I encountered Lou Ureneck online with his From the Ground UpNew York Times blog, which was a memoir about building and brotherhood.

There is also a book about the experience.  After middle age-job loss, the death of his mother, a health scare, and a divorce, Ureneck looked for some project to engage him back into the world. He had been a city dweller for a decade and decided that he needed to build a simple cabin in the woods. He bought five acres in the hills of western Maine and asked his younger brother, Paul, to help him.

He is not the first person to have a book come from that experience. We think of Henry David Thoreau and Walden first. There’s also Louise Dickinson Rich who wrote fiction and non-fiction works about New England, particularly Massachusetts and Maine. Her best-known work is her first book, We Took to the Woods, set in the 1930s when she and her husband Ralph, and her friend and hired help Gerrish, lived in a remote cabin near Lake Umbagog. It is described as “a witty account of a Thoreau-like existence in a wilderness home.

Lou Ureneck’s Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream, and Five Acres in Maine  fits nicely on that bookshelf.

He may have new to building a cabin, but he was not new to writing. He was a journalism professor at Boston University and a former newspaper editor at the Portland Press Herald in Maine and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

His first book, Backcast: Fatherhood, Fly-fishing, and a River Journey Through the Heart of Alaska, received the 2007 National Outdoor Book Award.

And, the brothers had also built a house together 20 years before.

Building the cabin was a way to reconnect to his life, nature and his brother. It sounds like it should have been easy to build the cabin after building a house, and they had the help of Paul’s sons. But the construction turned out to be challenging and nothing seems to go according to plan.

The complications are also about building family relationships. Yes, there is a healing power in nature. Yes, you do need to set roots and have a place to call home.

See photos of the cabin being built

It wasn’t really planned that I would write this Memorial Day weekend about all these people trying to get away and find themselves. But I had gotten all these books in a bunch. And this is a summer when I am coming to the end of my current academic job.

I don’t know what I;; be doing this fall. And part of me would like to just pack up my office and head out into the woods to build that cabin I keep thinking and writing about.

I have been armchair building and traveling for years. It was accidental that the books I wrote about this weekend all seem to focus on Maine. I have friends (also educators) who own property in Maine and they escape from New Jersey every summer to their rustic pond-side places.

The final book in that pile I brought home is also set in Maine. Eva Murray took a job on Matinicus Island in 1987 and expected to stay a year as the island’s K-8 teacher. But when the school year ended, she turned down her graduate school acceptance, remained on Matinicus, and in 1989 married the island’s electrician. She and her husband Paul raised their two children on Matinicus and continue to live and work there (as an EMT) full time.

Her book is Well Out to Sea: Year-Round on Matinicus Island. Though it might be cataloged along with the other simple life, off the grid, farewell to the 21st century books, her life is hardly simple.

Growing and canning your own produce co-exists with high-speed internet.  These essays are about the land and the people. And the people are, to use an idea from Emerson, self-reliant. I’m sure there is a shelf full of Alaska books about this kind of person too. People who encounter problems with both hands and get dirty and greasy solving them.

Now, to put all those books aside and start building something myself this summer.

Advertisements