Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Closing In On Complete

I'm almost done with my cabin. This past weekend, unable to wait for it to be completed, I went ahead and moved in once I had the roof done. It feels pretty amazing to sleep in a cabin that you've built.

With the roof attached, I'm working on covering the gaps between my roof and the tops of my walls and weatherproofing my walls. And a door. I need to build a door.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Coming along...

So I haven't been extremely consistent in posting. This is most likely due to the fact that as I make more and more progress, I want to spend less and less time away from the cabin and my work.

My dad came to visit this past weekend. His timing was immaculate and I finished with my walls while he was here and cut my doorway. I've got the wood for the floor and most of the wood for the roof. Hopefully, by the end of the week I'll be able to stay in it. Hopefully.
The doorway's a little short, but it serves its purpose. (If you need proof that my budget's tight, notice the duct tape on my boot. I've been holding it together with duct tape since the beginning of February. Classy to the last.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Where I Stand...

I'm taking a brief break from work to post, but seeing as the library closes early today and I still have a lot of work to get done, there's really not much time for me to say much. This is a shame because I've recently though of a few remarkably profound, meaningful, charming, and witty things to share. Alas, I'll just have to keep talking to myself...

It occurs to me that I haven't posted my progress in about two weeks. This is a shame because quite a bit has happened in that time. Namely, my cabin is starting to look far more...cabin-ish.

I have six logs left to go.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Has Sprung

Something about the bare logs
attracts a lot of butterflies.

It's fitting that I post this on the first official day of Spring. However, as it is wont, nature has once again ignored man-made schedules and Spring has actually been springing for several weeks now. But in this past week, the signs have been especially noticeable.

One of the earliest signs I saw were the bugs. Starting once temperatures were consistently above freezing, the bugs began appearing during the day. As the day lengthened and warmed, they hung out later and later. It's gotten to the point now where using my headlight at night anywhere outside of my tent attracts a flying crowd. The mosquitoes, gnats, flies, butterflies, bees, and beetles that buzz around my clearing as I work don't bother me unduly. I ignore them or just brush them off if they decide that I'd make a good landing pad. In the past week though, I have begun to see one flying insect I'm less than thrilled to see--red wasps. For those who are unaware of this wonder of the natural wolrd, imagine a burnt-orange/red wasp the size of your pinky finger with the temperament of a disgruntled postal worker. These flying beserkers consider your presence an affront to all they hold dear and will go looking for trouble. For this reason, whenever I see one buzzing around, I've taken to scampering away, ducking and weaving like I was dodging enemy fire.

The growing presence of fauna has been accompanied by action from the deciduous flora as well. Flowers have started popping up on vines that otherwise have shown no sign of life. Many of the smaller saplings appear to have doubled in size as there once bare branches have burst green with leaves.

It's also beginning to get hot--not just warm, but hot. A month ago, a 5-gallon water jug would last me almost a week. Last week, I emptied my first water jug and was about 3-gallons into my second before I filled up again on Sunday. I've also packed up my winter sleeping bag and switched to a summer bag.

 This past Sunday, I was reminded that this is just the beginning of spring, and that it's only going to get hotter from here out. We (my assorted cousins from El Dorado and I) were sitting around the table after lunch chatting. I don't remember how the conversation segued in this direction, but I remember the turn it took. My cousin Chris, looking at me and at my dark hair which has grown thick and is getting long, said, "You're going to need a summer haircut pretty soon." "No," I replied, "I work outside during the summer, so I'm used to the heat." Chris, who is mostly bald, pointed at his head and informed me, "Even I get a summer haircut. I've lived here for 40 some-odd years and I'm still not used to the heat." Not wanting to get a haircut or spend the money, I made some comment about having to tough it out. Chris's wife, with her voice thick with pity, chimed in, "Ohhh. When it's 90 degrees with 95% humidity...at 8:30 in the morning, you're gonna want a haircut." This gave me pause, and as the conversation drifted on, I sat back and thought about this. 90 degrees with 95% humidity?? ...at 8:30 in the morning?!?! There must be places in Hell cooler than a southern Arkansas afternoon. I'm gotta finish this cabin soon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Weathering the Weather

I'm definitely enjoying the warmer weather that comes as spring approaches in Southern Arkansas. It's fantastic to go for several weeks straight without losing the feeling in my feet. However, one downside to warmer weather is thunderstorms. Having been hit by two thunderstorms in the past week, I'm not embarrassed to admit: being in a tent in the middle of a thunderstorm is vaguely terrifying. Both have come at night (or very early morning), so my only course of action is to watch the slow strobe-light effect of the lightning and listen to the thunder and torrents of rain. But the whole time I constantly wonder what would happen if lightning were to strike a tree close by, or if there are any dead limbs above my tent that I failed to notice during my previous inspections. Thoughts like these can make it very hard to fall back asleep.

Working On the Walls

In the past week I've been working on raising my walls. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll let the pixels do most of the talking. (Just click on the pictures to blow them up.)

Pulling a log up my ramps.
Surprisingly, one of the easiest parts of this entire venture is getting these massive logs up onto my frame. Just use my rope to pull them up the ramps.

The most time-consuming part is peeling them with the draw knife. It's not hard, but it's taking me around 2 hours to scrape the cambium off a single log.

My notches are starting to look
round instead of jagged.
The notching is relatively simple, but I realize that I'm lacking good pictures of this, so I'll leave an explanation of this until a later date. I will say (with a good bit a pride) that my notches are getting substantially prettier.

Things are starting to look a bit more cabin-ish.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Progress Thus Far (Week 7)

One of the prettier of my
first four notches.

(Also, I recently found out that for more detail, you
can expand the pictures by clicking on them.)

In the past couple of days, there have been exciting happening in the woods of Waldo: I started on the walls of my cabin. This meant finishing the peeling of two of my larger logs with a draw knife and cutting my first notches. The question remains, how is one supposed to cut a round notch with a straight saw? As it turns out, with great difficulty and limited success.

If I can continue at this rate, I will be finishing my cabin around the time of the next presidential election. Hopefully, as the logs get smaller and I become more competent, my progress with be quicker.

And never say that I'm anything but lucky. Shortly after posting on Thursday night, I decided (or rather, once again, my truck decided for me) that it was time to give lots of my money to a mechanic. This time it was a new alternator. That was fun.

(Also, Mom, I shaved, so you can once again admit to being my mother.)

Peeling the remaining cambium
with a draw knife.

Working on one of my notches. For
every piece of saw dust that flies out
of the back of the saw and onto the
ground, several more somehow find their
way into my shirt, pants, pockets, and socks.

The first layer of my walls.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Progress Thus Far (Week 6)

So, at long last I'm done collecting logs (hopefully for good--I might have to pull in a few more later on) and serious construction has begun.

Peeling one of my floor joists.
As it turns out, processed  lumber is expensive and I'm very poor, so I'm going to have to try and make do using as much raw timber as possible. Instead of framing my floor out with lumber, I took my largest log, split it in half lengthwise for two additional floor joists. I went ahead and pulled the two halves onto my sill logs and peeled them up there. Then I peel the cambium off with a draw knife, notched the ends, and recessed them into my sill logs.  

With that task done, I'm now ready to start raising my walls.
My sill logs and floor joists in place and needing walls

Some assembly required.
My worksite shortly after installing my last floor joist.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Progress Thus Far (Week 5)

A very good argument against trying
to build your own log cabin.

For the last week and a half, I've been doing only one thing: collecting the logs for my walls. This means finding a suitable tree (even surrounded by trees, this is surprisingly harder than one would imagine), felling said tree (given their size, this is both terrifying and exhilarating), cutting the tree into ~12 foot logs, trimming off any (hopefully, very few) branches, and then dragging the logs in to my clearing. The dragging is the fun part. Okay, it's not actually fun; it's hell. Even when cut to length, I feel like I'm trying to drag the entire tree. I use smaller logs underneath as rollers to assist my progress, but it's still slow going. My back is threatening a revolt, I have callouses and rope burns on my hands, and my knees are making noises they shouldn't be whenever I bend them. I can see why the old-timers used oxen or mules to do this task. (Despite all the planning I did in advance, making lists, double-checking everything I packed, I sadly managed to forget to pack an ox. It's an oversight I sorely regret.) 

Yet another argument against trying
to build your own log cabin.

Once the logs are in my clearing, I have to peel their bark away using a short shovel I've sharpened for the purpose. It works quite well, but it's time consuming and tedious. I've been averaging three logs per day. As of Thursday afternoon, I have 30 logs in my clearing, 27 of which are peeled. I'm guessing I'll need about ten more.

Also, on a happier note, I while driving back to camp from Sunday lunch in El Dorado, I decided (or rather, my truck decided for me) that it was time for a new radiator. That was fun.

Man, I really can't wait for this week to be over.

One half of my ever-expanding log collection.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Answering Nature's Call

Everybody poops. Hopefully, we have all realized this fact by now and can handle the subject like the mature adults that we are (or, at least, like the ones we pretend to be). (A side note: If this news is coming a surprise to you, I strongly suggest you stop reading and consult a gastroenterologist immediately.)

When you put food in your body, it eventually has to come out. With the exception of our earliest years and, in some cases, our last years on Earth, this process is dealt with in a relatively neat and orderly fashion. As anyone who has spent much time camping can attest, in the woods, the law of bodily in-and-out remains set in stone. When it comes to liquids, being a guy in the forest leaves me with an endless sea of possible toilets. In the case of solids, I have dug a toilet a decent distance away from my campsite where I can go.

However, let's face it, a simple hole in the ground requires squatting--not a problem once or twice when spending a weekend off the grid, but after a week it gets a little annoying. The previously referenced law of digestion, combined with Murphy's law, means it is almost always very cold and/or wet whenever nature calls. As a result, more than once I've been forced to combine both squatting and violently shivering into some sort of awkward dance of digestion. A ballet of the bowels, if you will; a disco of digestion; a shimmy of--sorry, I forgot I'm supposed to be feigning maturity.

If after one week, this becomes a little annoying, then after two weeks, you come to dread the inevitable; after three you're ready to limit your diet to nothing but cheese and red meat; after four, you finally do something about it. Hitting that four week mark on Saturday, I said, "The hell with squatting," and hiked myself to the other end of the property to collect the seat from a discarded toilet I had seen. Once back in camp, I cleaned the seat off, grabbed a few nails, some smaller logs, and built a proper toilet. And without going into too much detail, the next time natured called, I was only too happy to respond.
A throne fit for a king.

Hygiene in the Woods

Hygiene in the woods exists more as a concept than as an actual practice. With no one to pass judgement, a lot of common routines fall by the wayside and many things generally regarded as less-than-desirable are casually shrugged off. Life out here is dirty and you have to live with it or you...well...actually, you just have to live with it.

For example, I'll be cutting an onion only to pause and think, "Did I wash my knife after I gutted that squirrel? ...Oh well, it's too late now," and then resume cutting. I distinctly remember wiping it off on my pants, and besides, I was going to cook the onions anyways, so now I'll just cook them a little more thoroughly.

Although I'm only bathing once a week, I do get to "bathe" not infrequently with the aid of a few baby wipes. Standing, and often shivering, naked in the middle of camp I'll use a few baby wipes to cleanse all the vital bits and places before getting dressed for the day. Sadly, this method leaves a lot to be desired.

Despite spending a good deal of time with gloves on, my hands are always filthy. I am reminded of this every morning when I peel my hard-boiled egg. What starts as a pristine, white oval finishes mottled with a color of brown that one can easily recreate at home by mixing all the watercolors in a set together. Pausing to stare at this suddenly less appetizing breakfast, I will think, "...Oh well, it's too late now," and then it's bottom's up.

My two primary pair of work pants are no better. I can already tell that they will never be the same after this experience. Once 100% cotton, even after a good washing, they're now closer to 97% cotton-3% pine sap. They also catch a lot of the grime that my hands, knives, and utensils collect because they serve as a combination napkin/towel/washcloth. Rinsing my spoon (if licking it really well qualifies as 'rinsing'), I'll immediately wipe dry on my pants. The solid odds are wherever I wipe it, that exact spot was used to wipe mud or chainsaw lube off my hands only minutes earlier. The next time I get ready to take a bite of something, I will pause, look at my spoon, and--recalling everything that was wiped on my pants before it--think, "...Oh well, it's too late now."

If the old adage is true that what doesn't kill us only makes us stronger, I'm going to be a veritable superhero once this is all said and done.

The Progress Thus Far (Week 4)

To be brief, Tuesday, I notched my sill logs and recessed my main floor joist.

I lost Wednesday to snow and came out of my sleeping bag for a whopping 20 minutes all day.

The seemingly continuous cycle of rain, snow, rain, snow has thoroughly soaked the ground. With soil comprised of almost exclusively clay, nothing drains well. As a consequence, my makeshift driveway was becoming a bit sketchy. There were several times I was already loudly cursing my luck when my tires finally caught and I managed to slide through. Left with no decent options, Thursday, I cut a new driveway through the woods. Without cutting out large trees, the final product is a pretty narrow in places, but as long as I pay close attention, I should be able to keep my mirrors attached.

Friday, I began what promises to be a long and arduous process: collecting the logs that will make up my walls. I cut a tree, got three 12-foot logs from it, managed to maneuver the logs into my clearing, peeled the bark, and slept like a baby that night.

Saturday, was beautiful and I took a walk through the property, finding and marking trees that might suit my needs.

Sunday, was the obligatory day of getting clean, eating well, and catching up on the goings-on in the family.

Monday (today), it was back to collecting logs for my walls.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Apparently, I Inspire Hunger

Despite all claims and evidence to the contrary, I am neither naive nor ignorant. I know I smell bad. That is just the natural course of things when one is constantly laboring in the woods, huddling by a campfire, and showering once a week. I do what I can to counter my odor with baby wipe-sponge baths, deodorant, and fresh changes of clothes, but those measures only go so far. From what I can tell, my aroma is a mix of stinky boy and campfire. When I go into civilization, I'm not really embarrassed about smelling bad--that's just my current lot in life--but I do try to freshen up as best I can and to avoid close proximity with possible discerning noses. That said, yesterday, I did get to see firsthand the rather humorous consequences of my olfactory presence.

I was sitting in the library, only feet from the circulation desk, working on updating this very blog. It was  close to closing time and an older gentleman was leaning on the circulation desk, shamelessly flirting with the librarians. At one point I got up and crossed the building to use the bathroom. Upon my return, I walked directly past the circulation desk and the aforementioned older flirt. As I was sitting down, the following conversation ensued:

Older gentleman: "Do you smell that?"
Librarian #1: "No, I can't say I do."
Older gentleman: "Smells like meat...meat bein' smoked on a wood grill. Smells good."
Librarian #2: "Sorry, I can't smell it either."
Librarian #1: "Maybe, it's the Mexican restaurant over there."
There is a Mexican restaurant two buildings over, but having eaten there, I can assure you, they positively do not have a wood grill. In fact, given my experience there, I would be surprised if they had anything more than a large microwave in their kitchen. There was almost no one else in the library, and the front door hadn't been open. The smell was definitely coming from inside. More specifically, the smell was coming from the dirty-looking dude sitting at the first computer, trying to smother a grin and stifle a laugh.
Older gentleman: "No, it smells more like bar-b-que or grillin'. That's definitely a big slab of meat and some 'veggers' on the grill. Nice and smoky. Dang, it's makin' me hungry. I'm gonna have to go get me some of that when I leave here."
Librarian #1: "There's a bar-b-que place out on North Hope street..."
Older gentleman: "Nope, I want that smell. I'm going to that Mexican restaurant to get me a big ol' Mexican car-nay ('carne', the Spanish word for meat, was pronounced clearly as two separate words).

The conversation degenerated into a review of local eateries, but I couldn't help but think how disappointed that man was going to be when he realized that whatever he ordered didn't smell quite as appetizing as me.

An Aside:

If you're reading this, then I'll assume you're either masochistic, an insomniac, or you might be remotely interested in what I'm doing. If the first is true, there are clubs for that; if the second is true, there are drugs for that; if the third is true, you're in the right place.

However, I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to devise ways to describe how I go about each task. I know these descriptions are lacking in clarity and to be honest, they're tedious to write. Getting bored with these step-by-step descriptions, I'd much rather spend what little borrowed time I have on the library's computers writing about more interesting things. For example, what life is like while trying to build a log cabin in the boonies of Arkansas.

That said, for those who might remain interested in how I actually go about doing things, the following link is for you:
This is the guide that I poured over, again and again, when I was planning this excursion. Now, having all but memorized its content, I'm slowly trying to follow it.

The Progress Thus Far (Week 3)

I have not had the full cooperation of the weather over the past week. It has been cold, rainy, snowy, and cold. Despite not being an incredibly busy week, it was still a productive week. As it stands, I am have two logs installed, with a third cut, peeled, and ready to be installed.

Monday, I cut my first big tree. I delayed the inevitable by sharpening all of my tools and my chainsaw. After, I finally ran out of menial tasks to do, I had to suck it up and go for it. The truth be told, I was scared. I have cut a lot of trees, but never one quite so big. It was over 60 feet tall and measured approx. 15 inches in diameter at the base. Ending up as a pancake has never been particularly high on my list of things to do, but if I have to risk being crushed, I rather do it somewhere closer to a hospital or at least a road. Before cutting it, I figured out where I wanted it to go and notched the bottom accordingly. Pausing, I took a minute to assess my surroundings, deciding where I would be running if this behemoth decided to fall the wrong way. Heart pounding, I cut the base, really hoping I wasn't about to die. When the tree finally started to move, I was greatly relieved to see it falling away from me. As a matter of fact, it fell right where I intended it.

With the tree on the ground, I cut three 12 foot sections out of the trunk before I began hitting too many limbs and the logs became too knotty to use. The rest of the day was spent debarking these three logs. I have a 3 foot, flat head shovel that I have sharpened for the task. Except where there are large knots or limbs, the shovel peels the bark fairly easily and I can peel an entire twelve foot log in about 30-45 minutes. Once the outer layer of bark is off, I still have an inner layer to deal with. This inner layer (I believe it's called the cambium) is a thin, sappy membrane between the outer bark and the inner wood. It's a milky white color when it's first exposed, but after a few minutes it turns a burnt orange color. To remove this, I have to drag the entire surface of the log with a knife repeatedly, peeling back a little bit at a time. By the time evening fell, I was ready to quit.

Tuesday, it was cold and rainy, and I came to the library to write about the previous week. The rain brought nothing good out in my personality. I felt moody and annoyed all day.

Using a mallet and chisel to clean up
a notch I cut in the middle of my log.
On Wednesday, I installed my first log. It was far too heavy for me to lift, so I set up a two ramps made from smaller tree trunks and scraps of 4x4. I rolled the first log to the base of my ramps, parallel to my footers. Then, I anchored a rope to the opposite footers, looped the rope under the log on the ground at each end, and put the middle of the in the middle of my footers (forming a 'W' shape). By pulling on the middle of the rope, I was easily able to pull the log to the top of my footers. Using a stump to anchor the rope and leaving the log hanging on the ramps, I cut two flat notches in the ends of my log to rest on the footers. I then cut another flat notch in the middle of the log, installed addition footer in the middle to reduce the span the bottom log has to cover. I then pulled the log up and toed it into the footers with a few nails.

On Thursday, I maneuvered my second log--very slowly, by rolling it back and forth--parallel to my first. I repeated this process, but because of a later start and more time spent getting the log into position, I had to leave the log hanging on the ropes so I could install it on Friday.

Visually, it a winter wonderland.
In reality, it's really cold and wet.
When I awoke on Friday, I realize I would not be installing my second log that day. The same snow storm that hit Dallas just before the Super Bowl also hit Waldo, leaving 5 inches of snow on the ground. With the library closed and nothing to do, I went to Wal-Mart and played their demo video games until I got bored. I then went to a laundromat. As my clothes washed, I had the pleasure of laughing as Oprah tried repeatedly to lump herself in with "normal people". If being a billionaire media mogul is normal, I feel very odd indeed.

My tent/igloo on Friday morning.
I had hoped to be able to do more on Saturday, but surrounded by forests, my campsite and worksite didn't receive much sunlight and the balmy high of 42 degrees didn't do much to melt the snow. I did clear the snow off my logs and spent the afternoon with a draw knife, slowly whittling away remain strands of the cambium layer.

Sunday was once again spent in El Dorado, showering, visiting with family, and eating some of the most delicious homemade rolls I've ever had in my life. They were referred to as 'hurtcha rolls', because--as I found out firsthand--if the tray is left at the table, they will hurt ya. I then hung around El Dorado, killing time in the book section of the local Goodwill until the Super Bowl. I watched the game at an Applebee's, saw some very interesting characters, and drove back to Waldo in a light drizzle.

Monday, with all the snow finally off the ground (thanks in part to a rainy night), I finished installing my second log. My third log (the third section up my first tree) was pleasantly light. It was so light, in fact, that I was able to drag it straight instead of rolling it sideways. I was even able to lift it, but not more than a few feet off the ground. Using a rope loop as a handle and all the strength I could muster, I managed to set it running perpendicular across my two installed logs (forming an 'H'). This is going to be the main joist that supports my floor. I then cut one side flat with a chainsaw, flipped it over, and peeled all of the cambium with a draw knife.

When I get back to camp this afternoon, I'm going to notch my two sill logs (the big support ones) and recess this joist so it is flush with the top. Then I'll fell another tree of two, peel the bark off, and begin working on my walls.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Week 2

After the fun of the weekend, last week was spent working towards beginning my cabin.

On Monday, I spent that day working on my makeshift driveway. I added a ton of new dirt (four straight hours of shoveling worth of dirt), new branches, and some additional stakes to help hold an edge. It looks a lot better and will hopefully dramatically reduce my risk of getting stuck.

Tuesday, I cleared a new trail, this one leading directly from my truck to my campsite and the adjacent clearing where I will be building my cabin. I also opened up the clearing, cutting out the countless sour gum and saplings and small pine trees growing there.

After all my work on Wednesday,
the view of my campsite, across the
clearing where I will put my cabin.

Wednesday, I continued work on opening up the clearing for my cabin. After cutting everything I needed to, I cleaned up the mess. This left two large piles: one of branches and leafy debris, and one of larger logs to be split for firewood.

I spent all of Thursday splitting wood. I took the larger logs I had piled the day before, cut them to length, and then split them with an axe. After six straight hours of work, I had a large pile of split logs and back muscles that were about to give out. Having split a lot of wood during my time at camp, I can now appreciate why we use a hydraulic splitter and not axes.

Friday, I moved and stacked my pile of split wood between two trees on the edge of my campsite. I strung a tarp over them and moved the majority of my tools underneath this tarp. Then I went to town and bought the various building supplies I would need to install my footers. 

Saturday, I dug and installed the treated 4x4s that are my footers. Each sits three feet in the ground with around 18 inches above ground. Instead of using concrete, I tamped soil in around them. Tamping takes considerably more works, but it's cheaper, and because the soil is almost exclusively gray clay (which tamps well), it was relatively easy.

On Sunday, I once again went to El Dorado for lunch. I had to keep reminding myself not to eat with my hands and to use a napkin, not my pants. It was great to see my relatives (who very well could be in contention for the title of 'Nicest People Alive') and to wash myself free of the grime.

Bad weather is coming this in the early part of this next week, but whenever it clears, I plan to fell my first big tree for the cabin. I keep asking myself "What could go wrong?", but then I begin to answer that question and immediately try to change my train of thought.

Firearms and Family

Last weekend, I had two distinct privileges: going squirrel hunting for the first time and taking a shower.

[A note to any members of the Arkansas Game and Wildlife Commission: The following paragraph is a work of pure fiction. I would never considered hunting in the state of Arkansas without first paying $50 and taking your certification course.]
On Saturday morning, I went squirrel hunting with several members of the hunting club that leases the property I'm staying on. We actually hunted on an adjacent tract of land that the club owns. We were meeting at 8:00, so I awoke early, only to find that my two jugs of water were frozen, making my morning coffee a bit of a struggle. Seeing the ice, I should have thought about dressing warmer--maybe about adding an extra layer of socks or long underwear--but instead I just focused on getting my caffeine fix. That was a mistake. As a consequence, I could hardly feel any part of my body from the waist down by the time we loaded up and hiked off. Luckily, the walking warmed me to a tolerable degree. The entire experience consisted of hiking in pursuit of our squirrel dog for the day, Lucky. He would catch a scent, and start tracing the path the squirrel had taken until he came to a tree. Barking and scratching at the tree, the five of us would catch up, and being scanning the treetops, looking for movement, falling bark, or any other signs of a squirrel. If one was sighted, one man with a .22 would take a few shots and the rest of us, wielding shotguns, would finish the job if he were to miss. Three and a half hours and five dead squirrels later, we ended up back at their hunting camp. Two men left, and the remaining two (Ricky and Robert) and I cleaned the squirrels. Even after detaching the feet and loosening the skin, those little suckers are hard to peel. It takes two grown men pulling in opposite directs with most of their might to pull their skin off. While Ricky went home to get soak the squirrel meat and pick up sausages for grilling, Robert and I hung out and shot at various targets at the hunting camp's firing range. When Ricky returned, we had a lunch of grilled sausages and hamburgers. With no big plans for the afternoon, after lunch I borrowed one of Robert's .22s and went hunting on my own, without the benefit of a canine nose. Following the dry creek bed of Beech Creek, I would hike for a ways, then stop and stand quiet and still for a few minutes, looking and listening for signs of life. After about an hour of this, I was in the bottoms that surround the creek bed. As I came to a stop, I saw a squirrel dart up a tree about thirty yards to my left. I pivoted, took aim, and fired. I was a bit surprised that I hit him and even more surprised to see that it was a perfect head shot. (Seriously, I have a picture to prove it.) Upon returning to the hunting camp, Ricky had left and Robert was off hunting on his own. That left me alone to clean the squirrel. My novice, combined with the lack of assistance resulted in a botched skinning job. Only able to salvage the meat from the hind legs, but determined to eat the rewards of my first kill, I returned to my camp. I have since learned that there are certain ways to prepare squirrel meat, and if done properly, squirrel meat can taste quite good. Needless to say, whatever I did, I did not prepare it properly, and I will not be eating any squirrel meat ever again unless it is prepared by a more knowledgeable cook.

On Sunday, I made the hour-long trek drive to El Dorado to have Sunday lunch with some family at the appropriately named Hays House (named after its builder, my great grandfather). My one stipulation was that--for the sake of all those in my company--I would not be sitting down at the table with anyone unless I was able to take a shower first. Having a homecooked meal was fantastic and apparently I was able to dispel enough of my odor that I was invited to future Sunday lunches.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Settling In

I've been in Waldo for almost a week now. The town itself is nothing to speak of--a single bank, a small food store, a couple of churches, a gas station or two, and around 1,000 people.

I got in around 1:00 pm on Saturday and, in an effort to beat the impending rain, immediately went to work finding a spot to set up camp. There's a small service road that runs about halfway into the property. About 100 yards down this road I cut into the woods and started pushing through the underbrush until I hit a clearing. I marked several trees around the clearing with marking tape and kept going. I figured I'd find a few more spots, weigh the pros and cons of each, and make a decision.

After 5 minutes or so of weaving, fighting, and otherwise cajoling my way through the tangle of down logs, hanging limbs, vines, and thorns, I came to a clearing. I looked around and noticed the marking tape I'd put up only minutes earlier. Picking another direction, I took off into the forest again. After heading in what I thought was a straight line away from my clearing, I once again came back to my marked spot. Now determined to find a new clearing, I walked back out onto the property road and went deeper into the property. Cutting off into the woods, I picked a course that would lead me away from the clearing I'd already found three times. Venturing in the new direction I tried to maintain my bearings keeping the road directly behind me. As luck would have it, I spent only a few minutes trekking before I found myself in the exact same spot. Not one to fight fate, I gave up and settled on that clearing.

I spent what remained of the day hauling stuff to the clearing, setting up my tent, and stringing a tarp under which I can cook and store my gear. Not wanting to unpack my cooking gear, I opted to reward myself by driving the fifteen minutes into nearby Magnolia to eat at a simple burger joint called 'The Flying Burger'. A banner outside proclaimed that it had been 'Voted Magnolia's Favorite Restuarant'. My sympathy goes out to Magnolia.


On Sunday morning, I awoke to the sporadic drum roll of rain on the roof of the tent. It's really hard to motivate yourself to get out of your sleeping bag when it's only a few degrees above freezing and you know you're destined to get wet. Finally, I managed to muster the courage, immediately regretted the decision, and proceeded to go back to the warmth of civilization to shop. Supplies in hand, I returned to camp late that afternoon, ate a gourmet meal of peanut butter & jelly, and called it quits for the day.

Monday was spent fighting my desire to stay in my sleeping bag and exploring the property. There's an old toilet that has been dumped off in the woods. When I dig a permanent toilet for myself in the next couple of days, I'm going back to snag the seat. Just before dinner I went into Waldo, where I filled my water jugs at a gas station.

My roadway of green boughs.

I spent Tuesday working on the property road. Only ten or so yards off the county road, the property road turns into a giant puddle. I had been parking my truck just off the county road at the edge of the puddle, not wanting to risk getting stuck. However, leaving my truck unattended and in plain sight to any and all passersby is also a risk that I'm not comfortable with. My goal was to move the truck farther into the property and off into the woods. I cut out a Y-shaped pullout into the woods off to the left. Then I cut some down logs and staked them in to make an edge to a pathway. I filled the puddled area within the pathway with green limbs and dirt. The result is a small driveway that I can easily drive along by keeping two wheels on solid ground and two wheels on my improvised road. It's still a bit wet and muddy, but with the limbs below for extra traction and a load of cut logs along my rear axle for additional weight, I haven't had any problems yet.

Wednesday was a lazy day. After working on improving the roadwork I did the day before, I spent the most of the rest of the day reading by my campfire. I'd gotten to the good part of the book I was reading and didn't want to put it down.

With the forecast calling for rain/sleet and a drop in temperatures today, I decided it would be a good day to find the library in Magnolia. Mission accomplished. Now I'll head back to camp, finish out my first week, and begin to plot exactly where and how I intend to build a cabin.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Everything's packed. I'm a little sleep deprived, so I'm going to bed now. After a solid 7 or so hours of rest, I'll wake up and drive west. Leaving Brevard at 1:00am should put me in Waldo around 1:00pm. That should leaved me plenty of daylight to set up camp and get settled in. Here goes nothing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Making a List, Checking it Twice

In my effort to leave town, I keep stumbling upon the same question over and over again: "Am I gonna need this [insert random object] in the next couple of months?" With limited space in which to pack, I attempt to be pragmatic. However, in my mind, I can create an almost endless stream of scenarios wherein an ornamental vase or box of thumbtacks might be essential to my success or survival.

Despite my early childhood dreams, I now realize I could never be an astronaut. I can't imagine some NASA handler having to patience to persuade me that a rubber chicken will not come in useful on my 5 year mission to Mars.

Will I overcome my innate desire to bring along the kitchen sink? Will I leave my home in Brevard, NC for the woods of Waldo, AR? At this point, it's a crap-shoot--place your bets.