A Place to Sit



 July 7, 2021

 Even old hobby farmers, given enough time, accumulate a barn full of miscellaneous stuff. I was born in 1937,  at the tail end of the depression, but am bothered by the received memories of those times and took to heart the old saw that teaches something put away will be needed in a few years. Also, I find something wrong with the new throw-away mentality of those born in more prosperous times. 

When a drougth killed mature red oak trees on the place, something had to be done; I felled two or three, hauled the logs to a private sawmill and brought home several thousand feet of 14 foot long lumber, 1 1/2 inches thick and of various widths. The lumber was carefully stacked with an inch distance between each piece and the layers separated with cedar stickers. The ends were sealed with aluminum paint and the entire stack was under a covered shed oriented north to south which facilitated curing. The following year the oak was dry enough to use, but as rough lumber is not very useful, I purchased a planer and begin building  furniture. I made so many sofas, chairs, and tables that Victoria announced I would have to build another room on the house to accommodate any additional furniture. I began making clocks.

The Methodist Church in Washington, where I attend, had a cedar shingle roof. The roofers had affixed the shingles with the wrong nails and when the nails rusted through the shingles began to fall off the roof. A new roof was installed and the old shingles loosely piled at one side of the building. Perfectly good shingles could not go to waste, so I  hauled them home and stacked them next to the oak lumber.

A stack of seasoned oak lumber, a stack of cedar shingles, and a shop stuffed with stuff from old projects equaled  three solutions in search of a problem. Eventually  it  occurred to me that in my capacity as a uncertified jakeleg carpenter I had finished many small jobs, but never a complete building. Well, why not. Two of  my favorite building are Japanese tea houses and simple Southern farm houses.  I decided to build an Arkansas tea house by the big pond behind our home. After a survey I decided there was enough materials on hand for a building 6'X8' with an 8' ceiling.

After leveling the sandy soil on the north side of the pond I appropriated an old pole the telephone company had discarded by the highway in front of the house and cut four 2 foot sections for piers. For the major floor plates I had to purchase 30 ' of 6x6s. I half-lapped them at the corners for a strong foundation. Rather than use hangers for the 2X4s floor joist I nailed a 2' runner board to support the joist. I used finished 1X4 oak for studs and well braced them at the corners. The floor was finished and sanded 1X8 oak boards attached to the joist with counter sunk screws and capped with oak pegs. The floor was finished with mineral oil for a natural look. As there was no electricity at the building, each piece was measured and then cut at the shop back by the house. I did have a battery powdered drill and as screws were mostly used instead of nail, many trips were avoided.

The outside walls were covered with Western red cedar left over from a fencing job and for trim all around the building I split Japanese bamboo taken from a patch planted years before.  There were several sheets of lauan plywood in the shop that worked well for finishing the spaces between the studs and the rafters (the rafters were also 1x4 finished oak). Pine strips were  used for sheathing on the roof and the shingles from the church nailed to the sheathing with rust proof nails.

The building only had three walls originally. The front was open, but with a hinged wall that could be raised to make a porch. I found three small red cedar trees on the place and cut them to support the porch roof/wall. In the winter I could lower the porch roof to cover the open wall. Eventually I enclosed the entire building and the porch roof was secured to the cedar post. I then built a frame for a sand floor for the porch and laid 1' square Mexican tile in the sand. The total cost for the project was less than $100, as screws and the 6X6s were all I had to purchase.

When the project was finished I would sit there on an old cane bottom chair under the porch and enjoy the activity around the three acre pond: Blue Herons, Egrets, Cranes, and in the fall migrating ducks. The pond was stocked with bream and bass, so there was more to do than just sit. Twice alligators came to dine on turtles.

Any building requires up keep and repairs. Wasp, dirt dobber nest, and such had to be removed and once a small, very small, tornado felled a tree at the edge of the pond and took off a number of shingles. But nothing major until the summer of 2015, when evil came to the tea house. Below is an account written not long after that day.

Under the  porch is a straight back chair. One fine day in June I was sitting in the chair when I heard something large moving around above my head. First I looked on the roof and found nothing, then I opened the door and looked inside, again nothing. To close the door I had to reach the latch wire at the top of the door near the eaves of the building. My hand was suddenly a few inches away from a very large snake under the eves. Its ugly head was bigger than my fist. After making an incredibly fast leap backwards for a man of 78, I sent a few choice curse words in the direction of the snake then went to the golf cart parked nearby for a pistol. When I returned the thing had not moved and was stating at me with cold yellow reptilian eyes. It was dispatched with one shot. Then I dug the thing out of the building with a boat paddle and stretched it out: over six feet long. For the next few days I was on high alert around the Tea House - because snakes like these usually are found in pairs. Sure enough a few days later I saw the mate slithering from the ground into a place under the cedar siding. Snake number two was also dispatched and thankfully proved to be much smaller.

My sanctuary was defiled.  Sure, I kept it swept out and did repairs for a while, but I had lost heart and sit there no more.  Now shingles are coming loose, cows knocked down the post supporting the porch and broke the Mexican tiles. Weeds surround the structure. I don't even go near.