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Archive for December, 2013

The past two weeks have given me grist for the mill to think about simplicity and how we choose to live our lives. I’ll wind my way back to boats eventually, but if you choose to read on, I hope you’ll forgive the meandering path I take to get there.

It started with the extended Thanksgiving weekend, during which I had the pleasure of meeting Liz’s family, and seeing where she grew up. I was particularly excited to see the home because her parents are so-called ‘back to the landers,’ and the home she grew up in is a vertical log cabin which sits on 40 acres. I had seen enough pictures, and heard enough about the place before arriving that I was not surprised with its appearance, but what did strike me was the overall sense of the place as I experienced it.

Almost the entire first floor is a long, fairly narrow, great room. While there is a second floor you can access using an exterior staircase, the second floor only includes the relatively small bedrooms. From the outset, it is clear that it’s a space where people can be doing their own things, but where you also spend time with the other folks at home. The living, dining and kitchen areas are all laid out along the length of the room. Some of the things I noticed early on were the small piano in the living area, that there was a computer, but no tv, and the wood stove. Preserved food seems to be stashed in a variety of places. The variety of books about wildlife, artwork depicting wildlife and a variety of animal skulls that were found on the property clearly show her parents passion for nature and in particular for birding.

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One of the things that I had heard before arriving was that there was no water heater. There was running water supplied from a well, but you couldn’t turn on the tap and get hot water to wash your hands or perhaps more importantly take a shower. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to think of this at first, but by the end of the visit, I realized that the decision never to buy and install a water heater was indicative of a broader philosophy. The lack of a water heater did not function as an inconvenience, but did indicate a simpler and more deliberate way of living.

To replace running hot water, large stock pots of water are kept on top of the wood stove. When its time to do dishes, bins are pulled out and put in the sink, water is brought over in the stockpot (only a few steps), and cold water is added from the tap to reach the desired temperature. The stockpots are quickly refilled from a tap on the wall next to the stove with a hose that can reach either pot.The same sort of system is used for bathing. Hot water is brought from the stove to a very large bucket in the bathtub. Cold water is added to reach the desired temperature, and water is ladled over yourself with a small pot. I was surprised with how satisfying I found bathing this way. I was struck by how easy it felt to forgo luxuries I am so accustomed to by simply having a few basic systems in place.

Though I’m sure I would have a  harder time convincing people that forgoing their flush toilet and heated bathroom for long periods of time wouldn’t represent much of a loss, I felt the same about the unheated outhouse. Despite the temperatures dropping down into the teens at night. To be fair, it really was quite a nice outhouse, with windows looking out over the clearing below for a pleasant view, a nice variety of skulls found around the property to look at, and a covered walkway leading to it from the house, but that’s all really besides the point. The rhythms of life were what I really wanted to talk about, and what I enjoyed about being there the most.

During the three days I was there, we went for several walks around the property and the adjoining land. During those walks we looked at tracks in the snow, glacial erratics (boulders deposited from other places by glaciers) from the last ice age were pointed out to me, and I was given a tour of the half acre garden. Games were played in the evening, and things were baked. Time was spent reading. I turned my cell phone off and didn’t even have my computer with me. It was great.

The experience reminded me a lot of the cabin my grandparents had when I was growing up. The place sat on a hundred acre property west of Tumalo, Oregon. As a kid going to that cabin, I remember time spent in very similar ways: working on puzzles, going on what we called “bone hunts” where we walked around the property to see what was going on and looking for bones, listening to music, reading and drawing. There was no tv.

The rhythm felt familiar and comforting, and left me thinking about the ways I enjoy simplicity in my life. It reminds me a bit of being out backpacking. Those days where your concerns are often stripped down to only the most basic: the weather, having a source of fresh water, and finding a place to sleep. I think that on some level these sorts of experiences can remind us of what is the most important to us. To me I think these things are time spent with friends and family, spending time indulging in a good book or creative endeavor, some hard work, and taking the time to really observe the world around us. Liz’s father had aspirations to get me doing some hard work while I was up there, but the weather conspired against him.

After the holiday weekend, I found myself reflecting on how I can continue bringing this sense of simplicity and priorities into my day to day life. I also found myself wondering what in my day to day life might distract me from these priorities, and what I might do to combat those distractions. Its a question I’ll continue to consider.

Last weekend I think I did a pretty marvelous job of spending my time in ways that line up well with these thoughts of simplicity, and the set of priorities I think that mindset entails. On Saturday I helped out with an event called the Coho Rendevous at Hyla Woods. At the event Liz and I enjoyed the company of good people I don’t see very often, ate good food, walked around the forest in fresh snow, built bird boxes, and last but certainly not least saw several two and a half foot long Coho Salmon fighting their way up stream to spawn! I can’t describe how cool it was to see them. After brunch with friends on Sunday, and a bit of time put into laminating the next frame for the Shearwater, Liz and I bought a permit and drove up into the Mount Hood National Forest to find her a Christmas tree. On the snowy gravel road she spotted the largest mountain lion tracks either of us had ever seen, with the pads being about 5 inches across. Big cat! Also pretty cool to see. I’d call it a very successful weekend.

So how does this all relate back to boats and boat building? I suppose building boats is a way for me to find the sort of quiet meditative state that helps me push away the distractions life can provide while producing something that to my eyes is beautiful. Whenever it’s reasonable I would rather use a hand tool than a power tool. I just like the feeling of using a chisel or plane. Something I have been working on is including other people in the process of my boat building, because I enjoyed the shared work( well, that and also that there are some steps I can’t do alone). When out in small boats, I like the intimacy with which I get to experience my surroundings. In boats like my kayak you always feel close to the water. It allows you to access a different sort of space. I’m not sure quite how to describe it, but I think that in many ways my affinity for small boats is very closely related to the ways I enjoyed going to my grandparents cabin as a kid and why spending time with Liz’s folks, even beyond them just being good folks, was such a treat.

At this point I certainly don’t have any grand pronouncements about how to live your life, but this idea of simplicity is one that I know I’ll continue turning over in my mind through the holidays. As a parting shot, here is a picture from waking up one morning the weekend after Thanksgiving at Liz’s parents place. The picture is from inside the tiny log cabin which is separate from the main house, and which serves as a guest room, and which also happens to be a pretty awesome place to wake up.

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