July 15th 2012, another trip to the Cowiche Mountains
I’m back from a wonderful four day stay in the Mountains some 30 miles due west of Yakima. Four wonderful and peaceful days used to reflect on lessons learned, and mistakes made. At 64 years old, I fully understand I am a student and always will be. Learning from other people’s mistakes is a way to save money.
Going through our cabin log, I found and entry made in the summer of 1988. I read it as I sat on our deck watching chipmunks, and the latest crop of youngsters exploring their domain and living within 140 feet of a Kestrel’s Nest with five hungry chicks to feed!
On that day in 1988, we were enjoying the deck, and watching the Chipmunks. My guest looked over at me, and exclaimed… “Chipmunks are ground animals, and they don’t climb trees”. As we sat there that day, I was watching two different Chipmunks carry off sunflower seeds from the deck to a tree, they climbed more than 30 feet high and hide them among the clusters of pine needles to snack on a later date.
At the time, I reflected on comments I’ve made in the past that were none too wise. I measured the value of correcting my guest, and considered it would only be at my loss to do so. I was now on the same deck 24 years later, and I’m still only a student in the study of Chipmunks. I looked out about 75 feet, and saw that there were three young chipmunks looking out the round hole of a bird house set about 12 feet off the ground on the north side of a pine, they had moved in, and likely thought it the best home.
A permanent book on the shelf at the cabin is ‘Walden, or Life In The Woods’, and on this day, I just happened to be reading a chapter called ‘higher Laws.’ Thoreau wrote: “He who is only a Traveler learns things by second hand, and by the halves, and is poor authority”.
Ahhh.. I reflected.. my guest is no fool, he charges a tidy sum for his work, and has never been un-employed a day in his life, but a traveler he is.
As a side note… I am sure that Thoreau also recognized how much more memorable first hand mistakes are, no doubt the second hand ones are far cheaper, but no wheres near as durable.
Our deck faces east as per design, at one o’clock, the sun is fully off the deck, and this is a time I normally think about something cool to drink from the ice chest. As I returned to my comfortable chair, open log, and book, some very noisy Kestrel Chicks had left their nest for first time. I had been watching the Parent for several days, and to watch a bird that can both soar on a thermal and cross a meadow like a bolt of lightning is a treat, to witness it from the comfort of our deck, a rare gift.
I think about the Cabin not far from here.. the planning that didn’t go into it, and then I think about this bird. The Falcons are a product of intelligent design, refined beyond the understanding of most travelers. Falcons score highest on tests designed to measure the intelligence of birds, and I think a good mind is a bonus for any pilot.
But then my thoughts turn to piloting, and the thought we all should start out on wings far less challenging than the narrow and fast wing given to the Falcon. These are all things understood by the greatest designer of all. No matter how good the mind, that fast and narrow wing takes practice, and this designer knew best. The fledgling is given far longer flight feathers for his first year of flight. This is the equivalent of a broad wing, more like a Hawk’s wing. Our fledging falcon pilot gets a full year to hone his skills before he’s given a wing that makes him the fastest creature on earth.
I came down from the mountains thinking about my own flying, that bag full of fabric, and it was yesterday that my friend would have had another birthday, this is the second one I mark off on the calendar without him. Just like the Falcon, he had the best of minds, we enjoyed a lot of the same things. He was an Engineer, he graduated at the top of his class, he had the reflexes of a cat, and a full 10 years younger than myself, but the wing he flew that day was new to him, not so broad, and not so forgiving, and the task turned into an unexpected challenge.
You might remember an old article I wrote years ago called Cabin Building Mistakes. If not, here’s that article. I did make my share of mistakes, and 30 years later I have a list of things to do differently.
After years of studying mountain cabins… I think I’ve found one with almost all the mistakes included. A friend who designs expensive homes tells me this is a testament to the strength of wood. This structure sits on top of a hill at about 4700 feet elevation. It looks as if someone has robbed the window frame from the first floor this last year. possibly metal thieves.
Yes, those joists out front were once part of a deck on the second story! The sheets of ply you see scattered were on top of the joists.
It’s always best to crack a book before building, at least read a few pages about basic building before you start. We all learn along the way, and part of that learning is to know the difference between an inside door, and one designed to be an exterior door. Still it took 25 years for this interior door to fail to this point, and two or three years ago, it still looked like a door.
One of the best ways ever to learn basic construction techniques is to watch a home being built, and learn why it’s done that way.. People get crazy with designs, but after hundreds of years, there’s little more efficient, and easier to live in than a square box of suitable dimensions, with a simple roof with gables, the hip roof is stronger, but many of us ‘pitch up’ the gable style roof and use it for a sleeping loft.
Learning about cripples, and bird blocks, learning how to make a strong truss, or what’s required to make a strong building if you use rafters is key.
The land prep was interesting, close examination suggests that not a spoon full of dirt was moved during the effort to lay out the pier blocks, if the block tilted a bit, what the heck? What’s remarkable is this structure has survived some pretty strong winds for many years.
Another view of the pier block and post job.
It was another great stay in the mountains, and so much of the story untold.. like meeting a big Female Cougar and her cub at a nearby spring, what a rare treat.. we have lots of cougars here, but this is the first I’ve seen in all these years.
At 64, I’m just starting to learn the basics. One thing I am sure of.. all to many politicians are travelers, and there’s so much that Thoreau understood so long ago.