Monday, July 30, 2018
The bottom story of the hut was done, only the windows and door to add. The roof was solid — I had spent half a rainy day chinking the interior walls with smaller stone — listening to the rain patter off the wood shingles. The shingles take on a reddish buff after the rain; some of that is the red chalkline left on the roof. The next stage is the gable ends. I’ve thought about building the ends in vertical rough lumber — it would be quick but wouldn’t mend the eye with the lower story of stone. If I go with stone, it will have to be padded with mortar to fix the stone in place — someday kids will be running around this hut, and I don’t want to worry about a high stone tipping away and beaning them. I am down to a few flat stones, mostly it is chunk stone, which I can make look okay but can’t promise it will sit in place. I decide on using stone and packing mortar behind the stone, trying to hide most of it so the stone gables will blend with the dry wall of the lower story. I work off a six-foot scaffold — deliver stone to the site and toss it off the Willys onto the scaffold planks — lay that up…toss more stone up, lay that, then use the stone left over from the side walls piled away in one corner of the site. Two 80 lb. bags of premix mortar is used for the front gable. The stone will be seen outside but not inside; I’ve built a plywood wall inside to form the stone against. Also, another 6" x 6" beam was added to run the entire width of the front interior it doubles up beside the main 6" x 6" support beam and provides a wider and stronger shelf to lay the gable stone upon. Now there are twelve inches instead of six inches to work on. It took a weekend to lay up the front gable and box in a small barn sash window. That was the first window in the hut. It was centered with the ridgepole and doorway. All the other windows were ready to set, each painted light blue. The windows had been found over the years from various places. I bought the two lower front windows, four-light sashes, from my father’s lumberyard for five dollars. The horizontal window on the west side wall was once in our cabin, and the scalloped window on the east side — a lovely window providing the hut with early daylight — was found after we bought our house; leaning in decades of grime in the upper shaft of the woodshed. Before our friend David Emmons moved away from this area — I remember the day he stopped by with his car loaded for Arizona — he dropped off the two small windows boxed into the gable ends. I imagine he figured I would do something with them someday. Eight years later has them looking out of stone.
|A star-design I like to cut into my cedar shingles~|
this one is on the stone hut eastern side roof.
The original one. This roof was replaced,
new star cut in, this time with red cedar.
Jim and Leslie Koller and their two children Bert and Ida Rose visit us on Labor Day. The gable is complete and the rear gable is boarded for the same technique of laying stone against the boards from the outside. Since I will work on top of the ledge — the rear of the hut is roofed over the face of ledge — I can stone the gable without mortar. The barn sash is framed and hinged to open into the loft. The stone will be laid as I have the time in the fall. I have yet to build a low rail for the width of the loft. The loft deck is made of spruce and hemlock planks built onto doubled 2" x 6" crossties nailed to the rear bay of rafters. It is five feet wide and eight feet off the floor and plenty strong. When I was sixteen years old I built a loft in my first cabin away from home a half-mile in the woods behind my grandparents’ house in Cheshire, Massachusetts. Jim Koller was thirty-two years old and living on the West Coast and I was reading his poetry and a publication he edited named Coyote’s Journal. I never read anything like Coyote’s Journal before, and twenty years later, I still haven’t. Eight years after that first cabin I met Jim when he moved from the West Coast to Maine and was running a bookstore in Brunswick and raising sheep at home. Susan and I were returning to Vermont after a long week touring Newfoundland in a VW bug. I took an immediate liking to Jim. He has the animal gentle and wild to his eyes which has been mischaracterized as macho — it is better to align Jim with the title of one of his novels — “If you don’t like me you can leave me alone.” The bookstore job would only last a few years before he returned to landscape work, something he once did on the West Coast with fellow writer Bill Brown and the painter Jack Boyce. In Maine it was seven dollars an hour work, laying sod, trimming trees, mowing lawns. Coming home dirty and finding the time to write the poems picked up from the hands working all day. Jim Koller is one of the truest poets we have, and like life itself the poems read sky blue and rain flat. Few poets I know have put their hands as deep into the dirt as Koller. To appreciate the poems it helps to smell the same smells, hum to the old blues or folk song — from the highway or John Henry’s hammer. Live with it. Jim was visiting the stone hut and taking a close look. He is unpretentious as they come; sometimes he could talk more, but he walked around the hut, smiled at it, felt the edge of stone on the corners, then walked inside and let his eyes look. What he saw was a structure built for the ground, out of the ground. Naturally he understood.
|A meeting on the Willys ~|
James Koller, Ida Rose Koller, Bert Koller, Carson & Bob Arnold
The stone hut in the background
Remember the maple tree growing out of ledge only four feet from the hut? It was the first week of September and already its upper leaves were dying back a pale orange, making me nervous with the hut closing on completion. I thought to trim it, especially the heavier branches reaching over the roof, but it would be a gamble. Instead I decided to drop the tree when our friend Scott Tindall was visiting to give me a hand with the job. We had done treework together in the past — Scott did the climbing and I did the felling. Sometimes we wrapped a rope around the top branches and cut at the stump while pulling the tree by hand into a desired direction; especially if we had to miss buildings or electric wires. We always had a good time. Once on a job Scott dropped my limbing chain saw forty feet from a dead elm. On the ground I counted the saw flips in the air — one…two…then it stuck into the ground, bar first. Lucky. I took the chain off, washed it, scraped the dirt from the bar, greased it again and roped it back up to Scott. Near misses were having to drop a tree between the garage and the house with utility wires strumming the air — we would have our eyes on the house and wires and miss the garage by inches. Drop a tree like that for $100, saw it into firewood, and think we were rich. Like me, Scott worked with whatever equipment he could afford, or what was at hand. The day he arrived to take a look at this maple tree I had a ladder against the base just touching the lower branches, and he got out of his car and scrambled up the tree in a pair of those topsider moccasins L.L. Bean sells. A new pair. He thought we could fell the tree with no limbing; I knew he didn’t want to limb anyway. When Jim Koller was here he eye-balled the tree to maybe fall backwards. I thought it would tip forward toward the pond (now dry) but perhaps lean a bit to its right, which would have it crushing the hut. Scott had his nylon ropes. When we first started out he used hemp ropes, just like I once used a fourteen-inch bar chain saw to drop three-foot wide trees. You learn. With one rope in the top branches of the maple tied to the Willys to steer the tree as it fell (just in case) plus two ropes tied around the base of the stump and then fastened to a pair of trees fifteen feet away to alleviate a kickback into the hut. I cut with my Jonsered, long bar, sharp, and while cutting talked to the tree asking forgiveness since I moved into its territory with the hut. Sound silly? Do the work and watch how you begin to talk to yourself. And it forgave by falling nicely into the pond. Leaves sailed down in the air after the tree was on the ground. I waved to Scott who didn’t have to use the Willys. The tree gave us a cord-and-a-half of firewood stacked near the hut in the sun. Then I climbed up to the big stump and chainsawed a “chair” out of the stump. There is a photograph of Susan, with Carson in her lap, sitting up there on it.
All six windows of the hut are in. The two side windows downstairs are fixed, as is the front gable window. The window in the loft opens inward. The two windows downstairs in the front open inward. No screens. I’ve nailed narrow trim boards around each outside frame to hide the plywood and complete the look. Stained the trim the same smoke color of the beam work. Everything is stained except for the interior gable walls; I’ll do something with them in the spring after I think about it during the winter. Winter is a time to review what you did over the year and to plan for the spring…cut firewood for the following winter, order garden seeds, shovel lots of snow. The hut roof has six inches of snow on it. The windows are shiny black. Two coats of stain on the beam work has done well — no knots bleed through. At every other snowfall I go to the hut and shovel snow away from the door. There is a broom inside to sweep the floor. A bump of snow is on the maple stump chair. The split maple firewood is under black plastic, twenty-five feet stacked. Now and then I see bluejays land over there and crack sunflower seeds they have taken from the feeder outside the kitchen door. A squirrel’s tracks circle the hut in the snow. It has a visitor.
all photographs by Susan Arnold
a builder's notebook
a builder's notebook