Time for a new project. Just a little one, but its wood working, and we always enjoy that. And it’s working outside, and with the warm, dry weather of the past two days, that’s a healing solace. We are building a hutch for one of the guest cabins. Figured we’d save the $400 of buying one and do it our selves, as usual. So we’ve set up shop over outside of Cabin #7 where the snow has melted out; saw horses in the driveway, power tools on the porch, sawdust in the wind; and have started the new project in our temporary outdoor shop. My job, as usual, is preparing the boards. I do the grinding and the sanding. I’ve had lot of experience sanding, though perhaps not one of the more impressive talents on my resume.
Sit back and read on, if you have a few minutes with me here today… I have a story to tell …A story I’ll share with you, but it also to serve as a reminder to myself about getting up and getting over it. About pulling yourself up when times are tough, and making the most of things. About knowing how strong we are, how much we can make it through, and what better people we become because of it all.
It starts with sanding. I spent years sanding. I spent my pregnancy sanding. That’s right. Sanding. I worked in the woodshop of a frame store, and I was the expert sander. So Forrest spent his “in utero” life listing to a hand sander buzzing only inches away. Hard work to do around a pregnant belly, but I managed to save enough during my pregnancy so that I could plan on taking a few months off after birth to just care for my baby. And to build a house. Oh, it was a simple house. Very simple. The total cost was $1,500. But I built it myself with a little baby on my back, and we managed to live pretty comfortably in there – me, little Forrest, and a couple of big dogs.
You may think it looks kind of rough, and maybe it was, but it was mine. Sure, my carpentry and construction skills have vastly improved since this first cabin I built, but hey, you have to start somewhere. Anyway, it was warm and cozy and dry. Very dry. Once a week, I’d have to drive about 20 miles to get water to haul home in five gallon containers. And still, I managed to have a small garden by dumping all our waste and wash water on the carefully prepared garden beds.
A woman I had met in college offered for me to come live there, to come build my own house of straw. Seemed like a good idea at the time… I still look back on it, and hard as it was, it was a great thing. I learned an enormous amount about building, and surviving.
I moved out there with my baby and dogs; set up a tent that we lived in for four months during the slow construction process. As many of you know, tents are not the most secure in the wind and monsoons. But it beat the other options. And when the wind wasn’t blowing, and the sun wasn’t baking it, and the temperatures weren’t too cold at night… which really, as I recall, was most of time – it was comfortable. It was a fine little home.
Building the cabin was slow for me. I had no idea what I was doing. None. Zip. Zilch. But I figured it couldn’t be Rocket Science. People have been building homes for a long time and managing just fine. I could too. All you have to do is start.
Start. Pick yourself up each morning and just do something. One more step. And with each step, you’ll be just a little closer to your goal.
I met a special old man there, like an apparition, one day he appeared while walking my dogs in the arroyo below the hill I was building on. Turns out he (and his dogs) were building just a few hillside away. Now, this man had lived. More adventures, more sadness, more loss, and more knowledge, than I may ever have. He would visit every day, stop by the “construction zone” and offer me tid bits of advice. My mom had taught me well: you don’t have to agree with everyone’s advice, but you might just want to listen. The best advice he gave me was one day I “gave up,” with my baby fussing in one arm, the hammer idle in the other, and tears pouring down my sun burned cheeks, in complete frustration of my lack of knowledge, lack of ability, lack of progress. He sat their calmly with his dogs madly running around, leaning back on a straw bale with yet another cigarette sending smoke signals from his dramatically waving hands, and he reminded me about the ants. One grain of sand at a time, he said. That is all they move. But one after another after another. And before you know, they have a whole intricate world built. And with that, the old man grabbed the heavy roll of roofing, effortless tossed it up on his shoulder, climbed the ladder, and put it on the roof for me. One grain of sand, he said. I think that’s the only physical help he ever gave me. His timing was impeccable. He proved his point, and well, and I still remember this today. When things seem hard and overwhelming, all I have to do is move one grain of sand at a time…
Anyway, I got that little cabin built before the snow settled in. I build it all without electricity, with simple hand tools that could all fit in one small tool box. The design, if we can call it that, began with a post and beam construction. I think it was 10×12 feet. Yup, that’s it. The size of your closet probably. The walls were built of stacked straw bales on a foundation of plastic sheeting. The doors and windows were built in with “lentil” framing. Chicken wire was “sewn” together, inside and out over the straw, with bailing wire for thread and a piece of rebar acting as a giant needle. With my hand as spreading tools and a little bucket to mix, I mudded the inside and outside over the straw and wire. Never got a floor in there. That was way beyond my capabilities back then. The dirt stayed dry, but wasn’t much fun for a baby to crawl on. At first, there was no room for a wood stove, so off that shed roof, I built on a 5 foot extension to the south that gave me enough room for a little pot belly stove. Burned less than ¾ of a cord of wood that winter, and it was a good, cold northern New Mexico winter. There is a lot to be said for small spaces.
No, it wasn’t ideal. Life often is not. I was not too sad to leave it when the woman who owned the land told me the next summer that she was selling. I remember once during the winter being so sick, just slumped there on the dirt floor with a raging fever, with my little baby in my arms, and really wishing someone would come find me, come help me. I couldn’t call out, no one would hear. No way to call anyone, as the nearest phone wasn’t so near. I even tried to send “vibes,” you know, messages “out there.” No one came. But I obviously made it, and I healed. And because of that, I sort of became less afraid of those things, and more realizing that no one was going to be there to help me sometimes, but we can do so much by ourselves. Basically, we can do almost anything, if it’s a good thing, and for a good reason. I learned we are capable of accomplishing, well, anything we want. Just one grain of sand at a time.