Friday, April 10, 2015

Winter and Building a New Cabin

In my last post I began by talking about how fall and winter are generally slow times out here. Normally that would be true, but I'd just decided to undertake a huge project this winter, building myself a new cabin. I love life on Shaw, I'd like to stick around and it was finally time to put something down that is more permanent. Although I've helped with a few projects here and there, my actual experience with construction is fairly limited and I had a LOT to figure out and a lot to do. That said, I'd been thinking a great deal about it, and bolstered with a little extra building confidence from my recent trip to Alaska, I was ready to give it a try. Not that it was the only thing on my plate in December, I still had work to do, both at my actual job and helping my friends, plus it was about to be Christmas meaning another trip to Seattle. My slow winter had suddenly turned into the biggest project I've ever taken on but I was excited to get started.

Ready for the day. The pager on the left is my fire department pager which I keep around 24/7, as well as the Leatherman tool which I find myself using probably 20+ times a day. Because I have some building to do, I'm always measuring things right now so the tape is also important to keep close by.

There aren't a lot of big events or shows out here in the islands, but on this particular evening there was a burlesque show taking place in Eastsound so naturally a group of our friends got together to attend. It was a nice excuse to dress up a bit (or at least wear something other than our farm clothes!), go out for drinks, see a fun show and meet some new people at house parties and a bar.

Breakfast the next morning in town. Again, living on Shaw there isn't anywhere to go out and eat, so once in a while it is awfully nice to have someone else cook for you!

Nick playing with the new tractor, using the backhoe to dig out a rotten stump in the lawn.

At this point, plans to build my new cabin had been roughed out and while I had some sketches, I sat down to make some actual scale drawings of the building I had in mind and the floor plan. With my previous tiny house I never even did this much, it just sort of came together organically, but I figured this time I'd better make some more serious plans since it is a much bigger and more involved undertaking. I have to say, from my first sketch to what I am planning on and building for now a few months later, other than the location of the wood stove, it has stayed almost exactly the same which is pretty pleasing.

A beautiful day on Old Copper.

So this picture doesn't really do it justice, but this morning was a 'king tide' which in addition to a full moon resulted in the highest tides I'd ever seen up here. This is the road around crescent bay on the edge of Eastsound, and at one point the waves were starting to come over the road the water was so high.

Back on Copper it was time to do some site prep where my cabin was going to be built. It sits at the far end of the meadow from the main house, along the treeline facing southwest, a lovely location overlooking the meadow, plenty of beautiful trees and some old farm buildings. We started out by removing brush, mostly ocean spray, and a bit of fir and maple. With those out of the way it was time to remove the soft top soil so we could get down to the solid clay layre below and give the building a strong footing.

Here is the site roughly laid out. Another great use for the new tractor!

With the go-ahead to start building and the site laid out it was time to start collecting more building supplies. For this I returned to Seattle again where I did a lot of planning and shopping with my dad who has been an invaluable help during the entire process. I wanted to build a fairly simple building, but not a box. As such it has one angled wall that faces the meadow where the door will be and I wanted to put a more interesting window on that wall than a simple rectangle. I guess I got lucky, because I found this cool octagonal window at one of the second hand building supply stores for $25!

Buying lumber with my dad. The first of many trips.

To get started, my dad took a few days off work to come up to the island and help build. We mad a few more stops for materials and tools, then boarded the ferry to Shaw.

It wasn't all work though. Because it was just before Christmas, one of the annual island events is the Christmas ship that goes around visiting the various islands. It was the first year I'd attended it and I have to say it was fun to see. It's not like a bit city where you can drive to the local shopping mall to see Santa, instead Santa comes to you via boat!

Always on the look-out for cool materials to build with, there was a stack of beams in the Shaw fire station that had previously been part of the old station house and had been sitting, in the way, for years and years. In an effort to clean out the station house the fire chief asked if I'd like to use them for my building projects and naturally I said yes! They were huge beams, the longest being 4x8s over 16 feet long and the others being 6x8s over 8 feet in length. These would become a floor support, a window frame, the door frame, the beams supporting the loft and more. Talk about a score, and one with some great island history behind it.

With my dad and a few other friends up on the property we had a fire around the pond to hang out and share stories in the evening.

Doing final layout on the site, marking where posts will be placed and the final decision on which direction it will face.

With layout done, we dug down until we were well into solid ground, filled the holes back with crushed rock and then placed pier blocks.

My boss Austen came to help for a day which was both fun and a lot of help. He'd hoped to get to do some framing (because framing is fun!) but we weren't that far along quite yet, but we got the rim up and that was some critical work that felt great to accomplish. Here you can see the final shape of the building, 12x16 feet minus the small corner cut off.

Installing the plywood that would make up the floor and with that it is starting to actually look like something.

First wall up! This is the back wall where the kitchen will sit and the large window has a great view into the moss covered forest behind.

This part of the framing was going fast (straight walls with no or only one window are easy) especially with Brendan’s help and in very little time we had a third wall in place. This is the front wall where the wood stove and my desk will reside, with a huge window overlooking the meadow.

Of course I wasn't the only one getting work done these days, my friend Jon was having our other buddy Luke hang the well pump in his well to get their water system online.

Back on my cabin progress was happening fast (working from before sunrise to sundown will do that!) and in five days had gone from bare dirt to having the main level walls up and starting on the loft above.

Although my dad and I were working hard (as always) there was still some time to play. That evening was Carol and Bruds annual Christmas party at their house, a great time to see most of the islands residents in one place!

Back to work. With the main level done my dad and I got some work done on the loft level, which again has a huge window overlooking the meadow liket he wall below. The roof will be a simple shed roof and in essence, it's really just a scaled up version of my 8x12 tiny house.

Because my mom hadn't been up for a visit for quite some time she came out to see the new cabin and what the farm was looking like. During her visit I had to remove a broken branch from above the playground at the tiny Shaw school, so this is what it looks like from about 60 feet up a tree.

While waiting for my boss a few days later in Westsound, I got to watch the sun rise over the marina and my island in the distance. Lovely.

After we met up in Westsound we headed to the job site. Here my boss doing a tricky removal, a tall, skinny madrone that was leaning towards a house and over a garden. Because of that we had to lower everything out on ropes, meaning he was in the tree and I was on the ground trying to lower branches and logs with the minimum amount of force and pull on the tree he is tied into.

Christmas time was upon us and naturally I headed back to Seattle to celebrate with my family. All of my siblings were away in their respective home states however (Alaska, California and Montana) so I did my best representing for everyone. Yah, I didn't get a very good photo of it did I....

The next day I picked up my grandmother and headed to another Christmas dinner, this time over in west Seattle. I don't go over to that part of town often, but when I do I often stop off at this view of the city. I think it's about time someone do some tree work to maintain the view!

Another delicious family dinner.

I wasn't in Seattle only to see family though, as one of my favorite Christmas traditions is one with my friends at a bar. After everyone finishes up with family dinners we meet up at a bar in the U-District and have a 'white elephant' gift exchange. It's a great event that we have been doing for something like 7 years now and I always get to catch up with a few people who I don't see often.

The annual group photo.

With festivities over it was time to return home to Shaw. Of course I had a lot of supplies to get on the way out of town so I loaded up the van nearly full to the roof with lumber, plywood, insulation and much more. I gotta say, I'm so glad I got this van over a pickup truck. For hauling this kind of materials it has been wonderful and the rack an invaluable part of it all.

I had returned home but Nick and Ellen were away in Germany, so I took care of their animals until they returned. Of course this meant taking care of the 19 chickens, many who seemed to prefer laying their eggs on the floor of the coop rather than in the boxes for some reason.

A short while later my friend Luke called me and told me he'd flown his new RC helicopter he had just gotten for Christmas into a tree. It was about 60 feet or so up a cedar but was easy to get to and a fun little change of pace from what I'm usually doing up trees!

Every afternoon this same group of deer walk through the far side of the meadow. There are usually between six and eight of them, and although deer on Shaw are as common as pigons in the city it seems, I honestly never get tired of seeing them wandering around the meadow.

Taking a break from working on my place for a bit I decided to do some weed whacking in an overgrown area on the edge of the meadow. On 18 acres there is a LOT to do and even areas near the house like this are still being 'uncovered' for the first time. As I did it I picked up all the sticks and rocks that were on the ground to make it quick and easy to maintain in the future, and once I was done the chickens came right over to peck and scratch around the newly disturbed area.

The garlic just beginning to sprout. It's the winter so there are no fresh veggies in the garden, and although it will be a long time yet until the garlic is ready to eat, it's nice to have something growing that we can watch.

Bruster the rooster. Handsome, but he can be pretty mean.

New Years was upon us (and it's been quite an interesting year to be sure) and with that meant the annual part at the Community Center. I got dressed up (which for me means just about anything other than my farm clothes!) and spent the evening with fellow islanders. For midnight, I ended up joining Carol and Brud at their annual midnight bonfire, but most of my friends were off island and I was pretty tired so shortly after midnight I went home and went to bed.

It was that morning what myself and the rest of the Volunteer Fire Department had trained for, a house fire. It started very early in the morning in the floor and despite a great deal of effort was unable to be stopped.  Because our department is so small we were lucky to have help with containing the fire from departments on other islands which was wonderful. In a small community it was a big and sad event, but no one was hurt and that is the most important part. I wasn't there the entire time myself, but even so it's serious subject for me and one that I'm not going to go into detail discussing here for various reasons.

Back on the farm it was time to do a top-dress of compost to the garlic. Nick and Ellen got a load in their pickup truck on the mainland the day before so with wheel barrows and shovels in hand, we got it done. It sure seems to be working, because the garlic is looking great!

A cake for Amy's birthday.

Being winter, rain is a frequent occurrence. This year hasn't been as wet as last, but it's enough to create large areas of standing water on the property.

The (temporary) solution to this is to get out and dig drainage ditches. I love ditch digging because it's fun to direct water. When I was a kid, I remember spending hours with my brother making dams on the seasonal creek by my family cabin, then breaking it to create a mini flood. This actually had a purpose though, because we didn't want pooling water in the meadow near where we were going to be growing veggies.

So my good friends Kelty and Sophie had been living on Orcas Island for a good while (Kelty originally lived in a tent when I later built my tiny home) and were moving to travel for a while. Once again, it was time to put my new van into action. I'm a fan of this kind of organization and work, so when they asked me to help them move I was happy to oblige. We packed up their apartment into my van and a Uhaul rental, then took it all to a storage unit on the mainland.

Everything went off without a hitch and we hung out in the back of my van as we rode the ferry boat back to the San Juans from Anacortes.

This is going to be the view from my bedroom. Nice.

Hanging out with the dogs, Polly and Marshall.

I'm very fortunate to have people who are willing to help me on my endeavors, and once again it was my dad up to help with construction, and my uncle Eric as well. This is at a lunch break, but during this time we got the final framing done and even the roof. Exciting progress I couldn't do without such wonderful help and support.

Jon running his mill.

The walls of the second level up.

I’m not the only one in my family that likes to climb, I obviously got it from my dad! (free climbing 2x4 framing in his mid 60-s!)

Measuring the diagonals to ensure the roof is square.

With the bulk of the roof done, the framing of the entire place was essentially complete. My dad suggested we take a 'selfie' and while I wondered how long he'd been using that word I thought it was great idea and this was the result. My dad has fond memories of building our family cabin together with his dad, so to have him and I working together on this place has meant a lot to me and been a wonderful experience. I still have a long ways to go before I can move into it, but it felt amazing to get all this done, from breaking ground to having the framing done in a month. Things are looking good.


The upcoming post is a pretty good one, covering a big time period of time (because I'm finally trying to catch up before spring hits in full force). You can look forward to more progress on the cabin and property, farm preparation, as always some beautiful scenery and with the fire department we even got to do a controlled burn of a whole house!