There have been, amazingly, only two moments in my life where I was utterly lost in the woods, with no obvious clues as to where I am and where should be going. First time was from my sophmoric overconfidence with technology during my first solo camping trip. The second was when I was too distracted by my own thoughts to take note of the trail.
The realization the first time was disquieting. A cold wall of silence approaching my reality at light speed, as if the universe just discovered the edge of its false vacuum. The second time was oddly humorous, but I took it no less seriously.
GPS is a remarkable invention, but I've paid a heavy price for it. My map reading skills have severely atrophied since GPS came into my life. This is entirely my fault since the convenience of exploring civilization was far too enticing and so, little-by-little, I let go of discovering nature by following drawings of its topology. The last time I actually used a physical map and a magnetic compass while camping was back in 2010.
Since losing my way is always a possibility, even when simply hiking, I've kept handy trail markers with me ever since.
The lesson I learned from Hansel and Gretel, besides not entering suspicious cottages found in the woods, is that any edible substance left behind will quickly be gobbled up by the local fauna. Inedible substances may still be distrubed, but likely found nearby again once the fauna discovers its lack of nutritional value.
I now keep two decks of cards in my pack at all times. One for actual play and is plastic. The other is plain paper with just a glossy coating, which will return to nature when left exposed to the elements.
Waterproof cards are a must for actual play. It's physically impossible to keep a deck of cards dry, for any meaningful length of time, while playing outdoors. Even in a dry spell, a drop will manifest from the aether to harrass the ink. A disposable deck, however, must not tolerate water at all in order for it to disappear eventually.
I hope I'll get a chance to go camping again this winter, but financial and world realities are such that it seems a reach. What I miss the most in camping is not just the solitude; It's also the joy of existing in the present.
I finally managed to set the New Year's affairs in order since there wasn't much of an end to last year.
My Singer sewing machine broke down at the worst possible time and I didn't have the means to repair it anymore. I got it on eBay years ago and it worked well for minor repairs here and there. I'd rather not dip into savings to replace it yet since it's not an immediate need, but it's nice to have one.
There's a glut of sewing machines, old and new, on eBay again. I'm guessing a lot of folks who bought new machines or upgraded during the pandemic are unloading their stocks. I also know at least one other person who tried sewing on his own, but gave up. It's a shame because creating things, like woodworking too, is meditative and, I found, theraputic. There's the added satisfaction of actually using something you've created.
I've been wondering what I would need if I did start making my own clothes. Besides repairs, and the odd curtain, I haven't really made anything substantial. It's a new skill that I think is worth pursuing. I have no immediate plans to turn it into a business. Actually, I'm rather tired of turning pursuits into profit-making endeavors. Hobbies become less fun when there's profit attached and I'd rather make things I enjoy for their own sake. Naturally, bills still need to get paid so I don't mind selling a piece here and there. But I'd rather not lose a hobby to profit.
Working has been from home for the most part still, but there are grumblings of on-site work that may call me away. I'd rather not travel, if it's not absolutely necessary. I don't think this year is a wash yet, but we'll see how summer fares before scoring it. A perfect 10 seems unlikely.
April was supposed to be Spring Cleaning month, but I've had several months to clean already. Last year's whirlwind blew away a decade of detritus. I did rediscover a box of components I've collected for various projects. If I do ever turn a section in one of my planned structures into a lab, I already have at least half the needed pieces.
Reading cabin topics again brought a much needed windbreak to this squall.
It's a new year, but so far, January feels like a muddied delta of last year. When I used to frequent forums a lot, back when those were still the most prevalent online watering holes, something strange happened that made me remember to unplug. It's why I'm relatively resistant to it in the age of social media.
I couldn't decide whether what I felt was my own feelings. It's an unnerving sensation, when I'm aware of it; To wake up and not be me or even forget what "me" means in a collective. I thought I should probably learn more about that person back then.
I love solitude. It's hard to describe this love because it's not a traditional relationship. There's no "other side" to solitude. There's no one to disturb, displease, or disappoint. I can walk away from solitude at any time and there are no hard feelings. No one is hurt. Best of all, there are no expectations whatsoever on how to be myself. It's why I try to reconnect with solitude when I'm away for long stretches. It's why I only feel at home when in solitude.
People are forgetting to relate to solitude and not the character they've invented to relate to others. Life is not an avatar.
I bought a typewriter at the beginning of this year. A Royal Safari from the 1960s, as something of a side-project and to enjoy my free time away from the computer. I have far more free time than I did before.
One of my neighbors sold it to me for $10 after trying and failing to fix it himself and thought I might have better luck. There were quite a few scuffs, scratches and dings on the case, but the internal mechanism was intact aside from a rail being slightly out of alignment. Most of the keys were covered in thick layers of White-Out, which I tried to scrub out as best as I could. I still don't know why people do this to their typewriters.
By looking at the insides, I'm inclined to think it was dropped from a fair height at some point. My neighbor got it this way initially from eBay. The seller had described it as working at first, but that it had "stopped" afterwards, which means something happened to it in storage.
Preceding my purchase, I have no idea how many people tried to fix it themselves. There was a thick layer of WD-40 already on it, which ruins the delicate balance between lubrication and freedom of movement. There are various formulations of WD-40, but once the U.S. variant "dries", it becomes a thoroughly viscous magnet for all manner of dust floating in the air, in addition to acting as spider silk to whatever debris falls onto the joints from between the keys. The coating looked old already so I don't believe my neighbor was responsible for this failed attempt at maintenance.
To my delight, there are still typewriter ribbon vendors. I've ordered a few and they're on their way.
Returning this typewriter to working order gave me a good reminder of how a lot of us seem to keep doing the same thing without stopping to think why they should work in the first place.
Often times, finding out why something worked in the past is more important than understanding why it may not at present. The clues are all there. The typewriter worked because the intricate ballet of levers, slides, and joints are mechanically choreographed at the factory to precise tolerances. The addition of the problematic lubricant was unnecessary and so was the drop.
People train themselves to do the "working thing" so thoroughly that they keep doing it even when it stops working or the circumstances that lead to it working originally no longer apply. Sometimes, failures aren't the pillars of success; If nothing was learned, they're merely a pile of cumulative failures.
Allegiance to the same ideas in the face of better information is religion. That might be fine in some cases for mild doses of self-improvement, especially when the new information is possibly misguided and harmful, but it's also how civilizations end when left unchecked.
Writing on the typewriter is a great joy. I learned how to type on an electric typewriter I found thrown out by someone because I couldn't afford a computer at home for homework. It wasn't until junior high school that I was able to actually use a computer in the library and get to know typing on even lighter keyboards.
This is the first time I've felt the truly awesome tactile feedback of stamped steel.
I think the typewriter will be a fine addition to the library, once it's built. I'd like to leave it there permanently next to the reference material I read for inspiration. It's fitting that this specific model was originally marketed toward students and I still have a lot to learn.
Andy Rooney had a collection of typewriters in his own writing shed and it's only fitting that I feel compelled to do something similar.
Since the library is not going to be wired for electricity anyway, it's perfect for writing for hours on end without needing to charge a device like a laptop or even my own writing computer. And since the structure will be insulated, it won't experience the same temperature swings that damage so many other forgotten mechanical relics in attics and basements.
Looking forward to many more pages indelible text.
This winter marks the first time in five years that I haven't gone camping. Considering everything that's happened, it wasn't entirely unexpected. I've cleaned up the apartment before Thanksgiving and my roommate helped out. We had our, long awaited, pie from the neighbor and were very thankful for that as well.
I have no specific plans this winter except surviving until spring. There is enough in terms of provisions that should I lose my current gig between now and March, I'll still have the mortgage and bills covered. Don't know what I'll be doing past that, but we'll see how the branches fall by then.
The hatches have been battened down.
I've been trying to relax while staying home by working on a typewriter I acquired a little while ago from another neighbor. He got it on eBay and sold it to me for $10. I think he paid considerably more, but he just wanted to be rid of it at that point. It's a nice machine for the most part, once the grit cleaned up. One of the worst things that can happen to mechanical devices is an incorrectly attempted repair. I've been thoroughly enjoying the immediacy of writing down my thoughts on it.
Since my own cabin plans are on hold, I was looking up how other cabin folks are spending their winters. I came across this one that I especially enjoyed. This is what I hope to be doing while on my winter strolls as well.
Another one I appreciate is this venture in quiet solitude.
I do want to get back on the cabin design and I have a rough idea of where I'm heading since the last twotimes. The overall plan is still the same from the middle of this year, but I'll obviously need to reconsider the timeline. The "solar shed" will likely be where all my electronics will also be housed as that will create the least amount of intrusion into the other living spaces. I still want to maintain that boundry of tech and non-tech as much as is practical.
Things may feel slow as molasses at present, but for me at least, it's still flowing in the right direction.
I came back to my apartment mid-October. Everything wasn't quite the same as the Before Times, but a few more tenants had also returned. The night is still quieter than I remembered. Before leaving, I had forgotten a jar of "something" given to me a while ago in the fridge. It's amazing what terrifying delights may grow in a sealed container, unbathed by a suitable climate, for a few months. Not too different from sealed homes or hearts.
A lot of people have forgotten what desperation genuinely feels like. What war feels like and what it means to fight to exist. Like gawkers flocking to a receeding wave before a tsunami, there's a non-trivial percentage of people still insisting on being spectators to their own undoing instead of heading to higher ground. In this case, that's simply covering their nose and mouth with a piece of cloth. This isn't entirely unexpected, but it's a slowly unfolding tragedy that's entirely preventable.
When wrapped in the warmth of complacency, gathering kindling for fire feels foolish and sharpening an axe feels premature. The biting cold of reality feels unwelcome in thoughts and actions.
But the cold is coming.
Here in New York, there's a slight uptick in the number of infections and I expect that, and accompanying deaths, to grow exponentially as seasonal flu is added on. The price of participating in civilization seems like a fool's bargain on some level, but it's still the only mechanism of cooperation in collective memory that we know to have worked. It can still work.
My roommate had come back early November and we're resuming some semblance of normalcy. My immediate neighbor greeted us as usual and we're back to chatting of fun times. I'm looking forward to her Thanksgiving pie this year too.
Between work tasks and copious sprouts of inspiration, I finally managed to put together the basic structure of the cabin walls. This is my first update on the cabin design in almost three months as I'm slowly making my way home from the work site.
The sturctures will be built on the previous foundation design. This is the overall direction I want to take, the details of which will be decided as I have access to more information as well as a building site. Because so much has happened this year, I don't know when I'll be able to begin, but I want to keep walking as long as I can see the path.
There are probably going to be many revisions to the final cabin layout from now until construction. And there might be revisions during construction as well, but I'm satisfied with this arrangement so far. It gives me the most amount of flexibility should things change.
The wall framing itself is fairly conventional and will use 2 x 4 studs for the most part. While this is smaller than a typical house framing, the sizes are matched to the overall smaller interior of the structures and expected snow loads with the relatively steep roof angle I'm envisioning. The stud spacing will be 16" on center as is typical for the U.S. and Canada.
Depending on the land I'll eventually be able to procure, the longest continous wall and the end wall without cutouts or openings will face the direction of prevailing winds on the building site. This will both improve longevity of the structures and reduce interior temperature swings.
I decided against standard insulation like rock wool or fiberglass for the most part and will probably stick to two layers of "bubble foil" separated by an air gap for the walls, following the same scheme as the foundation. This will probably be eschewed by seasoned builders for various reasons, but my specific use case isn't a traditional building. My decision was based on time, effort, and cost involved when considering long-term viability in a highly weather-variable area with frequent intrusions from local fauna.
Insects and rodents love all manner of fiberous materials, especially in the woods, and I'd like to limit fiber insulation like rock wool only to the area close to the eventual location of the wood stove.
I may also have to move these structures at a future date and this will be a lot easier without the additional weight of fiber batts. Removable anchoring to the ground should suffice to keep the sturcture stationary in the winds expected in the area I've researching. Naturally, a lot depends on how the climate will change in the coming years, but there will be plenty of metal anchoring for the studs, foundation, and roof rafters as well.
The walls will have horizontal blocking between studs to add resistance to shear forces. Traditionally, this was done with diagonal bracing, but since the studs are only 2 x 4, I didn't feel comfortable cutting into them to add the diagonals. This does add a bit more weight to the walls, but I feel that's an acceptable compromise.
The one aspect that I'm still debating is the size of the door. Having a smaller door on the smaller structure template would make sense if I don't plan on bringing in larger equipment. But it adds to the surface area of the cutout, which is a problem when trying to maintain interior temperatures. I have to balance the aesthetics with practicality in this case, but for now, I settled on a 27.5" door opening for both structure types.
I may end up making the doors from scratch as the location and circumstances permit. This will also likely change in the final version or even during the build itself.
The importance of nautral light wasn't lost on me during my camping trips and other outdoor frolicking. Even when living in a borrowed cabin, I noticed how quickly I missed the view, despite having ready access to it all the time. The main cabin will accordingly have two windows while the utility/multi-purpose structure template will have one window. I feel this will give me enough light and access to nature to enjoy, even during foul weather. The doors themselves will likely also have a window to ensure I have light coming in from two directions.
The headers for windows and doors are two pieces of 2 x 6 or 2 x 8 with three pieces of siding in between and insulation between the gaps. The roof won't be that big while it has adequate slope so even with heavy snow, this structure should be more than enough to transfer the load to the ground.
There are a multitude of on-site considerations even with this overall plan. The actual placement of the structures will depend significantly on the ground conditions and weather. While I'm specifically looking at snowy areas, I'm hoping to avoid any locations with flooding. But this isn't always possible and there may be other issues with permits and easements.
I still haven't given up on building in New York since I have an affinity to the state. My family lives here and if at all possible, I'd like to be withn a day's drive to see them. Time will tell if this is a practical consideration with my potential budget in the coming years.
I'm leaving the confines of freedom for the relative stability of concrete and corner stores. I've lost count of how many days I've been away, but it feels too long to process currently and too short to appreciate in hindsight. Coming back to the apartment has its downsides as flu season is upon us and not enough people appreciate the impermanence of life.
The shorter days mean longer trips at night to get home. I miss the flicker of backseat hypnosis during long rides at night, but I'll settle for front seat vigilance for now. I expect my roommate to arrive no earlier than November and we can resume some semblance of a past life.
I did get the chance to tinker with some of my cabin designs while away and I hope to resume posting them soon.
It's been nearly a month since being back on the road to a remote site for any kind of durable work. This has been an education on the clockwork of society. I used to work at a gas station as a young lad, many moons ago, and I thought that was a great introduction to the full spectrum of americana. Everyone needs fuel at some point, or ice or some other convenience, and being exposed to that many people so early was illuminating. But that was after 9/11 and, alhough the nation was suffering, it wasn't nearly on this scale.
A stressed creature is quite terrifying when also wounded.
This was my first real chance to sow bits and reap news, and while things seem awful, I'm oddly at peace with all of it. At first, I thought it was an odd detachment from society, despite being a participant, but that seems too easy an explanation. The real reason is probably that I understand there are things beyond my control and I strive to make the best course corrections possible while paying heed to my spotters. They're both at a better vantage point and are more experienced in choppy waters. Sometimes, they get it wrong, but that too is beyond my control. Although, posessing eyes and ears does impart me with a degree of responsibility to cross reference reef sightings.
There might be a short delay between the slow tsunami hitting the crowded beaches and the demolition of confidence off its foundations further inland, but I think the toes are starting to get wet here. Things are about to get interesting before winter.
Having Internet at this location has filled my email bin high above my lid so it would take a while to sort through the messages and separate the tins from the trash. I don't know when I'll be able to get back to my apartment, but it seems I'll be able to leave before first snow.
It feels both great and surreal to head back on the road again. New York still isn't fuly "open" yet, but there are pockets of normalcy that are, hopefully, helping to bring a level of sanity to the self-inflicted madness we're all going through. I'm heading upstate to a virtual dead zone so I don't know if I'll be able to connect and post updates, but I'll be trying either way. On the road, I'll still be working on some cabin ideas.
My home street wasn't as much of a ghost town when I was leaving so that might be a good sign depending on how well the social contract is remembered past grade school. This was also the first good look I had of area after since most of my outings were before sunrise for my morning walks and no one else was around and just to get groceries at other times. I don't know how well my apartment will recover since I know management was, understandably, a little tight on the budget. But I've been told there was enough of a reserve that once maintenance fees start coming in again, things that need fixing will get fixed well before winter. In the grand scheme of things, I'm incredibly fortunate to have a home to go back to.
I love small towns and if I have the choice, I'd live in one. But I've found two Goldilocks Zones for surviving calamity: A sparsely populated area where many or most folks still remain in constant contact, and a densely populated area where groups (maybe just one building and its tenants) act as a single cohesive unit to keep each other safe.
By the end of July, it will be 5 and a half months since "normal" ended for me. The building is still eerily quiet and most of my neighbors who moved out are still away. I don't know how the few remaining folks are making do, but I imagine most are now receiving unemployment benefits.
I'm looking forward to making my mortgage payments in full again without having to dip into my savings. The savings too were dwindling, but I've managed to get a few gigs here and there to make ends meet in other ways. I'm paying the bills as best I can and have cut down on all non-essentials. This part of life was already familiar territory; I just didn't think I'll come back to it any time soon.
I've avoided "staying busy" for its own sake. I felt it was important for my sanity to experience as much boredom as I can, between the little work I have, since I don't know if I'll get to experience it again later in life. This has left my imagination to flourish for the first time since entering the workforce as a kid.
I've been taking a walk every few days in the early morning like I used to and doing so with the mask on has been interesting to say the least. I don't know how effective it really is, but I think the best prevention is still not meeting anyone else on the road at 4AM. Most of the corner stores are open again during their regular hours, with heavy "mask required" signage.
It's strange that I'm getting used to recognizing people just by their eyes and body shape. The winter this year will be interesting too and I don't know how that will fare with the regular flu season on top. I wish I was as enthusiastic about this year's winter as I was during spring since it will be far harder for most folks to deal with. Winter will stil come.
The dearth of work lately has left me ample space to wedge in design exercises for my cabin. While I haven't finalized the design on the main living structure, I'm getting closer to finishing the others. I've found a good balance between space, cost, and building practicality since I'll be doing most of the work myself. I eventually decided that I'd like to standardize on just two structural sizes.
The main living cabin will remain 8 x 12ft as a base. I feel this is the largest size I'd be comfortable with to spend most of my non-outdoor, waking moments. All other structures will be 8 x 8ft including the library and solar power shed. This size was very carefully considered after looking at cost and space. I was considering under-cabin space, but decided against it due to maintenance concerns and the possibility of having to deal with critters building nests under the structure.
I realized that having larger spaces will mean entertaining the possibility of having more things than I will actually need. This is counter to what I hope to accomplish in the end. There's a difference between having "possibly necessary" things and "I may want that later" things. Extra space for "storage" will attract detritus and I want to avoid it if at all possible.
I was working on the design with OpenSCAD, the same as my wood stove. With it, I found getting the exact cut lengths for each piece of lumber a lot simpler than manually doing the calculations. I don't know if I'll continue using it for other aspects of the structures, but it has worked very well for me so far.
The structures will be at most just 1 - 2 feet above grade. This is probably variable depending on flood conditions, but that too can be dealt with when the time comes.
I settled on creating a sealed underside for all structures. The treated lumber skids or rails will keep the structure off the ground while the plywood, which binds the skids together, will close the bottom to rodents and weather.
A skirting around the foundation is still probably necessary either way, but I won't be running any utilities under the structures. This will give me the fewest number of problems should I need to move any of them in the future.
There will be "bubble foil" insulation strips stapled between the floor joists, leaving a small gap between the bottom treated plywood and the top surface. These are a tad controversial in the Tiny House and Cabin building community, but I believe that is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of how it works.
The insulation value is measured as part an assembled unit with an air gap between surfaces. This provides ample heat retention in the winter and, more importantly, doesn't attract rodents or insects unlike most other insulation materials. This is a bigger concern when building in a rural area as I plan to do. Even in rural New York, rodents like mice and rats are still prevalent. I prefer to make my home less attractive to them in the first place rather than having to hurt them later, once they become a problem.
I'll be adding another layer of the same material on top of the joists as a continuous sheet, taped together. I may follow a similar arrangement for the walls and roof since this solution is also significantly lighter than other types and that will be advantageous if I have to move or raise any of the structures at a future date. Since this continous sheet is on the warm side of the structure, I'll be gaining the benefit of a vapor barrier in addition to a thermal break.
I decided that the entire structure will be built with screws. While the shear strength of nails is greater, that's only one parameter in the whole assembly system. The disadvantages of nails far outweigh the advantages for me when taken overall. Besides, the shear strength is not as applicable in a fastening system that's less likely to work its way out of the structure. Screws are also more convenient when building alone as the material comes together more tightly while being fastened.
The main cabin foundation will also be a variation of this, just adapted to the 8' x 12' size.
I hope to have the walls and roof rafters designed soon.