Where one thing ends and another begins.
Hard to tell at times. Until it’s too late. The longer, warmer days have now turned to fall and summer’s long gone. Middle of September and gold drips from the tops of birch, cottonwood, and willow. Those yellowing trees. Their falling leaves taunt me. Urging me to cut and stack wood. Notch logs into walls. And crown this first cabin with a sturdy roof before snow flies.
There’s something elemental and primal about this race against winter—one of the oldest races of all. But I’m also learning that building a cabin, like writing, takes a lot of patience. And humility. It takes me admitting my shortcomings and weaknesses. But I’ll never learn unless I acknowledge that a lot of this stuff is still over my head.
To take criticism and advice. To humble myself.
And leave at least part of my ego at the door. Or else I’m doomed to fail. Which can also be valuable. As long as I’m able to pick myself back up and try again. I’ve learned way more from failure than success. Learned more from pain than comfort. And I hope one day it leads me to perfect something. To be more than a jack-of-many-trades-master-of-none. They say the true expert of a subject is one who has made every mistake possible in a given field.
That’ll be me. I hope.
I’ve worked construction here and there for most of my life. But I never really paid too much attention to what I was doing. The big picture. How it all came together. I just focused on the task at hand. Ripping boards. Pounding nails. Digging holes. Just to make a buck. To get further down the road. Maybe to the next town. Or maybe just blow it all at the nearest bar later that night. Either way, I only worked jobs till I thought I had enough cash in my pocket.
Then I was gone.
Forty one years old and the most I’ve ever spent in my life is eight grand. Just a few weeks ago when I bought my five acres. Marked by a hillside, a nameless creek, and hundreds of square miles of Alaskan wilderness.
Things are different now. I’ve found home again. I’m putting down roots. And now, while swinging hammers, I’m paying attention. Attention to how wide and deep the holes I dig will need to be for my own footings. The best ratio for mixing concrete. The right size posts and joists. What kind of floor to go on top. What kind of walls. And how best to tie it all together so it’s level, plum, and square.
On my few days off I work on my own place. Up the tracks. Each night I write. In the morning I start over again. It’s nonstop.
My first cabin will eventually be a tool shed or guest cabin. For now, it’s a rough draft. Practice building with log. It can cave in on itself eventually. Rot from the ground up. The logs can shrink and twist until the walls are totally out of whack. Because at some point it’s about shelter. Surviving winter. I’m not out here to raise the pyramids. Or any monument to longevity. Not this first time. And a draft is all about learning. Refining. A bridge to something better. Longer lasting. Something more polished and sturdy.
Anyway, today is different. I’ve taken time off from building. Not sure I can afford to, but I needed a break from the routine. So I’ve hiked up above tree line. Up toward mount Baldy. And the tundra. To scout the country for future caribou hunts. But I’m also here to see the last of the fall colors.
Just one day. To take it all in. Before this new season ends and something else begins.
It’s not long before I spot a distant herd. Out toward the horizon. So far they are only dots when I notice them. But I can tell they’re running and, soon enough, they’ll disappear over a low saddle.
Still, even after they’re gone, I stay as long as I can before dusk drives me back down below timber line. Where my tent waits for me by my building site. I watch the beginning of the sunset and take in the colors. Forgetting, until this moment, just how beautiful death can be. Transition. Change. How necessary it all is.
I look away and back again. And for a split second, as my eyes adjust once more, I am disoriented. Faced with the perfect swirl of red, crimson colors. For this one pure moment I can’t tell where the tundra stops and the sky starts. Where one thing ends. And another begins.