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a footbridge and a red picnic table

Went north again this week. I feel myself drawn there more than ever lately. There is something about being just out of reach. Life moves more slowly. Cell phones seldom work. There’s nothing to plug in and nowhere to plug it.[singlepic=1143,330,330] So much depends upon a red picnic table… Staying connected means parking pickups side by side in the middle of the road for a spell to shoot the breeze with a passing neighbor. I like it this way–in the woods.

This week our plans included building a footbridge across our creek, clearing some dead wood, and finishing our picnic table. You’ve got to start with the basics after all. So this is what we did. First, I had to fall a dead leaning tree that was hung up in the trees across the creek and right in the way of our proposed bridge crossing. I was a bit nervous about this, having heard and read plenty about how folks have gotten killed messing with trees in this situation–not to the mention the fact that I don’t exactly know my way around a chainsaw. I didn’t let this discourage me. You’ve got to start somewhere after all. So, I purchased my Husqvarna 455 Rancher (along with all requisite safety clothing–including the Kevlar saw-resistant chaps, and forester’s helmet and face screen); I read the safety manual, watched countless instructional videos online, observed a couple experienced chainsaw users, and then pulled the starter cord. With a healthy bit of fear, caution, and respect for the destructive machine I was wielding, I successfully downed the troublesome tree and cleared away a lot of deadwood laying about our site. I survived the first wave of this week’s work.

As for the bridge building, the hardest part was by far getting the 250 pound stringers across the creek. We managed inch-by-inch with a little creative physics and a whole lot of sweat and patience. Our good neighbor George showed up just in time to lend a hand–just after we had gotten them across ;-) Seriously, we’re lucky to have such a good neighbor. He’s always willing to lend a hand it seems–to anyone along the three-mile stretch of forest road whom he calls neighbor. I suspect he considers most people in his life to be his neighbor.

Once we got the behemoth stringers across, the ordeal was far from over. Leveling, shifting, balancing–were all far more difficult tasks than I would have imagined. Eventually we got them close enough to where they needed to be and nailed them up. Add a bunch of blocking, cross braces, and decking and there you go–a genuine rickety footbridge in the woods. As long as no one decides the bounce in the middle makes for a nice trampoline, I think it will serve its purpose for a few years anyway. Time will tell, but that’s okay with me.

While I plunked away at the details of the footbridge, Chris and Aidan got to painting our new picnic table–classic red. It took a couple of days to prime and get three or four coats of paint on it, but it looks great now, and offers us the comfort of a home–a place to break bread together by the camp fire, to talk about our adventures, and to listen to the serenade of the ever-present creek.

We worked hard this week, but accomplished a lot and had the joy of working hard with our bodies outside in nature to meet some fundamental needs. When one strips away the complexities of life that we seem so eager at times to layer on, when we have to deal with attending to fundamental needs, using our hands and simple tools, things seem to make much more sense. There’s more work to do on our little spot in the woods. We’ll return soon to stoke another campfire and get back to the elemental aspects of our lives.

where the creek runs deep

We just got back from a four-day trip to the north country–Michigan’s UP–where we spent some time on our little piece of heaven. We closed on this 40-acre parcel north of Marquette last fall, and hope to begin making progress towards building some sort of shelter this summer. We’ve got plans for the “big” cabin, but that might take a while (more than a season). In the meantime, we’re thinking we might build something along the lines of Thoreau’s cabin by Walden pond–something very small–about 200 square feet (maybe with a sleeping loft)–that we can use as our base camp during the construction of the main cabin. So, this last trip, we spent a bit of time scouting out a possible location for our little cabin in the woods. It was wonderful to be back on the land. I’d missed it so much since our last visit.

Here are a few pictures we snapped. I hope they are enough to sustain me until we return again in a couple weeks.

quick trip north: a visit to harlow lake and sugarloaf mountain

This past weekend, we drove like crazy people eight hours north to take care of some details as we edge ever closer to realizing our dreams of a northwoods retreat. We’re almost there now. After more than a year of searching for land, and over a hundred days of trying to secure ingress/egress easements before we can close on the 40 acre parcel we’ve fallen in love with, everything is finally in place. We should be closing by the middle of this week.

After a meeting with surveyor, excavator, and realator, we managed to save ourselves a few hours to hike and just enjoy being outdoors. We spent time hiking around Harlow Lake, which is just 20 minutes from the 40-acre parcel. Despite our many visits, we never took the opportunity to really look closely at this beautiful lake. So, we spent some time there. We also took the opportunity to hike the much talked about Sugarloaf Mountain. I can’t believe we haven’t done this sooner. The hike wasn’t too difficult, but the views were wonderful. We spent a lot of time just hanging out at the summit, lounging on the rocks, talking, sitting quietly, and gazing over the treetops at the big water that lies beyond.

I feel like this fast weekend trip was the first in which we really relaxed–without the pressure of a packed agenda, looking for that perfect piece of land, rushing against the time and the seasons. This trip, everything seemed more at peace, more present, aligned with the dream and filled with the promise of what’s to come.

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