My Personal Experience Building a
Copyright © 2004,2007 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
Rustic Log Cabin
All Rights Reserved.
In June of 1975 I voluntarily left the work force and I moved my wife and our three small preschool age children onto twelve acres of land I had purchased in the backwoods of Maine. My plan was to build a rustic log cabin using pine trees that grew on the land. My family and I lived in a six-person tent near the site where I was going to build our two-room cabin. (I had previously read many books and manuals on the different options for building a rustic log cabin and I had all my plans and decisions made before I moved to Maine.)
In mid-October of 1975 the first snow fell. The walls were up on both rooms of the cabin but the roof had not been started yet. The winters in Maine are long and cold. I put my resume back on the market and in November I had an Engineering job in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. At the end of November my family was swimming in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. I never returned to finish that cabin in Maine but it was a life experience that taught me many valuable lessons. My purpose in writing this short narrative is to share some of the knowledge I gained from that adventure.
After returning to civilization I continued to read and study about pioneer life. Over the course of the past 30 years I have read dozens of books about wilderness survival, wild game recipes, and camping skills. Because of my experience in Maine it was relatively easy for me to quickly identify whether or not the author of the book had actually practiced or used any of the methods or recipes that were being advocated. Most of the wild game recipe books I have are of little value, from my point of view. When you are in the woods, you don't have all the herbs, spices, wines, and other special ingredients called for in those recipes. The recipes posted elsewhere on this web site are different in that respect. Most of the recipes I have posted are relatively simple and they only require a minimum number of basic, necessary ingredients. You would be astonished at how good simple food can taste if you are hungry and the food is properly prepared.
- Never underestimate the importance of fresh, pure, drinking water in your life. It is something most of us take for granted. Our 12-acre lot was on a beautiful mountain stream but I knew it would not be safe to drink water directly from the stream (giardia and potential diarrhea). We bathed in the cool waters of the stream but I drove to a nearby town every two days and filled two 5-gallon water jugs at the gas station. That was the water we drank, cooked with, and washed our dishes in. Five people used five-gallons per day. And three of those people were preschool age children. We could have boiled some of the water from the stream every day but it would have required more work to collect firewood than the effort required to drive to town (and I picked up our mail at the Post Office while I was there).
- It is a lot of work to clear the timber off a wooded lot. In keeping with the pioneer spirit, I started with a saw and an ax. But in just a few days I realized it would take me the entire summer with those simple tools. So I switched to a gas-operated chain saw and that really speeded up the work. But it still took a long time just to clear the land. Most of us watch huge bulldozers level an area for a new building in a few days or less, and we don't realize how much work is actually involved. Don't underestimate the amount of work required to clear a building site by hand.
- One of my mistakes was clearing an area for a garden in addition to the area for our cabin. In keeping with the pioneer spirit I wanted to plant seeds and harvest my own crops in the fall. But I had to haul water from the stream to keep the plants alive when it didn't rain. And I learned how heavy water really is and how much water the earth can drink up in a very short period of time. It is something most of us don't think about when we use a garden hose to water our lawns or gardens. At the end of the summer when the vegetables began to get marginally ripe, they disappeared to insects and forest wildlife. A lot of time, effort, and money was invested in that garden that yielded a zero return. It made me appreciate the true value of a can of beans at the local grocery store.
- To supplement our store bought food, I hunted and maintained a trap line. I used store bought steel traps. And I hunted with a modern firearm. It is easy to place a steel trap, and to pull the trigger on a firearm. But it is not that easy to skin and butcher a dead animal, even when you know how. The first time is the hardest. After that unpleasant experience of the first skinning job, it gets a lot easier. But you have to force yourself to gut, skin, and clean that first animal.
Living in the woods is possible, but it is NOT easy. My opinion is that very few of us could survive in the woods nowadays without the assistance of many modern conveniences - the most important of which is a supply of store bought food to eat on those days when you can't find anything to eat (plants, wild game, or fish).
Last Updated: June 1, 2007
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