The Building of Camp Kwitchabitchin (Part I – All Materials were Found, Scrounged, Gifted – and Re-Purposed)

Cunnin' cabin shingled with Tom's homemade shingles from our own cedar trees

Cunnin’ cabin shingled with Tom’s homemade shingles from our own cedar trees

So far at Bad Beaver we have built the most cunnin’ cabin that we have named Camp Kwitchabitchin. We decided to build the cabin first. (Well, actually, it started out as a screen house and then morphed into a 22×24×20-foot-high structure—my fault entirely.) Our pact with each other was that it had to be constructed with no out-of-pocket money. It had to be built entirely with salvaged materials that we had scrounged or hauled back from the dump for the last twelve years. Fortunately, Tom is a builder — and a pack rat (he says he is a “collector”). All the stuff he had piled in our front field at home in New Hampshire, that I had complained about for years as being too white trashy for words, was now found gold.

Once we finally got our road to the field, we had it graveled with gravel from our land (there are many glacial gravel deposits scattered throughout the forests). We seeded the banks of the drive with conservation mix. That very fall the deer and moose grazed every single clover plant to the ground.

First we brought in electricity. Yes, there was a miniscule discussion about being off the grid. I lived off the grid for several years in the late Sixties, so I really don’t have a driving ambition to recreate that lifestyle, unless forced to by current political idiocy. We hired Buddy, an independent hydroelectric contractor (everyone up here in Downeast Maine is named either “Bud” or “Buddy”). The poles were wired to the entrance to the field where Tom and I put the remaining electric underground. We dug a trench with an excavator, slogged through the rain and clay and breathed in toxic fumes, gluing the PVC conduit together. Tom blew the string for the lines through 350 ft. of conduit with a leaf blower!

Tom wiring the conjugal bushing for our electric service

Tom wiring the conjugal bushing for our electric service

We hauled huge beams that Tom had brought home from a construction job, on a borrowed flatbed trailer. We excavated 6 holes for pre-cast cement pilings. (Note: No live trees were downed in this project. The cabin is built in the midst of some magnificent oaks, one of which is literally rubbing on the west fascia, much to Tom’s consternation.) Tom had already trucked up his old 1972 LULL to the land, so it was a cinch to lift the beams and set them in place. Tom’s father, Leo, a highway engineer, helped tremendously in this phase of the project, in the placement of the foundation beams.

The beams were too long, but before Tom could saw them off, I said, “Honey, this looks kinda small — couldn’t we just cantilever a screen porch over the east side overlooking the pond?” Yup. Now the cabin had grown exponentially.

Because the cabin footprint had now increased by 8 feet, the gable ends also grew (funny how that happens). Now it was 20 feet to the ridge beam — so of course this allowed for a second story sleeping loft and the new screened porch. We placed plywood on the deck and I got busy applying my mechanical drafting skills, acquired in a Design/Build course at Yestermorrow School in Vermont that I had taken so I’d be able to design our permanent house articulately enough for Tom to build it.

I arranged all the window sashes that we had hauled up in the most pleasing, light-conscious design possible, painted them all deep green — and basically left it up to Tom to build the frames and make it all work.

Here’s how we “re-purposed” the windows:

On the south-facing gable is the front entrance. The front doors are vintage French double doors that Tom dragged home from the Hopkinton dump. These doors have two sidelights that I rescued from my brother David’s barn before he moved away. This entryway gets great wintertime sun and solar gain. Up in the open gable is a mullioned antique diamond-paned glass window that came from Saint John the Divine Catholic cathedral in Lowell, MA.

The south gable, sleeping loft's Catholic window (before the exterior was shingled)

The south gable, sleeping loft’s Catholic window (before the exterior was shingled)

On the west side (driveway side) is a mullioned 9 over 6 paned window mooched from our forester’s barn, left over from when he retrofitted his house. This is next to the woodstove. In the “kitchen area” (I have this in quotations — because at this point in our process we didn’t have running water — yet), supposedly the well was going in the next week, but when I asked (yet another) Buddy-the-well-driller if he was still on schedule, he replied, “Prub-ly.” Above where the kitchen sink is theoretically going to be are two ganged double hung windows from Tom’s parents’ barn of unknown origin.

On the north-facing gable is a huge double casement window that Tom salvaged from a job. On one side is a smaller casement that came out of a New Hampshire neighbor’s bathroom. We couldn’t find a match for the other side for the longest time, until one day Tom found the perfect casement in a dumpster. Up in the sleeping loft are two double-hungs, nondescript, but they provide great cross ventilation. The sleeping loft windows are in the tops of the trees.

On the east side (beaver pond side) are two very large paned windows that I also reclaimed from my brother’s barn. Since these are in the screened porch, Tom hinged them awning-style and they swing out and hook up via a pulley system. Also on this side are vintage double doors that open onto the side porch. These doors have tremendous sentimental value. They came out of Tom’s parent’s farmhouse where the boys grew up; probably these were the original doors. The house was a classic New Englander where the front door opened directly to the stairway to the second floor. In the winter, when the four brothers were young, they would open those double doors, position themselves at the top of the stairs on their flying saucers, fly down the stairs, out the front door and across the lawn on the snow.

The side porch at Camp Kwitchabitchin overlooking the beaver pond

The side porch at Camp Kwitchabitchin overlooking the beaver pond

To be continued on Monday ~ “The Building of Camp Kwitchabitchin, Part II…in which we almost kill Casey”

Carol Leonard

About Carol Leonard

Carol Leonard is a midwife, a writer and a licensed beaver trapper. She was the first midwife licensed to practice legally in New Hampshire and has attended close to 1,200 babies born safely in their own homes. She was a co-founder of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) representing all midwives in the US, Canada and Mexico. She was elected as the second president of MANA. Carol is the author of the best-selling memoir, Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart, A Midwife’s Saga, Bad Beaver Publishing, 2010. Carol is currently building a 400-acre farm in Ellsworth, Maine with her husband, Tom Lajoie. Her blog BAD BEAVER TALES: Love and Life in Downeast Maine, chronicles their informative and funny journey building their dream homestead on 400 acres of wilderness in Downeast Maine. Carol and Tom are also raising about a hundred beavers there that they argue about on a daily basis. These blog posts will be a collection of tales not just about Bad Beaver the place, but stories that meander around in her life, past and present—at the same time, Bad Beaver is where it all leads. As a writer friend says, “These stories from Bad Beaver are, at turns, brave, beautiful and just plain badass.”