Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Clearing the Site

Weekend One: Last year's diversion was our decision to build something practical so that we can use the camp prior to completing the primary structure. Dee and I decided that a guest cottage would provide shelter now and be useful for guests in the future. We also thought that we would take advantage of the camp’s view of Elephant Mountain to the East – something we will not have from the main building.

We had been inspired by a small cabin pictured in a magazine, as well as one we saw in Cornwall Bridge, CT. The cottage will be three rooms: a 12’ x 14’ living area, a 12’ x 6’ screened porch, and an 8’ x 8’ kitchen with attached 8’ x 8’ deck.

Living will be primitive, with an outdoor privy. Running water will be supplied by a shallow well pump pulling water from Wilson Pond. Waste will be grey-water only. We may add a solar water heater. The stove will be a repurposed RV cook top which we are currently using down by the tent. Windows and doors are either surplus units or recycled from old construction. Electricity will be solar with generator back-up. Walls and roof will be insulated, and a wood stove will provide heat for the cooler months.

The site was chosen for its view and its required distance from the shore. Towering over the site was a 75 foot spruce that would eventually come down – so we dropped it and cleared the lumber. It will become part of the base structure for the main house.

As we cleared, an otter scampered across the site. A good omen, we predicted.

Once we cleared the site, we began construction on the base. The building construction is Post and Beam, with 7 primary “Bents” each with posts, a cross beam and rafters. The base, however, is a standard pressure-treated frame with four 4x8 beams running the length of the structure, and joists hung with joist hangers between the beams. The entire base structure is resting on pressure treated 6x6 posts sitting atop stones to minimize settling. Flooring will be hickory (milled from a tree on Dee’s Ridgefield property) and tile, all resting on ¾ inch sub-floor.

We were able to complete the base during the first weekend, thanks largely to the convenience of joist hangers and our decision to use the chain saw for all cuts. With a bit of practice, and freshly sharpened chains, we are able to get cuts sufficiently accurate. The joist hangers also offset some of the variations among cuts.

The bents (primary posts and beams) were all harvested from Swamp Maples on Dee’s Ridgefield property. They dried in a stack for over two years, and were starting to show signs of “aging”.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Welcome to Otter Chaos

About 100 miles past the last Home Depot as you head Northeast into Maine’s interior, you land in Greenville, gateway to Moosehead Lake and the 100 Mile Wilderness. Moose outnumber people 3 to 1. Continue further North and the road turns to dirt. You’ll eventually hit Kokadjo, sort of an outdoorsman’s crossroads, before you head East to Baxter State Park and the foreboding Mt. Katahdin. But that’s another story.
Before you leave Greenville, head East on Scammon Road. This road also turns to dirt as it winds its way into logging territory. Head South after a couple of miles and you will run into Lower Wilson Pond, home to our small camp. Our closest neighbors are a couple of Loons that cry hauntingly through the night, reminding us that we are not alone.

In Maine, a “camp” means any sort of building that is not a primary residence. A wealthy financier built a multi-million dollar camp using a huge dome to protect tradesmen as they worked through the winter. His airstrip ran afoul of local land ordinances, but he gladly paid the $100,000 fine rather than have to use the Greenville airport. And then there’s our camp, Otter Chaos, named after the otter that belly flopped into the water at the Thoroughfare, a barely navigable stream that connects Upper Wilson Pond to Lower Wilson Pond. Dee and I have great plans to build a modest camp using, with few exceptions, materials pulled from the small property. We have spent almost three years clearing, cutting and milling timber in preparation for raising the first ‘bents’, the post and beam cross-sections that will provide the primary structure for the building.

During this time, we’ve had many adventures. To start with, we are on what is essentially an island, approachable only by boat, or on skis or snowshoes during the winter months. All tools and supplies must be dragged or floated to the site. This has included entire trees, a portable sawmill, a generator, hundreds of pounds of cement, metal roofing, doors, windows, even a tractor.

The other hurdle is that it is essentially the two of us, Dee and I, who are building the camp. A few friends and family members have helped here and there. And we’ve had advice from long-time Greenvillers who have wrestled with some of the same challenges. But that’s about it. Progress is very slow.

Last spring, with nothing more than a few footings and stack of lumber to show for our countless hours of effort, we decided to build something more modest in which we can live while we continue to build our dream camp. Every other weekend since early July 2009, we have made the eight hour drive from our home in Connecticut, dragging tools, logs, the odd wood stove, surplus windows and doors and anything else that we have scavenged. Except for some generous support from Dee’s family, we are on a zero budget.

What follows is a diary, starting in the summer of 2009, of our determined effort to have something more than a tent to sleep in.