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A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan has two subtitle versions: “The Education of an Amateur Builder,” and the one I used for a previous post in 2010, “The Architecture of Daydreams.”  That this book has sat on my bedside book stack for all these years is not an indication of the quality of the book or my enjoyment of it. I bought it 7 years ago, started it, put it aside, and then started back into it again last spring and have dipped into it on and off and between other readings. I finally finished it on New Year’s Eve because I didn’t want it to remain unfinished into the new year. A small, doable, New Year’s resolution. It works reading it in parts as a story and as instruction. Think of the chapter as courses in a very long meal, or as occasional visits to Michael’s little place for another lesson. His place wasn’t built quickly, so why read it all in a weekend.

I was attracted to it because, like Pollan, I have long wanted of a room of my own. Okay, not a “room” but a separate building, albeit a small one. For me, it has been a small log cabin that has been in my head and sketched on many sheets of paper ever since I read Walden and a host of other books where people escaped and wrote in some cabin isolation. You should not need a cabin to be a writer, but it still seems Romantic (capital R) to me.

cover

In the snow…

He wanted a “shelter for daydreams” and I identify not only with that, but also with his lack of skills needed to build such a place. Pollan writes that “Apart from eating, gardening, short-haul driving, and sex, I generally prefer to delegate my commerce with the physical world to specialists.”

So,  I read the book for both of its subtitles, as instruction manual about how to actually build such a structure, and as an armchair-dreaming builder. As instruction manual, it had its limitations. I’m not in a place where I can hire a real architect and custom builders to make my cabin. Plus, my plan has always been to do it myself. I also don’t have the land to build on, so it is astill “armchair building” for now.

But as an armchair building adventure tale, the book is kind of a Moby-Dick reading experience to me. I learned about building a little place and how to place it on a piece of land, and also about the history and meaning of all human building. It is about finding your place in your environment in the same way that you need to place your cabin to take advantage of views, sunlight, and to deal with drainage and winds and weather. In Melville’s book, you learn about whaling, whale and the sea, and about your own place in and away from this world.

In the spring

Will I start building this spring? Well, I still don’t have that piece of land or all the skills to build a place on my own or a set of blueprints that I would use yet. But over the years, I have learned some of the building skills by repairing my home, building a rock wall and a garden shed. I have collected plans for cabins and one-room sanctuaries, though none feel like “the one” that is floating somewhere in my brain.

Perhaps 2018 will be the year the daydream gets built.

cabin

Cabin with Northern Lights

On a chilly night that opens December here in Paradelle, I catch the scent of wood fires in the air tonight and when I step into the front porch of my house I smell the pine branches my wife is soaking to make a wreath.

It is not winter officially and the weather is still flirting with autumn, but my mind has turned again to the idea of building a cabin in the woods.

When I first started this website, I had been reading a series of articles by Lou Ureneck about him building a cabin in the woods of western Maine. In the one called “Building a Home for Another Life,”  he had not finished the foundation and he had already had two snows.

walden sign

I have wanted to build a cabin since I read Walden in eighth grade. I had sent for plans, read articles on it. I had even sent away for brochures about buying cheap land in Montana that I saw in the back of Field and Stream and Outdoor Life magazines. All this was before I had graduated high school.

But, I never bought the land – I probably should have back the late 1960s because it would have been a good investment – and I never built a cabin.

I agree with Ureneck that you build a cabin for “the satisfaction of making something with your own hands and the joy of living simply and close to nature, even if it’s just on weekends.”

In my adult home-owning life, I built a stone wall along our driveway. It took me weeks to do. From clearing away piles of dirt by hand with a wheelbarrow hauling crushed stone and fitting together the stones one by one to fit correctly.  I enjoyed it very much. I especially liked figuring out how to make the squares and rectangles form a smooth curve as it neared the house, and building two stone steps. I stared at those stones and that imaginary curve for hours. Very pleasant.

Other people have chronicled this kind of cabin dream online. I found another site by Mark van Roojen, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, who teaches  ethics and political philosophy who was building a timber frame cabin in the Sierra Madres.

Mark’s site directed me to Bob at wolfcreekcabin.blogspot.com who was beginning a timber frame cabin project in Montana and another in Idaho that was well on its way.

Everyone seemed to be building a cabin but me.

Some people call these photo site “cabin porn” and I find it is easy to fall into these sites on a cold winter night. A cabin in green leafy woods is very nice, but there is something about a cabin with a wood fire on a snowy night…

I concede that I don’t see myself doing any chainsaw milling, and the more I look online, the more complicated this gets. Check out Timber Framers Guild ,and www.HouseBlogs.net, or the more ambitious Housebuilding Illustrated, Cedar Ridge Farm, this Bungalow Blog and the Massie House Timberframe blog.

Maybe all I need is just a little 16 x 24 Michigan Cabin

I wanted this as a way to help me simplify my life, Thoreau in those Walden woods. My real weekend escape to go with this virtual escape. Not a retirement home. Not fancy.

My friend Steve told me years ago that I should think more about a tipi and had sent me some  links for them and some look bigger inside than the first floor of my house. Or maybe I should buy a yurt.

But I don’t want portable. I want permanent. And part of all this is that I want to build it, not assemble it.

What would a modern-day Thoreau do?

Oh, if only it was so… the article was titled  “Build a Log Cabin for $100.”  That would be a worthy summer project.

A Oregon couple combined love of the land, native materials, traditional hand tools, and hard work to build a log cabin for $100.

Living in a cozy little cabin nestled in the woods is part and parcel of the classic Thoreau-inspired lifestyle most folks dream of now and then. But the romantic vision of log-home life is shattered — for many people — by the sheer cost of such structures, which can be as high as that of equivalent conventional homes.

That doesn’t have to be the case, however. My wife and I kept down the cash outlay for our “Walden” by gathering most of the materials from the land where our house was to stand, and then building it ourselves, using only hand tools. As a result, our small home cost us only about $100 to construct … and the project was so simple that we’re convinced anyone with access to a few basic implements and a good supply of timber could build a log cabin too…

Read more of the article by Bill Sullivan  http://www.motherearthnews.com/green-homes/build-a-log-cabin-zmaz81mjzraw.aspx

 

There is a book by Michael Pollan that mixes several of my interests.  Perhaps the title alone gives you some clues as to those interests – A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams.

The primary reason he wrote it was to chronicle his experiences building a little “writing house.” Readers of this blog know my interest in (someday) building my own little cabin.  He also references one of my writing and cabin gurus – Henry David Thoreau and his Walden home.

Thoreau is an inspiration for Pollan, but more unlikely is a connection to a corny movie that I like a lot.  Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is a 1948 American comedy film starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy based on a novel by Eric Hodgins.

Michael Pollan is best known for his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. That book changed a lot of  its readers’ way of thinking about the food they buy and eat. It looks at industrial farming, organic food (both as big business and on a small farm) and also what it’s like to hunt and gather food for oneself.  He also examines meals for each area – a cheeseburger and fries from McDonald’s, chicken, vegetables and salad from Whole Foods, a meal from a sustainable farm and  mushrooms and pork, foraged from the wild.

A Place of My Own has the same kind of detail about the actual construction process – maybe more than some readers want to know.  Pollan is good in all his writing about connecting our experiences – eating, gardening,  building – and the larger world. This book is an earlier book of his.  His “place” is a small, wooden hut that he wants as a “shelter for daydreams” and he wants to build it himself – and he’s not particularly handy.

I can identify with the wanting to build it and the not being particularly capable of building it too. I like that he discusses the history and philosophy of building. He also gets into place, space, our affinity for certain forms and materials, geometry, wood, and nails.

So, his little building brings in the history and practice of architecture.

And we all need a place for our daydreams.

Daydreaming gets a bad rap, but more recent research shows that daydreaming has positive effects. It can act like meditation and allow your mind to take a break. It can release tension and anxiety. Daydreaming can be a  mental rehearsal for future actual events.

Pollan’s book is a daydream for me about building that place of my own.

I went a bit crazy today with books I found on Amazon about planning to build that getaway cabin in Paradelle.

If cabin fever sets in this winter, I am ready.

If you’re dreaming in the same direction here’s the list:

  1. A House on the Water: Inspiration for Living at the Water’s Edge
  2. How to Build Your Dream Cabin in the Woods: The Ultimate Guide to Building and Maintaining a Backcountry Getaway
  3. The Cabin: Inspiration for the Classic American Getaway
  4. How to Build and Furnish a Log Cabin: The easy, natural way using only hand tools and the woods around you
  5. Cabins: A Guide to Building Your Own Nature Retreat
  6. Cabins: The New Style
  7. Old Wood New Home
  8. The Cabin Book
  9. The Getaway Home: Discovering Your Home Away from Home

The world’s largest Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Festival is Maker Faire.  It is a two-day, family-friendly event to make, create, learn, invent, craft, recycle, think, play and be inspired by celebrating arts, crafts, engineering, food, music, science and technology.

Since President Obama called on Americans to “begin again the work of remaking America,” the 2009 Faire was organized around the theme of Re-Make America.

The 4th annual Faire was held last month in the San Francisco Bay Area to showcase individual creativity and grassroots innovation.

Maker Faire is an event created by Make Magazine to “celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset.”

The first Faire was held April 22 – 23, 2006 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. It included 6 exposition & workshop pavilions, a 5-acre outdoor midway, over 100 exhibiting Makers, hands-on workshops, demonstrations and DIY competitions.

I wrote elsewhere about the idea of teachers and students as makers. The OER Commons project (open Educational Resources) and ISKME (The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education) launched an open-source curriculum competition called the Sun Curve Design Challenge

What is the challenge? If you had to grow your food using efficient and sustainable processes, where would it take you? What science and technology could support your ideas? They used the Maker Faire to launch the project. Green tech inventor and sculptor, Paul Giacomantonio of INKA, first sketched the Sun Curve. It’s a a self-contained hydroponic laboratory. The Challenge recasts teachers and students as collaborative “makers” of curriculum and media. At the San Mateo Fairgrounds, teachers and students got to see makers at work.

80,000 visitors were expected for Maker Faire.

Visitors to Paradelle

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