Picture this: you enter the woods in August. You’ve put on long pants, boots, and a hat, because you know the bugs can be bad. Also, it’s August and the weather is hot and still, so you can’t bear to put on long sleeves. You wear a T-shirt and, throwing your principles to the wind, spray on a layer of Deet.
It’s more humid than ever when you step into those woods. The bugs greet you with hunger. A tiny mosquito is first, on your bare arm, unaware that you have applied bug spray. She is soon accompanied by a swarm of her tiny sisters and orbited by an entire solar system of biting black flies. You begin to run.
The air is very still inside the woods; the trees breathe out humidity. Your sweaty legs have begun to stick to your pants. As you sweat, running and swatting, that poison Deet begins to burn and you picture it entering your body through your wide open pores. You imagine an early death. And just a little, you welcome it.
This is August in the north woods.
J., much more a man than I (obviously), has looked at the dwindling days of the building season and simply put on another layer of spray.
And still, progress has been made. The posts are all notched and their ends cut to the same level. Before knocking them back apart, the last step is to mark them so that, come raising day, the pieces can be reassembled like some enormous three-dimensional IQ quiz.
The marks remind me of cuneiform or hieroglyphs and will be visible from the finished interior of the house. I love looking at the beams, resting still on their sides, with their wonky knee braces and curious marks, and imagining them as part of our future lives in the house, silent observers of our days.
Once all the posts and knee braces were knocked apart and moved aside, it was time to bring the four giant tie beams up onto the platform for their turn to be notched. We were trying not to think about how much they weigh, but since they’re all freshly-cut oak, 8″ x 10″ x 17′, they’re a bit hefty. 800 pounds each, give or take a few.
J. and I grovelled in the dirt with a log arch, cant hook, and a ratcheting strap called a “come-along” and barely made it up the ramp with the first tie beam. We sighed, wiping the sweat away and looking at the other three tie beams. Once again shrugging off his principles, J. trotted down the hill to borrow the neighbor’s tractor.
Every night J. comes home for supper so tired and hungry. He says he works like a peasant and eats like a king. Even now as I type, it’s 8:30pm, the kids are in bed, the house is quiet, and J. is staring vacantly at the wall. You could blame the all-day work in the hot sun. I blame the blood loss from all those mosquitoes.