres I purchased in Dec. 2006) and there seemed to me to be several good sites on which to build upon and make readily accessible by 4-wheel drive (and later any vehicle). The way I figured it, the first dwelling I would build would be small and somewhat temporary; a place for me and Sarah and the three cats (Jerzy, Vincent and Sproket) to live while I embarked upon the task of building a "real" house. I expected that the first house would be riddled with problems and design flaws due to my lack of experience, coupled with the desire to do everything myself. I could then take my "experience" to the construction of the next house on the second best site to build, hone my experience on that and then build the ultimate home on my first choice of location. It was an ambitious plan and now that I am about half way through the first small and relatively simple house, I have begun to rethink some of my earlier goals. A house does not come together as quickly as a painting, especially when the studio is 300 miles away from my current home on Cape Cod.
Before recounting my work, I must mention that in the progress of this endeavor, there has been a whole other path that seems to run parallel to the building process. There is something spiritual to all this that I would like to share. There are lots of books out there that will explain to you step by step how you can build your own house. But there must be something told of the underlying meaning and spiritual growth for a modern human to build a shelter for himself and future family.