Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Necessary

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at and I'll email you a copy.

Friday 25 August 2000 - "Sally stayed at camp while I made a quick trip to town for groceries, new stovepipe, and some plywood to use on the woodshed roof. I started taking tarpaper and old boards off the roof when I got back home. There is more rot in the 2x4 roof supports than I thought there was - not sure now if it can really be repaired. We may need a major overhaul, or perhaps a new shed. I'll work a little more, and see where I get."

Saturday 26 August 2000 - "I took another look at the shed roof, and finally decided that fixing it isn't in the cards, this year. I turned my attention to the outhouse - started to build a new roof, but a full assessment of condition showed that the whole outhouse was just too far gone. We decided to build a new one, and locate it a little closer to the house. I started to build a base frame and did a little preliminary digging to see if we could find a relatively rock-free spot to have the hole. Sally helped with some of the carpentry, and also did a wash. Other than that, we watched golf on TV."

We hadn't planned to build a new outhouse. As a matter of fact, we hadn't even planned outhouse repairs at that time. My target was repair of the woodshed roof, something I'd been putting off for much too long. Most of the tarpaper had come off the woodshed, and some of the roof was clearly rotted through. We had managed to keep it relatively dry inside with heavy-duty silver tarps, but it was time to replace the tarp, again. It seemed like a moderate-sized job that I could accomplish in the last month and a half of our 2000 summer. But, as your read above, my moderate-sized "chore" lookedlike anything but moderate-sized, so we reduced our expectations.

Did we really need a new outhouse? Well: (1) the current one had been built by Sally's Dad in 1948, out of what was scrap lumber at the time; (2) it had never had a real foundation, with the wood flooring boards just perched on rocks at the corners; (3) the roof and back had been pretty well rotted through for years; (4) salt-seeking porcupines had chewed big chunks out of the sitting area; and (4) the whole outhouse was slowly sinking into the ground. Besides, as we got older, the long trek down the outhouse path seemed to get longer and longer. Maybe we could use a new one.

Sunday 27 August 2000 - "I drove down the hill in the morning to get the mail, and visited briefly with the Dandeneaus. Sally knitted, and I worked a little more on outhouse planning. Otherwise, we watched golf on TV."

Monday 28 August 2000 - "We did some work on cutting pieces of wood for the outhouse, but the batteries for the power saw discharged fairly quickly, I was having ear trouble [crackling, hollow sounding], and I was generally depressed, so didn't get far. I finally drove down to West Milan to get the mail. Sally did another clothes wash."

Tuesday 29 August 2000 - "I went to Berlin to buy more lumber and miscellaneous supplies to keep on with the outhouse building. Got some cutting and thinking done, but warm, buggy, and generally slow-going."

Wednesday 30 August 2000 - "After breakfast, we did some more outhouse building planning, and I dug in and leveled the foundation cinder blocks. After lunch, I did some recycling, then took the trash down to Dummer Plain, went on to Groveton and Northumberland to buy a little more lumber and hardware."

As you can see, we didn't leap into this project with any great will. The weather was humid and warm, there were still some bugs around (although the worst of Bug Season had passed), I never seemed to have the right tools or materials and it was 15 miles to town... Well, you get the idea.

Tuesday 5 September 2000 - "We worked on the new outhouse almost all day. Sally knitted a little. I walked the cliff-logging road loop at 1830, just to use a few different muscles than I had been using the rest of the day."

Thursday 7 September 2000 - "High overcast burned off midmorning, then generally blue with just bands of 'mackerel' type clouds and wispy cirrus. Calm. Humidities a little higher than the last two days, but not bad. Low 37.2F, high 67.5F. There weren't a lot of bugs, but the blackflies and a few mosquitoes were harassing us when we worked in the shade."

"We spent all day on outhouse construction. Sally stained the boards for the seat, and I made pretty good headway on completing the sides."

Friday 8 September 2000 - "We spent almost the entire day on the outhouse, Sally staining and me carpentering. I went to town 1500-1700 to mail a package and to get a few more outhouse supplies. In the evening, I wandered around Michael's skid trails for an hour - not much going on, but okay exercise. We used the generator awhile in the evening."

"The chipmunks have a hole between the southeast corner of the woodshed and the outhouse path. All the time we were working by the shed, they were scampering around our feet. Sally had her boards propped up against the shed, and the critters wandered around between her and the shed, right at the base of her boards."

Saturday 9 September 2000 - "We worked outside most of the day. Sally continued staining the seat boards for the outhouse, and painted primer coat on the interior walls. I mowed with the DR, made curry chicken, and generally worked around."

Sunday 10 September 2000 - "In the morning, Sally painted the interior panels for the outhouse, while I built a frame to house the generator down in the woods by the new outhouse. After lunch, I spent an hour or so clearing a track along Mike's main skid road, to serve as a trail in the future as the cuts grow back."

Monday 11 September 2000 - "We spent the morning erecting the outhouse - sides, back and roof. Rain expected, so we covered the whole thing with a tarp."

Well, now we're getting somewhere. This thing is beginning to look like something.

Wednesday 13 September 2000 - "We started putting in the framework for the outhouse floor and seat, then went to town to get some more supplies, mail a package, and eat at Mr. Pizza. Off the hill 1430 to 1800."

Sunday 17 September 2000 - "We started to apply 'house wrap' to the outhouse, to make a good waterproof covering over the plywood. Otherwise, we read and watched Olympics on TV. Around 1600 I walked the glades-swamp loop, for a little exercise."

Monday 18 September 2000 - "Sally made jam with some blueberries that Don Roberge gave to us. I fiddled around with the outhouse, mostly wheel-spinning. After lunch, I went to town to shop. At 1800 we walked the loop out our road, down the logging road to the "moose crossing," then back on my trail across the Kelly cut to the outhouse."

"Speaking of the outhouse, I had a visit from my 'outhouse vole' today. It ran across the path and under the front of the outhouse, then a few minutes later ran back across the path. I don't think there is any question that this one was a red-backed vole. Several years ago, I tentatively identified the then-resident 'outhouse vole' as a yellow-nosed vole. Maybe this one was different, but I was never really positive of my earlier identification."

Tuesday 19 September 2000 - "There was quite a bit of bird activity in the morning, so I birdwalked my way down the field and back around the swamp trail. Later, Sally worked on the outhouse, while I went to town, to be interviewed by freelance writer Gail Goddard-Taylor, doing a story on Berlin's 'rebirth' [Heritage Park, downtown redevelopment, etc.]. Her editor had seen my internet piece on the Heritage Park, and was interested in my perspectives on changes in Berlin over the past 30 years. Fun. I don't get a chance to have many discussions on things I'm really interested in, since retirement."

"In the evening, we worked a little more on the outhouse, then watched Olympics on TV. [Or, at least, tried to watch TV: there was a lot of static and interference early, on both the TV and on the TV sound over the radio. Finally, the Portland NBC station was completely swamped by CTV in Canada, the sound from which was coming in as good or better than NBC. We finally gave up about 2200.]"

Wednesday 20 September 2000 - "We fiddled around in the morning, trying to decide how to finish up the outhouse. In the afternoon, Sally read and rested, while I continued to clear a trail along Michael's skid road to Faulkenhams'. I am within about 50 feet of Faulkenhams' line now, with a track that is clear of logs and big obstacles. I also started to clear a trail from the through road up to the skid road just uphill from where I've been working."

Friday 22 September 2000 - "We worked on the outhouse much of the day, got it about half shingled. Late morning, I wandered around the skid trails on the hill a little bit, looking for hawks [none]. At 1800 I walked the swamp-glades loop."

"While we were working on the outhouse, a pine vole wandered [slowly] through our work area, within a foot or so of Sally's feet. Is this a friend of the original 'outhouse vole,' or have we developed a distinct species of Microtus outhousus?"

Saturday 23 September 2000 - "I took a brief bird walk around the Kelly/Mead cut, and Sally continued shingling the outhouse for a couple hours. After that, we were indoors until 1800 when we went down the hill to have dinner with the Dandeneaus and Cordwells."

"Something [moose?] close to the house just after we got home elicited Dixie's "large animal growl," and she went up to her cave.No visitors or hunters today.The pine vole was wandering around by the new outhouse, again."

You probably have noticed gaps of several days at a time in our work schedule. This is just too nice a time of year to be limiting one's activity. There are migrating birds to watch, leaves turning color, brisk bug-free days to wander around the Hill, next year's firewood to cut and haul, fruit to pick and can, etc., etc., etc.

Saturday 30 September 2000 - "Both of us were busy all day. We wandered around the field picking apples after breakfast, then Sally spent well into the evening making green tomato mincemeat. She canned five pints.I worked all day on the new outhouse, planning and building the door frame and window frames, and continuing shingling."

Sunday 1 October 2000 - "Sally spent all day making highbush cranberry sauce. I spend all day shingling the outhouse. In the evening, we walked the loop out our road, down the logging road, and back across the Kelly cut to the outhouse."

Monday 2 October 2000 - "We picked more highbush cranberries, and Sally spent all day getting another batch ready to can. I worked on the outhouse, and pretty well finished with the shingling and with framing the windows. I went down the hill to get the mail about 1500."

Wednesday 4 October 2000 - "I worked on the outhouse until the rain started. Sally worked on cranberry canning. After lunch, we took our trash down to Dummer Plain, got the mail, and visited for a couple hours with Faulkenhams."

Thursday 5 October 2000 - "Sally finished the highbush sauce canning, while I worked on the outhouse. I finished the trim on top and sides, and put on the roofing felt. After lunch, I made a quick trip down the hill to pick up the trash cans and get the mail."

Saturday 7 October 2000 - "We were indoors most of the day. Sally began making picalilli from our green tomatoes, and also started sorting through the Crane genealogy papers we got yesterday. I mowed a little, mostly to warm up the DR so I could change the oil [which I did]. I also worked for a little while on the outhouse, and took a brief wildlife walk around the dump loop."

Thursday 12 October 2000 - "We spent all day on the outhouse, getting the platform built and the floorboards cut. We could have been farther along, but our battery-powered circular saw doesn't operate for more than about 15 minutes or so on its two batteries. It's wonderful to have it, but it certainly isn't practical for any big job."

Friday 13 October 2000 - "We finished the paneling of the outhouse, then went to town to do a little last minute shopping, go to the bank, visit with Sarah Cordwell and with Bruce Faulkenham. We got home after dark."

Saturday 14 October 2000 - "We spent all day packing and closing up. We screwed plywood over the door opening to the new outhouse, then covered it with TyPar house wrap. We put tarps over both the new outhouse and the woodshed, and brought in all the outdoor gear [benches, hoses, etc.].Sally was sick [head cold], but we still did pretty well with the closing. Still a bit to do, tomorrow.We had a weasel around the house and woodshed at breakfast time, probably an ermine."

Sunday 15 October 2000 - "We planted some bulbs in front of the dining room window, then finished closing up camp. We had a delay of about a half-hour while we searched [it looked for awhile that it would be in vain] for two missing shutter bolts. We finally found them, and got out of camp by 1100. After brief visits with Becky and then with the Cordwells and Dandeneaus, we got on our way west just at noon."

As usual, we spent the next several months in Oregon, leaving both old and new outhouses to fend for themselves through the windy, cold, snowy northern New Hampshire winter. Spring 2001 found us arriving back on Dummer Hill

Tuesday 8 May 2001 - "Cornwall to Camp, arriving about 1400 after brief visits with Bucky and Walter. Bucky reported that the whole Dummer Hill loop was now dry and easily driveable. We opted to go in via the logging road. A warm [60s to mid-70s], sunny day, just light breezes.

"A little bit about last winter and early spring, since it has a lot to do with our initial observations at Camp: As I mentioned above, it was a long snowy winter. The temperatures were apparently not too extreme, but it just went on and on. NH Fish & Game estimates that it was a very hard winter for deer because the snow stayed on the ground so far into the spring."

"The logging road is very dry, with dust like mid-summer. It is badly rutted in spots, and has a lot of potholes, so it isn't a very pleasant trip. No problems at camp. All the buildings, including the old outhouse, made it through the heavy snows without damage. Someone had placed a cinder block outside "Da's window," like they were trying to look into the house. Doesn't make a lot of sense, with most of the windows more accessible. We discovered that I'd forgotten to bring in the rain gage, and it sat outdoors all winter and had cracked. Someone had cut a small square in the tarp covering the old outhouse - obviously, someone was using it as a hunting blind."

Thursday 10 May 2001 - "The phoebes are building a nest above the door to the old outhouse. We're not using the new outhouse yet, so I don't know if they will be able to tolerate the disturbance."

Sunday 20 May 2001 - "We finally took the front plywood panel off the new outhouse, and will start using it now. No door, but the old one doesn't have a door either, and the phoebes will probably appreciate less disturbance."

We never did put a door on the outhouse. I did put screens in the windows, but mostly just for show. There is no way to keep bugs out of an outhouse in the North Country, so all a door does is trap you in a small dark room with a bunch of biting critters. The view from the outhouse is lovely, and there's nobody around to see you sitting there, so who needs a door?

Monday 13 August 2001 -"I made a quick trip to town to mail a book order and Jeff and Sara's birthday box, and to shop. Back by1300. Hauled a few rocks to the new walls, and started to dismantle the old outhouse. Read, wrote and relaxed the rest of the day."

Wednesday 22 August 2001 - "I made a quick trip to town for mail and shopping. After lunch, I completed tearing down the old outhouse. Then we watched some amateur golf on TV, read, etc. In the evening, I did a short stroll out our road, then down to the cliff, and back."

With the tearing down the original outhouse - just one year from the first throes of new outhouse planning - this particular North Country story ends.

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