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Monday, July 20, 2009

School Daze School Daze

2007 was gone, we had no road, but lots of ambition and ideas. We'd seen several houses that were built around a timber frame, so our next step was to learn more about timber frames. Picture enormous, square "Lincoln Logs" (if you are of a certain age and played with these iconic toys in childhood) and you get the idea: big pieces of lumber, carved by hand to fit precisely together into a frame that supports the roof and walls. North House to the rescue again! We signed up for the June 2008 North House class, "Basic Timber Framing" taught by Tom Healy (and his dogs) and Peter Hendricksen, both extraordinarily talented teachers with complimentary styles.

A timber frame for a bread oven

Our class of 17 students, one intern and 2 teachers carved and built a small frame in less than a week, using very sharp chisels, circular saws, band saws, miniature chain saws that drill the mortices (the grooves where the tongues, or "tenons" fit) and expensive Japanese tools. Turns out the Japanese (and Chinese) are the world's finest timber framers. There are wood timber frames standing from the Tang Dynasty (that's 1000 years ago, kids...) No fingers were
sacrificed in the process.

Hard at work in class, trying not to lose digits...

The plans for our class frame

The exciting day of raising the completed frame!

We were hooked. This was going to be it for us! Whatever else we would get, we knew we wanted a cabin made of a timber frame. The rest would fall into place somehow. After one breakfast at the Wild Onion with Healy we started plotting our future in earnest.

Nuthin' Happenin'

The rest of 2007 was a frustration for us, as we watched days, weeks and months slip by with little progress on our project. We were able to successfully demonstrate that our road "should" fit between our bluff and the east boundary, but waited impatiently for the real test, which would have been an actual road in place. Alas, no go. At the time, we had an architectural firm hired, and we did make progress learning about off-grid living, browsing books and magazines about cabins, checking the Cook County weather reports, and generally fretting. The weather of 2007 conspired against us--one of the dry years, at the end of a long spell of dry years, '07 was another year of fires for the northland. Drought and fire risk means no burning permits, which means no road building, when your road has to go through second growth woods, and your road contractor has to get rid of the brush he knocks down for your road. We reinforced and expanded our "system" of trails, and found and marked all the USGS survey pins we could find. We discovered interesting little secrets about the property, including The Throne (a pair of cedars fused at the base that form a wide, comfy chair), Mama Cedar (the biggest mama you EVER saw) and Rock Mother (the biggest rock you EVER saw). And we waited.

The season ended in October with record amounts of torrential rain! Great for the region, blessedly welcome for the dry earth, low lake levels and dribbling streams, but not so great for road building enterprises.

But it certainly could have been worse. Here are images from that year's big conflagration, the Ham Lake Fire in May '07 along the Gunflint trail and crossing the Canadian boundary.