Here’s a confession:
As much as I love our life and where we live, I’ve always been a bit reticent to show what our house looks like.
Well, at least on the outside.
The inside of our cabin is our cozy haven, filled with bright colors and soft fabrics and candlelight enough to make a Dane shout “Hygge!” (if you don’t know about the Hygge movement, check it out. You won’t be disappointed).
The outside…well, let’s just say it doesn’t quite evoke the same feeling.
Still, I tried to pretend it didn’t matter. In my newly found simple life, it felt incongruous to care so much about appearances. It was such a small part of my life. The outside of my house bothering me? It seemed petty. I tried to push it down.
I’d take nighttime photos of snow lit evenings, the house aglow with the warmth it possessed inside but in the day, without the camouflage of night or the focus shifted to something in the foreground, I was less likely to share the view.
Our house is naked.
With Tyvek that doesn’t even cover all of the house and no siding in sight, our little haven looks a little rough from the outside.
There’s a lot of things I’ve grown used to while living in Alaska that I realize are still strange to others, no matter how normal they’ve become to me.
Peeing outside? Normal.
No running water? Normal.
Infrequent showers? Normal.
Living off the grid? Totally normal.
I’ve adapted and found a way to make these changes work for me and some I’ve embraced completely unaltered, loving the way they’ve changed me instead. And of all those normal to me, strange to others things, not a one felt noteworthy or strange or something to hide…except for the outside of the house.
It’s a work in progress and a work in progress is a very common thing in Alaska but it never sat quite right with me. Perhaps it’s because we are really stretching the “normalcy” of it all since we most likely are holding the current record for most years before siding. Still, it’s not as if our neighbors scoff at it, though it is a bit of an ongoing joke at this point.
You see, our house was built by The Chief and his family over a decade ago. I loved it on sight and it immediately felt like home. Despite its bachelor veneer, I saw the beauty underneath and with a little (ok, a lot) of scrubbing and love it became our home. Our cozy cabin has everything we need. Yet, because of the grand plan for the house (The Chief added a 10’X12′ addition on a few years back and we have plans for more expansion), our house has remained “in progress” and naked (read: without siding) since birth. We may not be the only house in progress, it’s definitely more common in Alaska than the Lower 48 but still, at ten plus years, our house really takes the cake.
Houses, like ours, that have additions added throughout the years are lovingly titled “More-On” houses where we live. It’s, you guessed it, pronounced like “moron”, insinuating simultaneously that you’ve learned a lot of what not to do along the way and that the project is never quite done. There’s always more to add on.
It took me time to adjust. In the Lower 48, you buy a move-in ready house or construct a house and often, you don’t move in until the last nail is placed and the final bits of sawdust have been vacuumed. In Alaska, it is far more common for people to move in before the project is finished. There are a lot of factors that make this so. For The Chief, it was a race against Winter. He could stay in the house he built, even though it was unfinished, or he could again rent a cabin that was not his own. He chose to go with his own work and finish it as time went on. And he did, but when it came to the siding, it just didn’t take priority. Houses take two things to build on your own: time and money and when you’re a young man in your 20’s with a roof overhead that you built by hand on a property that you own, I’d say you’re doing pretty well. Who cares if you don’t have siding? And, if you plan to expand, why go through the time and money to simply provide a finished look outside, when the inside is where you spend your time?
It made sense.
Yet still, the more we planned and talked about the projects we wanted to do in the future, the farther away we realized that the future would be. As we already know, construction is costly in both money and time and every project here always ends up being 10 times more involved than it seems. From needing extra wood because you missed a cut to running out of screws or vapor barrier or running into unpredictable weather, there is always something that prolongs the process. So, for now, we’ve decided that we have plenty of space in our 12’X22′ cabin for the two of us. At some point we will expand, but for now, we’ve decided to focus on improving that which we already have.
And so, along came the birth of the siding project.
It would be simple. The Chief have already harvested trees and milled them into boards in a late Spring shuffle. All we had to do was “slap them on” (a favorite phrase of The Chief’s).
In order to put siding on your house, your house should be complete. This was the step I thought we had completed prior to deciding that it was finally siding time. But (big, big “But”), in talking more, we realized that wasn’t true.
As a man in his 20’s building a house from scratch on his own dime, The Chief had to be resourceful and so, in that resourcefulness, he had incorporated plenty of recycled materials to finish the job. From windows to interior siding, our house was a lovingly crafted hodge-podge of materials from the valley we live in. From historic to hand-me-down the house had come together in a wonderful, less-expensive amalgamation of materials. Yet, despite the low-cost at the time, the novelty of some of these things was wearing off as they started to lose their functionality. We finally relented to the fact that the old windows he had salvaged that no longer had screens and wouldn’t open, needed replacing.
“Great! Let’s do it next Summer when we have a little more money!” I suggested.
Like I mentioned earlier, a fact which is clearly new to my construction understanding, every change needs to be complete before the siding goes up.
We had ten days before we were leaving.
If we wanted to side the house this Winter when we finally would have time to, the windows needed to go in.
And so, The Chief made the trip to town which he graciously allowed me to back out of since I’d basically been on the road since July.
A few days later, he returned and the race began.
New windows before departure.
The clock was ticking.
In a hustle like I’d never seen, The Chief not only put in windows but also built us a shed for our newly acquired solar freezer (so we did not have to ask for storage help as much) in less than a week. Thanks to some serious help from our friends, everything was built in time to start the project…
Siding project: Phase I: Complete.
Now, we only have to wait a few months until we get home to start actually siding.
Just like everything in Alaska, this too will take time.
And so, now that the secret is out, now that you know our house is naked, I’ll share with you it’s clothing process along the way.
Until then, may your projects be speedy and finished…eventually.
from Alaska & California.
That you still retain some of the “outside lifestyle and culture” from your early life is evident from what you have written about your ‘feelings’ about the outside of your home.
When I first moved into the woods I started to adorn the outside of my cabin/shack with little draping’s of a civilization I left behind, but after a short time I shunned the trappings of civilization for (comfort and inside ambiance).
I believe most of those who live in the wilderness off-grid for the most part decorate the inside of their cabin to make themselves comfortable and their concern for the outside is durability and will it keep me warm!
..cast off the shackles of a civilized mindset
and revel in life in a land touched by God.
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Well we’ve definitely got the inside down and we definitely enjoy the outside. And…I’m still excited about siding 😉
Now imagine growing up this way. My first experience useing a flush toilets, and how weird these people are who poop in the same place they cook and eat and sleep. Same for unfinished houses, probably over half the house in Alaska are this way including mine, pieced together as you go, but thinks come up, so the money for the house goes away. I’ve always thought as long as it’s warm, cozy with wool and fur for all the furniture it’s perfect, now on to fixing other stuff around the yard, like that beautiful truck in the yard that only needs $600 and 6 hours of labor. Blew my mind first time in a city I mean besides Anchorage “town”. All these fucking houses are all done, you couldn’t do any more to them!!! In my opinion their too nice, like lacking uniqueness and style. Like the difference between aprep and a gutter punk. 🤘😂 Growing up in Willow, Burch wood, talkeetna, Dutch harder, I’ve lived in some shaby dwellings including trailors, simple plywood shacks usually 12 by 12’s and of course my dad’s “hovels” as we called them, little A framed huts with a blue tarp and a coffee can stove. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When I finnished my own 12 by 12 plywood shack with viscqueen walls and no siding with a flat roof, littery a plywood shipping box, I loved it! It was mine. To me it was beautiful, it was practical. My opionion is I think we focus to much on appearance. All things take time, and money, and especially when paying out of pocket, it’s insaine. I used to spend a lot of nights sleeping out under a tree and the stars with my fourty below bag and a little warming fire. In the middle of the winter I might add. This was home to me too, it was warm, it was cozy, the smell of spruce smoke floating in a perfect circle around the base of a mighty spruce, it’s bows so long and heavy with snow they touched the ground forming natural walls. Beauty is what you make it. Comfort levels are all different, when I go to a nice, and I mean NICE place like my uncle’s I. California, I’m actually uncomfortable the whole time I’m there, putting the fact I’m socially awkward aside, I feel like everything around me is going to crumble and crack and break if I touch it. It’s too nice, I don’t want to walk on the floors, I don’t want to set my glass down on the table that cost more then the shack I live in! It’s all relative. Good day you fine people, a big Hug to Chris! Real eyes realize Real lies.
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Good words, my friend. I absolutely adore our place and it feels good to put work into it since I wasn’t there to help at the start. I too know that feeling of too clean or too nice and it makes me savor where we live everyday. Big hugs back from Chris to you (and from me). Hope all is well ❤️