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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



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. It was 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.

Cabanon interior

Cabanon interior

The Royal Institute of British Architects’ Le Corbusier – The Art of Architecture exhibit includes a  full scale model of Le Corbusier’s Cabanon. That is a micro cabin he built in Cap – Martin on the French Riviera in 1952.

He supposedly designed it in less than an hour. It is small – 16 square meteres (about 172 square feet).

The Cabanon was the only building Corbusier built for himself.

Corbusier was proud that “not a square cm of space was wasted.”  The interior was a laboratory for his ideas of buildings as machines for living, and it was also a place to spend summers. Summers on the Riviera are probably not exactly roughing it though.


Le Corbusier also built a “chapel of our lady of the height.” It is a pilgrimage chapel on a hill above the village of Ronchamp.

Much of the stone used in the Chapel of Nôtre Dame du Haut’s walls are from its predecessor that was destroyed during WWII.

Those walls are thick and curved walls and the concrete roof gives the chapel a sculptural form.

I discovered Corbusier on the Form & Forest blog.

Form & Forest cabins are great if your dream cabin is also contemporary design with prefab manufacturing techniques that allow you to build a cabin quicker.

They say that ” a cabin is a sanctuary. The cabin experience is about recreation, and restoration. It should restore, not diminish your sanity.” Makes sense to me.

Building less. For less money, less time, less waste, less stress on you and the environment.

The Ranger model has 1409 square feet on two floors

A few weeks ago, I was watching Sunday Morning on CBS and they did a piece on Dan Snow who builds a variety of practical and artistic things with stone. He builds stone walls without using mortar or other binding material. They call that ancient method “dry-stone” and it seems to be becoming popular again.

Half a dozen years ago, I built a twenty foot stone wall along my own driveway. It has little in common with Snow’s work. I bought my stones; there were six sizes of these unnatural stones; I secured them with an adhesive cement. Still, the weeks I spent digging out the bed for the wall, creating a base and arranging and rearranging the stones for balance, aesthetics and strength were incredibly enjoyable.

It was the kind of process that some people might describe as a “zen” experience. I have spent some time studying Zen practice, and I don’t really like it when people attach the word to other practices (whether it’s with a lowercase or capital z.

But I know why people attach zen to certain experiences. It means that they find some mindful, insightful, at the edge of spiritual connection to the practice. So, you get the zen of tennis, writing, gardening etc. I even understand the uses at the edge, like Comedy Central’s The Daily Show’s “Moment of Zen” video clips. Sunday Morning does a concluding ambient sound video minute that’s zen-like.

And I definitely understand why building a stone wall might be considered a zen experience to some.

I bought two of Dan Snow’s books. In the Company of Stone is full of photos of his landscape projects. Many have an “ancient” look, and if you passed by the scene you might think it had been there for a century or more.

The term “Star Shrine” recognizes that people in the past sometimes made places for the worship of celestial objects that had fallen to Earth.

“Star Shrine” People in the past sometimes made places for the worship of celestial objects that had fallen to Earth. Snow dedicates this shrine to the memory of lost things.

I like phrases like “heaving and hewing” stone and “gravity as glue.”

Snow is an artist whose medium is stone. He also builds structures that are more sculpture than anything else.g but gravity as their glue.

I think there is antidote appeal in our too-fast age for the patience, quiet, nature, hands-on and sweaty satisfaction of building with stone.

My friend, Hugh, has a cabin in Maine on a pond (in NJ it would be a lake) that he bought decades ago. I remember the first time we visited the place he showed me a winding stone wall he was working on that led from the cabin down the slope to the water. He had been working on it for several years and it was still far from done. He told me he worked on it every summer while they were there – collecting stones in the woods and from the pond and river. I didn’t understand why he was making so little progress. I understand now. I doubt that Hugh ever wants to finish that wall.

Dan Snow is a good writer too. He writes about the natural world and our relationship to it well. His prose is sometimes compared to John McPhee and Annie Dillard. I like both those authors and they are worth posts of their own. (Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, is still in the top five on my non-fiction list.) But there is one title by Dillard that immediately comes to mind.

That is her book Teaching a Stone to Talk. I read it more than 20 years ago and I found the meditation there both enlightening and frustrating. It contains essays written about  the arctic, the jungle, the Galapagos, and, one of my favorites, about  a cabin in the woods.

For me, Annie Dillard’s writing is all about close and mindful observation. Take this excerpt:

“The grasses were wrong; they were platinum. Their every detail of stem, head and blade shone lightness and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte. The hillside was a 19th century tinted photograph from which the tints have faded… The sky was navy blue. My hands were silver.”

Writing is like building with stone as you set the words one against the other trying to create the strongest structure and still have some beauty. I find writing poetry to be much closer to that mindful  building than writing an essay or a blog post. (Still, I hope my essays and post occasionally enter that place.) Revising is like sculpture where you subtract and carve away at to reveal the form.

Dan Snow likens his process to alchemy. I find his second book,  Listening to Stone, more poetic and thoughtful. His work goes far beyond walls – stand-alone sculpture, fences, pillars, staircases, arches, grottoes, pavilions and causeways. He also combines stone, wood and metal into many of the sculptures.

Snow started back in 1972 working on an Italian castle restoration, and his stone wall career began four years later. In 1986 and 1994, he apprenticed (a sadly lost word and practice) with Master craftsmen wallers in the British Isles. (After thirteen years in the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain’s Craftsman Certification Scheme, Snow achieved his Master Craftsman certificate in 2000.)

Perhaps, I need to have some formal study. I definitely need to listen more often to the stones.


Dan Snow’s In the Company of Stone blog

Annie Dillard’s quirky official site

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Hands off Hello Not all labyrinths are traps Happy to be inside but already missing summer outdoors.  The plant feels the same way. There’s something in the first cold nights when autumn teases winter that seem to require a fire. Still drinking morning tea in the afternoon.  #teaetiquette


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