Thursday, September 16, 2010
We've had our little rustic cabin (yclept "Bide-A-Wee") in rural Dunn County, Wisconsin, for a little more than two years now, and many Trout Caviar posts have originated from there. Stuff charring on the grill, or braising away on the woodstove (ycelpt, "Haggis"), shots of apple trees, reducing maple syrup. So naturally I assumed that I had presented a fairly detailed picture of what our part-time life in a 12' x 16' off-grid cabin entails, but something a friend said recently made me examine that assumption. And my conclusion: Not so much. There's an awful lot of food, a certain amount of scenery, not that much of the day-to-day. Which might perhaps be of some interest. Hence, this pictorial "Tour de Bide-A-Wee."
This is looking down from the hill to the southwest. In the foreground is one of the dozen or so apple trees we planted--all traditional cider varieties, mostly French, go figure. The cabin, as I said, is 12' x 16', one room with a small sleeping loft (which we use mainly for storage). It's made of local white pine which was milled at the Schrock lumber mill on "Schrock's Hilly Acres" between Dallas and Chetek. There Ivan Schrock and his crew also built the cabin. When it was finished they put it on the back of a flatbed tow truck and drove it (had it driven, that is, as they're Amish...) the 15 hilly, winding miles to our land, and deposited it on the parking pad. It sits on treated lumber skids, no other foundation.
It came uninsulated, just bare stud walls and rafters. We insulated it the first fall, put birch and oak plywood on the ceiling, and cheap pine paneling on the walls. But I'll show more of the inside in a future post, when we've had a chance to tidy up....
Here's the view from the "gravel garden" patio. One thing we're quite proud of is the fact that we did most of the landscaping structures using wood recycled from an old deck that the previous owner had left in the woods on the north end of our property--Bide-A-Wee sits on the south side of our 20 acres.
The wood rack, too, was built from these repurposed materials.
We heat the cabin, cook, and regale ourselves around the fire ring with oak--mostly culls of small dead trees in the north woods--and apple from our attempts to prune the many long-neglected apple trees on the property--upwards of 80 at last count, I believe, and we keep finding new wild seedling trees in the woods.
The hearth. Most of our cooking, spring through fall, until the deep snow comes, takes place here. Raising the cooking surface just a bit with the cinder blocks was a great help. Another tier of blocks would make tending the grill a bit easier still, but I think that would make general campfire enjoyment more difficult. To start with, we remove all that stuff on top, the grill grate, the flat (-ish) metal plate, and build a fire. When we have a good bed of coals we spread them out, and then we can grill in the front, put pots to simmer on the back. We smoke fish and meats here, too, in which case we put the grill at the back and the things to be smoked on the grill, cover them with that there lid from a portable Weber grill, and keep a fire going in the front, adding aromatic apple wood near the back from time to time. It is not at all precise, but it gets the job done.
We haven't put in a well yet, so we have to bring all of our water in from Saint Paul, or refill at our neighbors, at parks or rest areas. Given how much water the "Average American" uses in a day, it's kind of remarkable just how little water you really need to get by very comfortably. Even with both of us taking a shower in the treehouse stall, warm water courtesy of the "Eco-Friendly Solar Shower," and the dogs guzzling their fill, we use about eight gallons a day, at most.
Until recently, the only fresh produce at Bide-A-Wee (except that from Great Nature's garden) came from the few pots of herbs and struggling tomatoes on the south side of the cabin.
But a few weeks ago I constructed a 5' x 10' raised bed, framed up with more of that recycled deck lumber, and used a sheet mulching technique to built up the bed. I turned the sod within the frame upside down, laid newspapers over that, some hay on top of that, then the soil. Our soil is pretty heavy, good fertile clay but it needs some lightening. I took advantage of the mounds of earth that the resident pocket gophers throw up all over the land--soil nicely aerated, absolutely fluffy by comparison to what I could dig up--and added peat moss to that.
I planted the garden--with radishes, turnips, lettuce, broccoli rabe, various kinds of kale--at the very end of July, and it just took off. We've been harvesting from it for three weeks now, and those hearty greens should provide for us well into October, if not later. Amazing what a true full-sun bed, and un-tuckered-out soil can do.
At Bide-A-Wee we practice mushroom identification. I don't think any of those are edible. The larger ones with the rusty brown gills I believe to be a type of cortinarius. The white ones might be an entoloma, potentially edible, difficult to pin down. The pretty yellow ones--well, I got distracted in the midst of the ID process. I set some aside to get a spore print. Forgot about them, in the night it rained. I'll have to start over with those if they're still out there.
We had Ivan build the cabin with lots of windows, and the big screen door. In the summer, with everything open, you're a little bit outside even when you're inside.
We joke sometimes that we bought the land for our dogs, but there's more than a little truth to the joke. Senior griff Annabel wasn't so sure at first, resistant to change as she is, but she's come around. Our younger dog, Lily--she's four-and-a-half now--never had any qualms. She has made the land her own, running it from end to end several times a day. Sometimes she scares me with her daredevil, breakneck descents of the hummocky slopes. She is a goofy little dog and annoying in many ways, but she is a prodigious athlete of an animal, and a sheer joy to watch.
Every season has its pleasures in this beautiful countryside, but this time of year, right now, and for the next few weeks, this is the best, to me, as the season turns and we move from the glory of the late summer meadow wildflowers to hills luminous with the autumn colors of maple, aspen, and birch. It can absolutely frickin' break your heart.
Go ahead and make fun of the obligatory Country Squire Wellies. They get an honest workout, and I feel that any day spent in the rubber Le Chameaux is a good one.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw