Evolution of the Lair

Ben said in a comment, …

I’m not sure what your original concept for the Lair included, but I’m betting that it’s nothing like what you have today. Perhaps in a future post you might want to contrast that original concept to today’s evolved version.

…and I had to think about that for a few minutes, because there never really was all that much in the way of an original concept. Just sort of a wistful thought. It wasn’t much more than mental masturbation, since I couldn’t imagine how I’d build anything superior to the RV trailer I was already in. I’m not a builder.

In the beginning it was really all Ian’s doing.

Ian trucked up a whole bunch of salvaged 2X12s and 2X6s he got from a friend in the city, more than enough to frame a 200 sq. ft. building, and I had to get off the pot and see what I could do. I spent the winter pulling nails and trying to decide what to do about a foundation. My first thoughts on those lines would have proven comically inadequate. Then I thought of trenching and filling the trench with a concrete block wall. I actually got a lot of the trench done, then a wet season showed me what happens to little boys who dig trenches on the surface of a flood plain. That’s when I researched how to build on piers – and I also did a lot of digging to deepen and straighten the gully run-off into a bermed trench so that gully wouldn’t flood the build site – and it never has since, but the building is still off the ground in case it ever does.

I dug nine pits and poured the platforms, then Ian and Claire helped me pour the nine piers.

Then the whole neighborhood helped with the frame and shell. Ian again paid for the OSB and roofing. I wired the shell with no serious plan for powering it. There was no original thought of indoor plumbing, but then (Ian again) suddenly there was a well on the ridgetop 50 feet above the cabin site and no reason not to trench 300 feet down a steep slope for flexible pipe (purchased), and also figure out how to dig a whole septic system (scrounged). Plumbing alone added a year to the project.

It sort of stayed like that for a long time while I gathered materials and gumption and slowly worked on the interior. Then a burst of motivation caused by the very cold winter of 2010 and a burst of income caused by the sudden demand for geiger counters after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster got the thing marginally habitable in time for me to move in just before the winter of 2011.

That first winter wasn’t very much more comfortable than it would have been in the RV, to be honest. The wind positively whistled through the walls and the OSB floor was frigid and the free woodstove flat didn’t work and I didn’t know enough about heating with wood to see what the problem was – or even that there was a problem at first. February of 2012 a chimney fire caused by creosote from all the smoky smoldering juniper fires made it clear something serious had to change, but even after I got a new woodstove the following December I was so paranoid at first that my first couple of winters in the Lair were colder than they needed to be. I gradually got over it.

Except for that, no major changes happened for years. Finally installed exterior siding in 2015, which logically shouldn’t have been put off so long but there simply wasn’t enough money. I could scrounge and do local gigs enough to keep myself in food and fuel, and TUAK donations helped with medical and Jeep problems but there was never enough to finish the exterior and I watched in mild dismay as the OSB – which was never supposed to be exposed to the weather that long – slowly decomposed.

The Great Siding Project of 2015 was the result of a major TUAK fundraiser. I was able to replace all the rotted OSB on the weather/drip side of the cabin and put up Hardieboard siding that will surely outlast me. The rest was covered in tarpaper and cheap plywood siding at last, with the help of Neighbor D. Then I learned to relax and love the paintbrush.

And that was my funny-looking little cabin until Spring/Summer 2017.

But in October 2016 I had a bad fall and ripped the rotator cuff in my right shoulder, making that vertical loft ladder a real challenge. A ground-floor bedroom addition, which had always been a “someday when I’m rich and famous” affair, started looking more like a necessity. Even though I did recover enough use of the arm to struggle up and down the ladder through that winter, the writing was on the wall: Old one-legged men should sleep on the ground floor. Ian (again) and Big Brother and various Generous Readers donated enough funds to nearly double the Lair’s footprint in a project that went on from late April to sometime in October. There were times when I really wondered if I would make it inside by winter, and I wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for a friend of the blog who drove all the way from Minnesota to help with the insulation and drywall.

First I was out of money: I could pay for the insulation or the drywall but not both, and he came through with the insulation. Second I’d never in life have gotten that ceiling done alone. Between us we knocked the whole thing out in 3 or 4 days, and I can assure you that the seams in the bedroom (which he did) look a hell of a lot better than the seams in the closet (which I did).

And so that happened. Thanks to a Generous Reader the Lair bedroom even has a thermostat-controlled propane furnace, and there are no words.

A porch with a roof was one of those “yeah, maybe someday” projects I never expected to get to, but when the stars seemed to align themselves for that I was able to knock it out almost casually. A roof is really just a matter of planning and cash, I don’t anticipate any big issue. The supports are already there, so it’ll be no big deal.

And so it’s really just a matter of patience and evolution. Things seemed to happen kind of organically when it was time for them to happen, and the Secret Lair has now achieved almost everything I dreamed of but never seriously expected to happen. I picture myself flooring and roofing and probably screening the porch in the fullness of time. I’d really truly like to figure out how to finish the ceiling in the main part of the cabin, something I should oh-so-importantly have done first. But honestly I rarely even see that anymore. It has gradually become a very comfortable little cabin.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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9 Responses to Evolution of the Lair

  1. Dennis says:

    Not sure how to break this to you…you’re living too close to the cookie jar to be a honest to goodness hermit. The ceiling fan brought you pretty near right up to the line, hermit wise, and with this porch you’ve stepped way over. Congratulations and well done none the less!

  2. John H Brooks says:

    Well, a tarp or cloth and some of landlady’s pipe would shade your porch in summer inexpensively.

  3. Fun to see that history and evolution of the Secret Lair. To Dennis – hermit is more a state of mind than a level of comfort or civilization. 😉

  4. Ben says:

    hermit is more a state of mind than a level of comfort or civilization.

    I always imagined that hermits live alone in caves without showers or toilet facilities, wear stinky uncured animal hides, and even lack Internet access.

  5. Joel says:

    I always imagined that hermits live alone in caves without showers or toilet facilities, wear stinky uncured animal hides, and even lack Internet access.

    I kind of alternate doing those things. Everything in moderation, that’s what I say…

  6. Claire says:

    I love that story and those pix, Joel. Amazing beginning and transformation. Pure awesomeness, growing more awesome in the last couple of years. Kudos to the Friends of Joel. And to you, too, Joel — of course. The transformation is as much in you as in the Lair.

  7. B says:

    A couple of questions:
    What did the geiger counters have to do with your income?
    How much do you NEED to finish the things you’d like?
    Roof the porch
    Deck the porch.
    Ceiling the rest of the cabin.
    Other things not yet listed….
    I’d be the that most readers would toss a few bucks and you could accomplish it all quickly, if you wanted to.
    Tell us. You might be surprised. .

  8. Joel says:

    For an answer to the first question you’d need to know something about Geiger Counter Guy, a former neighbor who…made Geiger counters. Was just a side business until a certain nuclear reactor melted down, then for several months he couldn’t keep up with demand and needed an assistant. Unfortunately for my neighbor, that demand also woke up the worldwide supply of … better Geiger counters.

    As to the rest, well…It would be difficult to come up with a single big figure because money isn’t the only issue, and frankly right now I don’t even want to go there. My back isn’t getting better – if anything it’s getting worse – and Little Bear has become seriously sick. I can’t take myself to a doctor or him to a vet, and right now I don’t really care if the porch floor stays made of plywood for a while.

  9. Ben says:

    Oh gosh Joel! Your back pain and your (apparently large and heavy) sick friend are each very serious problems, but when combined I fear that they might become unmanageable for you.

    How is it going today?

    (Once I had back pain that was caused by no particular injury yet was so acute that I couldn’t sleep and I could barely move. In desperation, I (almost literally) crawled into one of those Urgent Care centers where the doctor gave me the traditional combination of a muscle relaxer and a pain med. I know that doesn’t work for all, particularly when there is a “real” injury involved, but for me it was like a magic bullet! In fact, by the end of the day I had stopped taking those meds because I no longer needed them.)

To the stake with the heretic!