Racing Old Man Winter

November, 2017

The heady glow from our house-raising faded quickly, as two inches of rain fell the next day on our lovely, unroofed house with a very vulnerable floor. J. quickly developed a nasty habit of pacing the floor at home as rain fell; he was worried both for the oak flooring we’d laid down and the insulation beneath it.

There it sits in the fall woodland, in all its quiet glory, but suffering the indignity of having its floor covered with tarps.

We weren’t immediately roofing the structure because there were more rafters to be built. And wall structure to be built before we could put rafters on them.

And of course, idealist that I am, while J. was counting up the list of lumber he would need to buy for the next phase of our project, I looked around at all the logs laying around our clearing–twisted rejects or too-short chunks–and figured we could find a use for them. I lobbied J. to save a little money by spending a little more time (which we both knew we didn’t have) to just quick mill some of those up. To my surprise, he bought my argument and got right to it.

Here we have a few milled logs and a few yet to be milled. Some we peeled and left partly round. By the way, “to just quick mill those up” was a fiction. It took two days of rough work with a chainsaw to square the 18 logs we needed.

Let me interject again what a thrill it is to produce something you need with your own two hands (or your husband’s). If you ever have a chance to do that, either in the kitchen, out of your garden or yard, or in a workshop, by all means, do it. Even if it takes a whole year to produce, say, a mushroom, it’s still your mushroom, and you grew it, and you could grow more now that you know how. And your family will eat it, and they’ll like it, those ungrateful wretches.

Anyway, there’s nothing like it.

Incidentally, the logs also made a sturdy picnic table for our work-breaks.

As shown above, J. notched one end of each log to accept the horizontal top plate. Since these logs will be inside the walls and nobody will ever see them, we were concerned less with precise carpentry and more with speed. So we hacked in the notches and started tipping the logs up to form the exterior wall structure of our house.



So you can finally see the skeleton of the entire house. The timber frame sits inside the exterior walls (which eventually will be bricked up with straw bales).

Also evident from the photos should be the passing of time: the golden warmth of September has faded into the dim, colorless chill of the wettest, coldest fall in a decade. We quickly gave up on the tarps, which just leaked rainwater between their seams, and dedicated ourselves instead to hours with the Shopvac in an attempt to keep the rain from seeping too much into our floor. Yes, we did that.

A view of the gallery between timber frame and exterior wall.
In fact, this particular spot will become our dining room, so we took the chance to have our first meal there.
Hmm…the light is starting to feel a little like winter light. Also the days are getting shorter…

We began cutting the birdsmouths for the second tier of rafters. As a team, J., his dad, and I got quite a few cut and in place in one day.



As that second tier started to go up, it began to look even more like a real house.


And then this happened…20171102_095630

As I shoveled out my kitchen, the friendly race with “Old Man Winter” started to feel  more like the hounds of hell breathing hot down our backs. Only in a very cold way.

We put on more layers and kept working…


Finally all the rafters were up and we began putting up the planking of the roof. These are 6″ pine planks we had milled by the local mill into tongue and groove boards–we wanted them to look nice since they’ll also be our ceiling.



Each board that went up felt good, offering a little more protection from the coming winter. The work, however, went slowly. Each board had to be measured and cut to fit, and the snow and ice made things a little treacherous. No good having a house in the woods if your husband has a broken neck. J., prudently as usual, bought a harness and attached himself to the ridge while I cut the planks on the ground and handed them up.


In one of the planks I discovered the intact nest of a potter wasp. This I considered good luck.
Another snow and the roof is nearly closed.
And there it is… Even the sun came out to appreciate our work.

J. immediately began nailing on a layer of synthetic tar-paper, the last layer to go on before winter. We were feeling optimistic about our progress when, halfway through putting the paper up, J. came home with a fever of 102. He laid around for about a week with influenza. Which set back our plans a little.

Remember how I complained a lot about August…all those mosquitoes and that heat and humidity? Why did I do that when I should have stored it all up for November?! When you have on so many layers your arms don’t rest at your sides…they kind of stick out at a 45 degree angle? When you have to use the one-fingered-nose-blow (otherwise known as the farmer blow, the Nordic blow, the lumberjack blow) so much the ground underfoot gets a little slippery? When every week brings on a new virus? Oh well, I used up all my complaints for the year in August.

Here we are, grinning in spite of ourselves. Our work clothes have changed since August. Heck, even since the beginning of this blog post!

I have to fall back on that old North Woods saw, saved for those special times when your boogers freeze and the wind brings tears to your eyes: “Least there’s no bugs, eh!”

Postscript: Tip your hat to these old friends. After tramping with me through Italy and Japan, the labor of one of our children, and half a house, I finally had to bid them a fond farewell. Rest in peace, good soldiers.

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