Thursday, October 29, 2009

I learn to fly

Throughout the rest of the winter, work went extremely slow. I spent more time with my family being warm and stopped in every few days to look and plan and take care of the dogs. I built a large strawbale doghouse for them, a sort of tarped off igloo that kept them cozy and warm. I February, needing to get closer to the project, we rented a cheep apartment in the nearest town so I could see my wife and kids while I worked on the cabin.

As spring began to sprung, work commenced. I purposely built a pole structure because I wanted to get a roof on it as quickly as possible. The stem wall and bond beam that would support the perimeter wall was not in and, as it would be a non load-bearing plastered strawbale wall, it needed to be under roof before to keep moisture from getting in during construction (more on strawbale construction later). The sheeting of the roof went slowly, but without incident. Each 4X8 sheet had to have the ends cut to properly match on the odd sloping roof. I had the occasional use of a small Dewalt battery trim saw which would cut somewhere in the neighborhood of…. 1 sheet. After that it was back to hand sawing. Eventually I got out the chainsaw and had at them with that. It must have looked a little odd, but it was effective! The roof was soon sheeted and ready to weather in.

The roofing I chose is a product called Onduro. It is an asphalt impregnated fiberglass corrugated panel system. Each panel is about 4’ X 6’ and it is rated at 150 mph wind and has a 40 year warranty. A little tricky to work with at first, but it goes on fast once you get the hang of it. The front of the roof went well and soon I was moving on to the back.

The sloping ridge created a nice parabolic sort of shape to the roofline and made a varying pitch. On the short side it was about a 5/12. The tall side was somewhere in the 9/12 to 10/12 range. At the end off the roof it was somewhere in the neighborhood of eighteen to twenty feet off the ground. The edge of the eave was an eleven foot drop, information about to become very important. I stapled down 30# roofing felt first and laid the roofing over that. The front of the roof was done and looking great. Rolling the felt across the back and downhill side of the house, I had a little incident. I had rolled three rows felt up the roof and was rolling out the fourth. As I reached the end of the row and, as it happens, the steepest portion of the roof, the staples in the felt I was standing on tore out.

At the time I was holding a large slap stapler and a hammer and wearing a full set of carpenters tool pouches (the two bag variety) with about fifteen to twenty pounds of tools in them. When working alone one does not want to have to crawl down every time a tool is needed, easier to just bring ‘em with you. As I leaned down to slap the next staple in I heard the quiet and sickening sound of felt ripping. At the same time I felt my body start to move.

Life went quiet and the world switched to slow motion. Once before in my life I have experienced this. Then, I was hit by a speeding kiddy pool being towed by a fourwheeler and flew, end over end until I landed on top of my head. (but that’s another story altogether) It is as if the mind, wondrous machine that it is, recognizes that we have now reached a place in which prioritization of inputs will be of lethal importance. All the sights and sounds of the forest around me disappeared. I was alone, watching as I began an unwilling descent to an unknown end. I spun around and, somehow, maintained my balance enough to remain upright as I began the short surf down the slope of the roof. I don’t know if anyone waxed my tar paper surfboard but it was doing fine. Directly below me was an extension ladder leaning against the house. It occurred to me in the nanosecond approach that to be entangled in an extension ladder while falling off a roof was probably not a really healthy thing (as opposed to just falling off the roof…) so, accelerating faster now, I gave it a mighty shove as I crossed the edge, sending it clattering down beside me. I distinctly recall sailing through the air, watching the ground getting closer and closer, though it all happened in a blink. I hit in a pile of dirt and rubble and mud with all the grace and finesse that 250lbs and a pouch full of tools can muster, which isn’t much. I grew up jumping out of trees and across creeks and such so I knew how to land, knees bent, roll out of it, etc. and I came to rest sitting upright on a pile of rocky dirt, empty handed. My first thought was to start checking and wiggling stuff because I knew the chances of me doing that and not being broken were slim. To my growing relief and amazement, though things were smarting a bit and I could tell I would be feeling it for a few days to come, all the fingers and toes and legs and such were structurally sound. Shaken, I rose to my feet as my wife, who was there at the time with the kids and heard the din as me and all my stuff went sailing, came running down the hill to me. To this day I am amazed that I walked away. Looking down at my empty hands and tool pouches I realized that, though I have no memory of doing it, somewhere between the paper ripping and me hitting the ground I slammed the hammer back into the hammer loop on the back of my belt and put the stapler in the right tool pouch where it belonged.

To the right you see a shot I took standing in the place I landed.

I took a few moments to walk down the hill to a sacred place. It is nothing more than a bluff overlooking a ravine at the back of my property. The ground is rocky and steep and two trees, a white oak and a red oak have grown together, creating a tall, narrow arch. It is a place that feels serene and sacred to me. There, in the tradition of travelers the world over, I made a small pile of stones. Many native cultures did this as a small offering to the great spirit, the Mother goddess, or whatever was right to them. My tiny altar was to all of them and the spirit of the forest itself, which I feel so intimately when I am there. I took a moment to contemplate over a cigar, left most of it to burn away on the stones in tribute and, after walking back up the hill to my future home, climbed back on the roof and finished up.

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