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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Back to School

In September of 2007 we became students again and registered for "Cordwood Building," a class at the North House Folk School (see the list of recommended web sites.) What a blast! Kent Jones and his partner Nick Vavricek were our talented teachers. They built their own two story house of a timber frame that Kent carved and enclosed with cordwood walls of about 100 aspen that they felled on their own property, peeled, cut to length, split, dried, and stacked, and cemented in place with "Nick's Special Mortar Mix." Kent is a wildlife biologist and Nick is an RN, neither one had much construction experience, and their house is beautiful. Inspiring. And what a fabulous outhouse! The very best outhouse I've ever seen in Minnesota! (There's an even better outhouse, with hilarious cartoons and a view of snow-capped volcanoes, in the McNeil River Grizzly Bear Sanctuary on the Katmai Peninsula in Alaska...but that's another story!)

So what the heck is cordwood building? It is a type of wall enclosure where small lengths of wood are used like bricks in mortar, perpendicular to the wall. You see the grain ends of the pieces on the inside and outside of the walls. When dry and weathered, it looks a lot like stone until you get up close. Two layers of mortar are used and in the center where the wall is hollow, the gap is filled with insulation, traditionally cedar shavings.

We learned about the technique, then drove to the end of the Gunflint Trail and helped build part of a cabin for the Wilderness Canoe Base on Saganaga, which lost 66% of its buildings in the Ham Lake Fire of 2007. The forest on Saganaga was devastated, charred and bleak; but I added a bird to my life list, the black-backed woodpecker, who was busily drilling for the insects that were feasting on all the dying trees.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

First Winter, First Accomplishment

January 07: survey complete! This step in the process was really critical, since our east boundary lies draped over the ridge leading to our bluff...diagonally. (Just like in Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. Get it slightly wrong, and *poof*! You've fallen off the bluff and are trying to build a road over a boulder the size of a three car garage, and you're on federal property, to boot.)

Our official survey map

And when the snow melted, we discovered that the east boundary was just a teensy bit farther west than we'd hoped. Drum roll, please, as we wait for our man Greg the Road Guy to tell us whether he can sneak a road inside the property line without blasting a tunnel through the rocks. Perhaps the suggestion of a funicular railway wasn't such a bad idea after all....

Really -- our bluff isn't quite this steep... but sometimes it looks like it...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The First Year: 2006

Ah, life was simpler then. We parked at the edge of the land and walked. We became the proud owners of 3 big clippers, several bow saws and multiple bruises and scratches, and spent the first summer making trails. Road builder # 2 walked around with us (jeepers, he walked fast!) and said, "No problem!" to our wish for a road that would get us up and over the ridge. He rubbed his chin, mumbled about the steepness. Did he mutter the word "dynamite" once? He was walking too fast to be sure. He smiled back at us and said again, "No problem!" We marked a spot that seemed like a cozy place to put a cabin with a lovely litte rock cairn and a GPS dot, looked up the name of a surveyor and arranged for a winter survey to find where on that rocky slope the east boundary of our land ended and the west boundary of the Forest Service's land started. No problem!

We explored, easily finding the west boundary (big yellow signs -- hard to miss), getting lost (a GPS works fine, except under thick tree cover, when it doesn't work much at all) and learning to love mosquitoes. We visited lots and lots of people who inspired us with their wonderful homes and awed us with their hospitality (thank yous to Molly and Ken, Maxine and Roger, Brooks, Gail, the Boyds, Wesley and Tom, Kent and Nick, John and Matt, and many others who let us peek at their houses!) We explored some more, and eventually found 3 USGS survey pins (there isn't one in "The Dismal Swamp", as we affectionately call our southwestern corner.)
A map of our New World (minus the Dismal Swamp)

We dragged friend after friend to take a look and reassure us that we had not lost our minds. Most everyone was polite enough to smile and nod with enthusiasm, at least as long as we were in sight. We slid and slipped for an entire day in the rain with a whole architectural firm, and they had T-shirts made that said "We Survived A Day On Kathy and Val's New World" and had only two immediate casualties.

Winter came at last, and it was beautiful. As you see...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Won't she look great with a black and white Border collie hanging out of a window?

Our very first purchase, besides the property itself and a Cook County map, was this delightfully cute little object. (She's a she, but as yet does not have a name that has stuck. Anyone have a suggestion?) Absolutely necessary, totally practical, high clearance, 4 wheel drive... and such a great blue color! Now, the original deal was that Val got to have the Jeep she's always wanted (note that the vehicle is still wearing her hard top in this photo, and has no mud at all...her maiden voyage to the New World...) and Kathy would get a dog to ride in the Jeep. A slight digression: Kathy is a total animal junkie: furred, finned, feathered, clawed, hoofed, pawed, beaked, winged... anything. Val on the other hand loves cats, but dogs...hmmm. But for Kathy, dogs are a special treat, especially those quintessential dogs' dogs, Border Collies. With red collars. Or red bandanas on their necks. To match their red lolling tongues. But even Kathy admits that our current mad schedule precludes adequate time to care and train an exuberant doggie, so it is a future dream. But watch out... the woggie is coming!

Why "New World"?

One amazing coincidence about our property is that we both hear the same music in our heads when we tromp about on it: Antonin Dvorak's "New World Symphony." Specifically, the 4th Movement. How strange is that? Not strange, when you consider that we were probably listening to it on the way up to Grand Marais in our car. It is magnificent music for a magnificent spot on the planet!

And a few articles about Dvorak's year in Iowa writing music, just one state away, and just over a century ago.

Here's a link to where you can hear the 4th Movement played by the Dublin Philharmonic, directed by Derek Gleeson. I chose this one because they keep panning to close-ups of the French horn players!

So of course when we had to think of a name for our new place, new life, new adventure... We smacked our foreheads and said, Ya Think?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Road to Heaven

The Road To Heaven Isn't Paved. It's Mud.

The brown squiggly line in the aerial view is the "road" that was part of our deal to buy our New World. Mostly mud, still under construction 3 years and a second road builder later!

How It All Began

It all started with a boring medical meeting in May of 2006 and two old friends skipping out to catch up in the hallway. Val ran into Dave Homans, a former colleague and now a Cascade Bluff Road neighbor. Dave happened top mention that he and his wife, Meredith, had recently closed on a deal to purchase a property that borders the Cascade River. Hmm, one of our favorite places... and oh, by the way, the adjoining property is still for sale.

An internet search and a trip to Grand Marais, and we were tromping about on 80 spectacular acres of woods, bluff and riverfront. No road to it? No concerns, we can walk. Steep bluff? Exciting. What a view! 4 miles off the county road, winter access...interesting, at best? What, us worry?

And soon, we were the proud owners of 80 fabulous acres, near the middle of the aerial view you see below. We've got the bluff and the river. We've got views from the ridge of Cascade, ridges north, east and west. And to the south, an expanse of Superior that can't be beat... in our opinion. And did we mention all those sugar maples, so golden in the fall?

So, check in here for the seemingly never ending story of Kathy and Val's New World, how it started, the bumps along the way, and where we are now. We hope to have a post this summer showing our new cabin rising up!

Kathy and Val

Monday, June 1, 2009

Our New World!

This is our New World... Welcome!