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This work is not for the birds

Sun, Sep 10th, 2000
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Monday, September 4, 2000

I stand on the roof of our workshop holding the end of a rope. My husband has tied the opposite end around his waist so he doesn't slip as he hammers nails into our new metal roofing. Although I am alert to the danger Art faces, I don't have much to do and my attention wanders. I notice the wren my husband calls friend, carrying food to her nestlings. A Red-eyed Vireo jabs food down the gaping mouth of her offspring. A robin flies by with food in her mouth. We aren't the only ones workingup here close to the treetops.

This bird's eye view gives me a new perspective on the work necessary to support our lifestyle. It is hard to believe the two of us alone built this workshop, which measures 24 x 36 feet with a 56 x 36-foot overhanging roof. How did we manage to staple the insulation between the studs of that high open ceiling? How did we muscle the rafters up?

These thoughts take me back to the spring of 1978. We have learned that we are not the only idealistic members of the back-to-the-land movement here in Fillmore County. Mary Lewis and Phil Rutter live near us in a
self-built log cabin and are planting trees for their budding tree farm. They introduce us to Steve and Janene Roessler who live in a self-built combination workshop and house in the woods near Preston. They ask if we want to join them in thinning some Red Pines near Rushford. The trees we cut will be our payment. We agree to join the project. The pine logs will be perfect for the framing for our workshop. So, a summertime odyssey begins. The six of us will achieve the kind of intimacy, similar to that of the Amish, I think, that comes from sharing ideals and physical labor.

Steve and Janene volunteer their truck, which is large enough to haul wagonloads of logs. Their neighbors, who own the farm and cathedral of a barn that will eventually become the Old Barn Resort, will loan us a wagon.

Our days go something like this: We meet at the old barn and decide to do two loads of logs, the first going to Mary and Phil, the second to Steve and Janene. We have come prepared with chainsaws, crowbars, water and Mary's peanut-butter cookies. When we reach the pines, we decide which trees to cut and the direction we want them to fall. When a tree is down, the men cut off the branches and the women haul them away.

During a break, we sit on a log drinking water, eating cookies and talking about our decisions to move to the country. Our reverence for the earth borders on the religious and we talk about ways to preserve it. Mary and Phil have solar power and a windmill. Steve and Janene have plans for an earth-sheltered home. Art and I have built an efficient small house and use electricity sparingly. We all plant huge gardens and put food by.

We also talk about ways to make a living: planting and selling trees, making furniture, building houses, selling or trading produce and, like the Amish, working for each other. As a group, we have raised a shed, shingled a roof and carried rocks for a wall.

Our conversation stops abruptly when we hear a Bobwhite calling. Little do we know how difficult it will be to find or hear this bird only a few
years from now.

Because we will end our day unloading logs at Roessler's, we will stay there for dinner. Kia and Kisha, Steve and Janene's little girls, will also be there, along with Janene's brother Jon.

On days when we are not cutting trees, Art and I begin to scrape the bark off our logs, sort them according to size and flatten one side of each with a chainsaw.

As I stand on the roof of our workshop recalling these events and watching my sweat-drenched husband work on the hot slippery metal, I think about the birds and what they must do to support their lifestyles. They lead difficult and dangerous lives, spending their time avoiding danger, reproducing and raising young, foraging for food and migrating. But, they are not weighed down by workshops, metal roofs, machinery, ideals and the search for meaning.

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