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September 25, 2007

Thinking Like a Mountain

Raven on Canyon Wall

A month ago, while leading a group of University of Vermont freshmen on a six-day wilderness trek, I rediscovered Aldo Leopold's brilliant book, "A Sand County Almanac." It is required reading for new students coming in to the School of Natural Resources.

It's been twenty years since I last picked up that book (while I was myself a student in UVM's School of Natural Resources). I appreciated it way back when, but I must say, I appreciate it even more today. After another two decades of observing the world around me, I find Mr. Leopold's writing as relevant and timeless as ever.

"We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau's dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men."

"A Sand County Almanac" is a treasure of poetic prose and immense wisdom from the man responsible for founding the Wilderness Society and the first federally designated wilderness area. If you're in search of books to add to the winter reading list, this would be one to consider.

September 20, 2007

A Bedroom Wrapped in Pine


After a day of applying polyurethane to the pine boards we were ready to begin laying the floor in the loft (or ceiling for the first floor, depending on how you look at it). That "blueboard" insulation is efficient stuff, but it just isn't the color we had in mind for the sleeping loft.


Before we could begin laying planks we had to install the wiring for the loft lighting and the porch light.


Yesterday, the first planks were laid. My days of swinging down through the rafters were almost over.


Tongue and groove planks go in easily, but I cannot imagine having to install it without the pneumatic nailer. Driving and countersinking each nail could easily quadruple the time required (not to mention the "character" added to the boards with the occasional missed blow).

By the end of the afternoon we had the floor to the loft in place. Even though the ceiling was still bright blue foam, yesterday we spent our first night in Gypsy.


Today, I insulated the end walls and we began installing the pine on the ceiling. It's a small space, but the warmth of the wood and Marion's smile make if feel like home.


September 18, 2007

Nope, It's Not Done Yet


September 18th. Only a few days remain in the summer of 2007. The first frosts have begun to threaten vegetables in Vermont gardens and we have begun receiving questions from those following this blog as to whatever happened to the progress on Gypsy Rose. “Are you finished?” some have asked. “When will we get an update?”

After a busy summer of work (we earn much of our living from a sea kayak touring and charter sailing business), we’re back at work on Gypsy. With the exterior essentially complete, we now begin on the interior.


First, the interior walls were framed. Finally, we had a sense for how the room layout would feel. In the above photo, you can see the doorway from living room to kitchen to the right of center. The bathroom is to the left and will be accessed from the kitchen through a sliding pocket door.


The composting toilet takes up more room than a conventional flush toilet, but that is the nature of a self-contained system. The model we chose is a non-electric version that will vent through the roof.


We will begin finishing the interior from the top down. I opted to go with a non-ventilated “cathedral” ceiling. In order to prevent condensation (and keep the heating requirements to a minimum), the roof is insulated with closed-cell foam to R30. It was quite a process to cut and fit the foam panels to the necessary tolerances. In the end, though, we have much more than just a highly insulated roof. The tightly fit foam panels add greatly to the structural rigidity of the roof.

A load of pine

The entire interior will be paneled with six inch tongue and groove eastern white pine. Through a lot of internet research, I found a source for some very nice wood in Wheelwright, Massachusetts. We decided to pick up the first load on our way back from Vermont last weekend. The only problem was that all my tools were in Connecticut and we needed to supplement the roof-top rack with another full-width support back at the tailgate. No problem. After a Sunday afternoon at the Tunbridge Fair, we planned to camp at the orchard on the Frye Road land. Marion’s brother, Toad, and his wife Cat were there when we got there, continuing the work to clear the slash piles leftover from logging years ago. We picked out a couple of poles from the pile, cut them to length, used a leftover plank from the outhouse, found some leftover nails, and, voila, the materials for a rack were in hand. We hammered it together once we got to W.R. Robinson Lumber and loaded 470 board feet of eastern white pine on top. Through Springfield, MA, and Hartford, CT at rush hour, our lumber made it back to Newtown without a hitch.

Today, we spent most of our time putting coats of polyurethane on all the boards. Tomorrow we’ll begin installing the loft floor.