“The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a wood-shed with them.”

Henry David Thoreau


It was a frigid Christmas Eve afternoon. With a hot batch of rice pudding cooling for the evening feast, Nancy and I booted up and headed out to the stack of red pine logs. Each step elicited a sharp squeak in the snow as we wended our way along the sinuous packed trail.

I was as eager to peel my first log as any five-year old is to unwrap a coveted Christmas gift. This first log would be my Yule log and the task of peeling it would initiate a long held dream of building a log cabin.

A Yule log was a ceremonial log paraded into the holiday house. The thick end of log was set into the fireplace while the rest projected into the room. Each day the log was slowly fed into the fire over the twelve days of Christmas.

It is purported that Michelangelo, the noted Renaissance sculptor, declared, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it.” As I stood before the hefty pile of 57 logs, I want to believe there is a log cabin somewhere there. I simply have to whittle here and there and then assemble them. Sounds simple enough. In a delightful way, I now own the adult version of a Lincoln Log set.

Only weeks ago each of these logs had been standing tall in friend Joe’s red pine plantation. Back in the late 1970s, Joe and his family planted thousands of seedlings on the sandy fallow fields they owned.

Joe takes great pride in managing his nearly forty-year old trees. Over the years he has regularly cut hundreds of trees so as to create a healthier stand. The chosen survivors will respond with a thickening of girth and a filling of canopy.

Joe obliged my dream with giving me a great price for two 22-foot trailer loads of logs ranging from twelve to thirty feet long, each with a diameter of seven to twelve inches.

Other than laying a campfire or helping with a log cribbing for a lake dock, I have never built a log anything; so why now?

I’ve always wanted a small studio/writing shack/guest cabin in the woods next to our house. But it wasn’t until this past September that I decided to follow through on my dream.

I was visiting a dear 93-year old friend named Stan. About twenty years ago Stan built a small log cabin. He studied books on log building and jumped into the project. When I asked him about his later-in-life-endeavor he looked at me with his piercing blue eyes, smiled slightly and replied, “Tom, few things in life have brought me greater joy than building that little cabin.”

And with that pronouncement it was settled. I was going to build a log cabin. How could I not pursue “greater joy?”

Knowing very little about building such a structure I’ve talked to log builders, bought and borrowed books on the subject and began perusing the many video tutorials on You Tube. I love being a student of something new.

But first things first: remove the bark. The logs are green and heavy. If I leave the bark on while they cure over the coming seasons, I run the risk of having bark beetle infestations.

On the other hand the serpentine engravings chewed by the hidden beetles can add hieroglyphics that no human can emulate. While the squiggly tunnels bored into the wood can be lovely, I don’t want to run the risk of messing with the log’s integrity, so the bark will be peeled.

Nancy and I chose a twelve-foot log and we managed to team-lift one end up onto one of the pair of stout sawhorses I built for this project. Strong backed sawhorses are a must and out of respect I named them Sven and Ole.

“One. Two. Three. Lift!” We complimented each other for a job well done and then we repeated it at the other end of the log. Both Sven and Ole stood solid and never made a peep.

A new electric winch hanging on a tall, stout tripod will lift the remaining logs high enough to position Sven or Ole into place.

For removing the pine bark, I was armed with an antique drawknife. I had purchased the tool at a treasure-rich farm auction that spanned three days at the Carl Almquist farm near Almelund, Minnesota back in 1978. It was said that the auction attracted folks from nearly all fifty states.

I took my handmade Swedish Gränsfors axe and whacked any branch stubs off the log. I was glad I had spent time the night before sharpening the edges of the drawknife and the axe.

With the Yule log at waist height, I reached the drawknife out and pulled the blade back towards me. Strips of brittle brown bark curled and popped away as I worked down the trunk. I rolled the tree and repeated the effort until I was left with a gleaming log.

As I worked I wondered about titling this log cabin. After all, Henry Beston had his “Outermost House” and Aldo Leopold sought refuge at “the shack.”

Among the potential place names that came between puffs of exertions were •Fortress of Solitude

  • Sylvan Shelter
  • Pinus residencia (Pinus resinosa is the scientific name for red pine) •Eleanor’s Play House (in honor of my three week-old granddaughter) •Sylvan Stuga
  • Heartwood
  • The Nest,
  • Hygge Huset (Hygge, pronounced “hue-guh” is from the old Norse word hyggja,which originally meant “to be” or “to think.)

I’m open for the reader’s thoughts and ideas.

In less than half an hour, I stood sweating in the cold air feeling a surge of excitement over the skinning of this first log. Only fifty-six more logs to peel.

Uff da.

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