Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Way: "Who will prefer the jingle of jade pendants if he once has heard stone growing in a cliff?" - Lao Tzu

Early 1976

As I proceeded with construction on our homestead, it was easy to stay focused. Working where I lived isolated me from the distractions of the outside world and I was able to pursue my work and nurture my mind with an eclectic mix of life paths. Taoism and Native American philosophies, in particular, kept me on that path. Fantasy and magic from authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and Alfred, Lord Tennyson kept me from taking myself too seriously.
Aside from all the building, what was our plan? One important piece was to home school our children. We even considered joining forces with some friends and neighbors in the area to start a school. To get approval from the local school district was an obstacle we wanted to be prepared for. With some money available for education we set out to get teaching certificates at the local University of Maine in Farmington (UMF). My partner was the first to start the process by studying Elementary Education.  It was my plan to study Secondary Education.
Things were moving along fast. We had friends and sometimes family drop by to help with some of the larger aspects of construction. I began work on the house while my partner attended school. The other piece was to actually start a family. Personally, I did not have much respect for marriage or what it represented. But my partner felt it necessary to be married to have children. I felt our commitment was there already, but "oh, what the heck," I agreed to the prospect of marriage. In keeping with my lack of respect, we had a ceremony that was about as simple as it gets: just the two of us with some witnesses and an attorney who was certified for the task. We stepped out on a path into our woods and there it was done with a quiet dignity.
Summer 1976
With all my talk of magic, it was strange that I didn't get more behind what could have been an inspiring ritual. I did not ask the spirits for their blessing. Now, I can only regret my lack of enthusiasm, but perhaps, this was a sign right from the start that this was not the correct path. Unaware of what the future would bring, we moved forward with our grand plans.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Comes A Time: "You gotta tell your story boy. You know the reason why. Are you ready for the country - because its time to go." Are You Ready for the Country - Neil Young

Summer 1975
To create a home from wilderness. You're starting with a blank canvas. Again, the "Whole Earth Catalog" provided the resource and a book called "Shelter" the inspiration. In the 1970s we did not have the internet but we did have a renaissance in thinking and the printed materials to go with it.
During the first year a septic system was added to the camp along with the running water to enjoy indoor plumbing.  At first dependent on a generator it was relatively easy to switch over and get power brought in. In those days, the power company was willing to install the lines and poles to come 1/4 mile into the woods as long as we signed a contract for purchasing a minimum of power for a given number of years.  This was essentially free.  Not the case today.
Once the camp was completed (for those of you not familiar with the expression, a "camp" is a seasonal dwelling not far from home where a person or a family might go to get away), the next step was to create a base of operations. From there, I could begin construction on a full sized dwelling or house. This "base" was to be a  barn, specifically a pole barn.  The pole barn was the first of many pole structures I built over the years. They were horse shelters, wood sheds, a camp in the Carrabassett Valley and a storage building. The value in the pole buildings was the strength gained by placing large cedar and/or hemlock posts 5 feet into the ground.  The structure was then hung on those poles. There was no need to construct walls to support the building.  It was just a matter of hanging the walls on the poles.  The barn was the largest of my buildings and proved itself by carrying heavy loads in the loft and withstanding the raging winter winds known as "The Montreal Express". This was rightly named, as you could hear it coming through the notch in the mountains north of us long before the force of it impacted the woods and our structures.
After starting with the camp and then building the barn, my skills were perfected well enough to take on the task of a real house.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Setting Down Roots: One of these days I'm gonna sit down and write a long letter to all the good friends I've known - One of These Days - Neil Young

The Big Rock 1974
Another magical feature on the Carthage land was an erratic boulder. This had been left there by receding glaciers (Laurentide Ice Sheet) as little as 12,000 years ago. The Maine woods are sprinkled with such rocks but this one was particularly large. 15 feet high and 40 feet wide at the surface. 40 years earlier this particular boulder sat in an open field until the property owners pulled up stakes and moved west probably due to some harsh winters. I once had an old timer come by who showed me a picture of the rock he had taken then. It had been known as "The Kissing Rock" as young sweethearts  had ventured out to it for that purpose.  Lying on top,
Perched On Top - July 1974
one could swear they could feel the Earth's energy flowing up through them to the sky.  Years later, I surmised that this boulder could have come from Tumbledown Mountain to the north.
Though a 1/4 mile out in the woods, we chose to build our homestead nearby. It would become a hub of our endeavors.
Rocks hold a certain significance in our history. While everything else may change, they have permanence. In James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Saga, Deerslayer or Hawkeye was to meet Chingachgook, the Mohican, at Council Rock.  This was at the base of  Lake Otsego (Glimmerglass) in New York State. This was next to the lake's outlet which is the headwaters of the Susquehanna River. Though this story is a bit of historical fiction, the landmarks therein can be found today.  Thus magic is woven into our lives.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Stewards of the Land: THE FOREST AND THE EVERGREENS ARE COMING TO TAKE ME BACK - "The King of Trees" - Cat Stevens

Hollow Oak 1974
Growing up in a world where "being an idealist" was somehow questionable, it was refreshing to find that there were perspectives that included ideals, magic, and love.
Our land in the mountains of Maine, amidst the history and lore of forgotten communities, had a power and spirit, perhaps borne of the families that worked there before, or better still inherent in the very soil and nature of the place.
It was Thomas Jefferson who put forth the notion that we should live as stewards to the land rather that feel that ownership gave us the license to do whatever we wanted.
That respect put me in my place and even guided my actions where this land was concerned. I adopted the phrase "Earth Way" because of the natural laws it implied. I learned to take my signals from nature and not try to impose the will of man.
When the White Man came to this land, the Native Americans must have thought we were pretty silly. Our concepts of ownership made us fools who thought they could buy the land or claim it in any way. But if we wanted to pay them  for it, who were they to point out our folly? 500 years later we are reaping the rewards of our shortsightedness and greed.
This single tree embodied a philosophy that was not lost on me. With a hole in it large enough to climb inside, it lent me it's power and embraced my children.  On this Thanksgiving I thank Mother Earth for her selfless nurturing, in spite of my faults.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Preparations: Oh I'm on my way I know I am, somewhere not so far from here...All I know is all I feel right now, I feel the power growing in my hair - "Sitting" - Cat Stevens

1973 Carthage, Maine

Once we had the land, it was necessary to get myself ready.  Hand tools, and certain power equipment including a chainsaw, a truck and a generator are basic necessities. We already had camping equipment from our journeying around New England in search of land.
Before leaving Pawling, New York, I took a job as a framing carpenter.  In only a couple months, I was able to acquire a basic knowledge of the framing techniques necessary for constructing a home. I also got some experience with my chain saws, something that has been a basic part of my yearly chores ever since. I still use the old McCulloch Super 250 chain saw with a 36" bar for cutting up firewood.
The most important thing, with tools, is to find out about and learn some basic safety practices. Homesteading is fairly synonymous to farming and that has always been one of the most dangerous professions. A lapse in concentration can cost you a limb or your life. Using simple safety equipment should be second nature.
One thing that is absolutely indispensable is enthusiasm. Looking back, I wonder how I did all the work and accomplished so much. I can only attribute it to youthful enthusiasm. What only seemed natural then appears herculean now. Today, I marvel at and am in awe of the young folks continuing the traditions of farming while raising their families. The cost of living and equipment lessens their ability to make ends meet with only the same physical limitations our bodies have always had for thousands of years.
From the start, in 1972, the work was the way.  I was lucky to have a small grub stake to help me get started. Pursuing a career with the idea of homesteading later in life, just wouldn't have done it. Now, 40 years later, I sit behind a desk. I do so with the confidence and satisfaction born from performing skills that may prove helpful to me and those around me, should the need arise. Safety in this world is not guaranteed. As true now as ever.

Monday, November 9, 2015

2: Getting There

Self Portrait #1 - 1969
There was a major learning curve to overcome in order to actually build a home on a homestead created out of what was relatively raw land in the Western Mountains of Maine.  Growing up in the suburbs of New York City on Long Island, N.Y. couldn't provide the kind of life experiences to take into the woods.  Away at school during my teens, I gravitated to the woods surrounding campus with several of my friends.  We explored caves, free-climbed cliffs, built cabins and spent every free moment in the woods, even in deep snow and freezing temperatures.
I sought a higher education in the arts and made what was to become a close friendship with a young man from upstate N.Y.  We went on to search for a likely property for a homestead a few years later when I returned from California with my partner. My commitment to living in the woods caused me to change my artistic medium from brush and paints to a shovel and chain saw.
A popular publication at the time was the Whole Earth Catalog. This is where I saw there was a whole community of young people who felt the same about finding a natural life that would renew old skills and values.  The Whole Earth Catalog was a great resource for books.  "Living on the Earth", Alicia Bay Laurel, "The Foxfire Book", Eliot Wiggington, and "Owner Built Home", Ken Kern, showed the way and were inspirational. Of course the ultimate inspiration was in "Living the Good Life...",by Helen and Scott Nearing.  They made our ideals of those days attainable.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

1: On My Way

1974 Carthage Maine
Over 40 years ago I moved to Maine from Pawling, New York. There were a lot of factors in my choosing Maine to live.  I was looking for a large parcel of land where I could build a homestead, from the ground up and raise a family.  The quality of available land and the price lead me to start in the Adirondacks and after exploring Vermont and New Hampshire, I finally found the place I was looking for in the small town of Carthage in Franklin County, right here in Maine.
With some close friends and my partner at the time, we bought 100 acres of an overgrown farm. There was about 80 years of growth, and I proceeded to carve out a homestead, meant to be self sufficient, and a place to find safety in an increasingly insecure world. Building that homestead gave me the skills to survive should the events of the time suddenly leave us without the resources we had all become so accustomed to.
What was meant to be an introduction is rapidly growing into the story I intend to unfold over many blogs, the telling of which will hopefully reveal what makes Maine the best place to be.