Today was my first day working with wood. I hiked out into the woods, crossing the stream and stumbling through the snow, trying to walk on the crust but generally busting through. It took me awhile to find a place I wanted to build. I wanted it to be not too far off the beaten path, but I also wanted it out of direct sight from any paths. I wanted it to blend in enough to not be exciting to drunk college students wandering around in the woods. Since there is still about 2 feet of snow on the ground, I really have no way of knowing where the less traveled paths are, so it will be interesting to see how the landscape changes as the snow melts.
I found a place I wanted to build, sheltered between four trees. The area is mostly hemlock, creating an evergreen canopy which I intend to use as extra protection for the shelter.
For the first couple hours I gathered wood. Small sticks, big sticks, and the elusive, much sought-after forked sticks. After awhile I discovered several small standing snags, trees that have been killed by disease or rot. While they aren’t the strongest wood, for my purposes they will work fine. I set about using a combination of muscle and leverage to loosen and uproot these snags. The largest was about the maximum size I could lift and carry.
Gathering wood is really exhausting. The last time I built a primitive shelter out of wood was last summer, in a course on green building and sustainable design. It seemed to go very fast, partly because the large forked supports had been found ahead of time. Also, there were about 20 of us. Not the case today! I managed to gather a pretty big pile, but as a result my limbs are leaden.
Once I felt I had a big enough wood supply, I began to frame out the structure. After some thinking I decided to use an existing tree as a support, creating a sort of teepee shape around it. Leaning four forked sticks against the tree, one in each direction, created the general shape. I then filled in the gaps, leaning larger and then progressively smaller sticks in the spaces, trying to rest them on each other in such a way as to give the structure strength and stability. I also found some interesting shaped sticks with which to outline a door frame.
This whole process really took me back to natural history class, where we studied trees and forest disturbance. Reading the Forested Landscape, by Tom Wessels, is a fabulous book about forest disturbance and succession, and it has beautiful woodcuts, too. I was struck by the differences in the wood I gathered. While the area is mainly conifers (also called evergreens or softwoods), there were still hardwoods (deciduous trees, the kind that lose leaves in the winter) to be found as well. The softwoods were, well, much softer, and clearly were rotting from the inside out. Hardwoods do the opposite, rotting from the outside in towards the core. This makes the wood a lot stronger, even when it has been lying on the forest floor for awhile. I tried to place the hardwood I found in extra important places.
I also don’t know how the melt will effect the structure itself, since the whole structure will sink! Right now the snow on the site is so packed that I’ve used it to help secure the bases of the branches.
Did the structure survive the high winds of last week? Only time will tell! Or rather, only I will tell, when I catch up and write the next entry.