“I could not get enough of timber framing, plumbing, electrical work and all that sort of thing. I kind of think it is a phase we all feel at some point and I felt it just after turning 50.”
A reader wrote in: With that quote from your blog I hoped a story of the difficulties for an old man, unskilled at 50 building off-grid, off highway access would be told. Maybe some day you will elaborate?
Of course I responded to him with, “Buy the book!”, but that’s not fair and, anyway, much of that story went largely untold in the book. So, here it is from a different perspective:
Firstly, I really did not consider myself ‘old’ at 50. But I was kinda useless. Of course, I worked and I was good enough at my chosen pursuits but, for the most part, it was brain-work. I didn’t do much physical labour outside of cleaning the pool. After a ‘hard day’s work’, I’d come home, have a martini (or two) and have dinner before sitting in front of the TV. I knew that wasn’t very healthy but well, I was a suburban guy pushing paper and doing deals and talkin’ on my cell phone. You know, really, really hard work.
It bothered me that I was useless in most every practical sense but not enough to get off my butt. After we did the big family RV trip across Canada, around Europe and then back across the USA, it kind of reminded me that watching TV was not a just a waste of time, it was a waste of life. I wanted to do ‘real stuff’ again. I kinda got the bug…ya know?
And getting the ‘bug’ not only made me want to go do real stuff but also it eroded my commitment to my so-called brain-work. I lost interest in it. And thus the out-of-the-blue obsession in all things Cabin emerged. To be fair, writing also became an interest around that same time and that eventually manifested in writing the back-page column for Cottage magazine for a few years. It was essentially a humour column chronicling my pathetic and bleeding attempts to become a cottager.
I can’t remember them all but one was titled, “Let there be sheds”. Another was “Island time.” A third was about slowly dying my acreage with my own blood. It was just silly stuff. But fun. When you write, you also read. I read Mother Earth News and got on their forum and my ignorance about carpentry, electrics and such slowly started to wane and, soon enough, I was actually asking some good questions. The first step after stupid is NOT knowing anything. Ya still know squat. It is inquiring about said squat. And, geez, the answers I got were truly fascinating.
Segue to blowing up rats…..
Our property is largely granite and granite does not always form exactly the way you might want it to. One sometimes might want to alter one’s granite, ya know? Being male, naturally, I wanted to learn how to blow some of that granite up….right? Who wouldn’t?
Sal, for one. She said, “You go out to the garden with a shovel and come back bleeding. You must be crazy to think I would let you go out with explosives! The answer is no!”
“Umh, Sal…I didn’t ask permission. I just want to know if Home Depot sells dynamite.”
So, I turned to the OOMs. They know everything. “Majere, I want to blow up some granite. My wife won’t let me buy dynamite. She is pretty close-minded about this. Feet are stomping, hands are on hips, cute little face all frowny. She’s pretty firm.”
“Oh, English, you do not need dynamite. You need Iodine crystals and ammonia. You soak the crystals in the ammonia and, before they dry, you carefully place them in the spot that wants rapid expansion.”
“Cool. Where do you OOMs want rapid expansion?”
“We get rats on our farms. The live under the barns. So we place wet crystals on the support beams they run along. After a bit, the crystals are dry and sensitive to the touch or close movement. The explosion is like a little land mine. Every so often we hear a little pffft under the barn and we know we are one rat less.”
And in that little mouse-step kinda way, I began my long journey into learning how to live off the grid.
Minor epilogue: Sal was not keen on little land-mines either or anything even close. “I do not want to see mice and squirrels splattered all over!” I eventually found some expanding clay-like powder that you mix with water and pour into strategically placed holes that you drill in the rock. Sure enough…after a week, a large chunk of granite calved off the planet and lay where gravity put it. Interesting stuff. Safer, too. Had I had access to dynamite, this blog may never have been written.