A good many Americans are perfectly happy living out their lives without ever having scaled a 12,000′ peak in order to spend a week sheltering in a 3’x7′ tent. They find nothing spiritually lacking in a world where take-out hamburgers and reconstituted potato fries are considered acceptable foodstuffs. And the idea of setting off into the wilderness without a GPS or internet link is, for some, a prospect too foolhardy to even contemplate.
And yet there are those of us who are only-too-happy to leave our financial towers and air-conditioned mortgages for a periodic respite from our prison-of-convenience. We are the oddballs who take up our packs with alacrity and hump them up the mountainsides, all so we can enjoy sitting in the dirt and pine sap, brushing off black flies, eating charred lake trout, and pooping out–of-doors with impunity—with nary a shopping mall or coffee emporium in sight.
But even that gets old to some of us urban-bred who heed the call of the wilderness, and eventually the human urge to “settle” gets the better of us. Maybe we accumulate a coffee pot while we’re “out there”, and an extra set of dry socks or three. Perhaps we wake up one morning and realize that that picturesque family of bears bumbling around on the other side of the canyon is actually sizing us up for dinner. Or maybe we’ve just fallen in love with our campsite and can’t bear the idea of returning to the Big City to live out the rest of our lives amidst the traffic and the paper clips.
And so we build.
Before the advent of “manufactured housing” – in which a fully-constructed Barbi-doll house could be tractored onto site, snapped together, and readied for habitation in the course of a week — people made adobe bricks out of mud and straw manure, and dried them in the summer sun. They gathered river rocks, scavenged lumber and corrugated tin sheeting. They set log foundations and dug latrines out back –and then they moved in and started mining, and raising cattle, and growing figs. But zoning laws? Building inspectors? Pah. We don’t need no stinkin’ earthquake codes….
A hundred years ago, the creek road on which I live was the old Wells Fargo Stage route linking the Sacramento gold country to the Los Angeles Harbor via the rail lines through the Mojave. Bandits and real estate land pirates forced the end of the coach lines, but these hand-built houses and inns were once stage stops along the way:
This wonderful stone house sits right on the creek. Back in the olden days—when we used to have rains—the water would rise, and over the years formed the island upon which this sits. The old galvanized tub of firewood in front still awaits the owner who abandoned it a half-century ago….
Such lumenaries of the Old West as Louis L’Amour and Paul de Fonville called the creek road their home.
I love that some of the whitewash and copper-based paint on the door and window trimmings is still vivid in the August sun.
Although the area is home to numerous prehistoric village sites, this is one of my favorite “modern” ruins – overlooking the similar ruins of the neighbor’s place just across the creek to the left. I never understood why someone would go to all the trouble to buy acreage and move 100 miles and 150 years from civilization only to build within earshot of someone else’s dream of solitude.
Nature being circular in…well, nature, first we claim it, then it reclaims us, and then, in wonderful symbiosis, we repurpose each other. Our life’s work takes many forms, but it is the visionaries– both grand and feckless– who can point to their efforts a lifetime later and say to their great-grandchildren, “I built that.”
Happy Labor Day, all!