I grew up in a log cabin my parents built: Log cabin contemplations

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log cabin
Me and the folks in 1977

It was 1975 and my parents’ “back to the land” impulses were in full swing. Although they had an infant (me) and were a geography professor and a nursing student (him, her) with no experience in construction or building (any of us), they decided to build a log cabin on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. My father, ever the researcher, read a bunch of books about the subject, and March of 1976 they broke ground on the 1000 square foot cabin I grew up in.

Me 'n' mom, 1975
My mom and me, breaking ground fall of 1975
The logs
Perhaps there’s just a hint of overwhelm in my mother’s face in this shot. She seems to be thinking, holy shit we’re going to turn this pile of logs into a house!?
Building up

I look at these pictures of the house construction and am totally baffled. My mother was exactly 10 years younger than I am now, and she’s building a house with my dad — WITH A BABY ON HER FREAKING BACK. While going to nursing school. Apparently, my hippie parents were too busy mainlining ambition to get the note that they were supposed to be smoking pot and listening to folk music (although they found time for that too).

The cabin was finished in 1978 and I lived in it with my parents until I graduated from high school and went off to college in 1993. In the 20 years since then, my parents got divorced, and the house has become one of many rental properties on the land, which my mother has converted into a commune.

Sacred Groves
The cabin now, in its rental property form

Community members are always shifting, and when I come to visit my mom there’s no telling where I’ll end up being — sometimes I’m in a room in the new big round house on the south end of the land, or one of its satellite yurts. Other times I end up in the Gypsy Camp, an odd cluster-structure of bus/cabin/trailer. Last month, the family who’d been living in the log cabin moved out, and I hatched a scheme to rent the house for the month of August — I could spend half my weeks out in the woods, letting Tavi run around naked and mosquito bitten, letting Andreas reclaim some bachelorhood, and finally taking advantage of the fact that if I have wifi, I can work anywhere. (Awesome potential, but having a yoga teaching husband with daily classes and a toddler means I can’t just work in Buenos Aires for a month at the drop of a hat.)

It felt so BOUGIE! The fancy city lady will pack up her laptop and her toddler and put on her sunhat and proceed across the water to the summer home. The bougie potential got even more hilarious when a friend said she wanted in on the idea. Suddenly my hippie summer home became a time-share. Moving into the family home to enjoy the last month of the summer — does it get any more blue blood?

Well, maybe. Keep in mind, this “summer home” is an extremely funky log cabin my parents built. The former tenant described it as dark and dank, and city inspectors never know how to classify the home. The cabin is built into a sloping hillside, and my parents designed it with the main living space (kitchen, bathroom, dining — the true “living room”) downstairs — meaning the back half of the main living space is underground, with very small garden-level windows. The bathroom has almost no natural light. The kitchen cabinets have always been too low. Ventilation has always been an issue, especially a problem when you’re talking about a cabin in the temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest.

It’s also a summer-home on a commune. I ran into my mom on the trail yesterday, and she reminded me that Friday night was the monthly “Wailing lodge,” and so, you know, I might hear some wailing through the woods. This is not the Hamptons, or even Fire Island. There are buckets full of saw dust and poop, there is something called “compost tea” by the permaculture garden.

Tavi, hanging out in the woods

But there are also endless adventures for my very adventurous toddler. There are grandparents near-by for the baby-sharing. There’s a fridge full of beer and lemonade, and earlier today I set the wifi password to be blessedbe.

So this is what I’m doing this month: I’m spending at least half my weeks in this funky log cabin steeped in a compost tea blending a whole hell of a lot of family history with a commune that’s developed since I moved away. It’s weird being back — I’m finding that my body remembers things about living here that have long since left my brain, and my eyes keep looking for the outlines of the rustic architecture burned into my memory. I’ll write more about that next week — epic rambling post, coming your way!


Comments on I grew up in a log cabin my parents built: Log cabin contemplations

  1. Even if it makes Aaron look silly when he washes dishes, and the bathroom is a dark hole and I can’t quite figure out how I’d arrange furniture in the upstairs part of the home, I’m still utterly OBSESSED with the log cabin. Love it love it want it.

  2. AWESOME. Log cabins have a happy place in my heart, even if i’ve never really got to experience one. misplaced nostalgia? maybe. Desire to sit by the fire and knit? definitely. Also, Tavi in a carebears outfit? makes my brain explode with ADORBZ.

  3. This is why I love this site. My parents had a “back to the land” era in the early eighties, but it was in rural Arkansas and eventually the locals burned down the house my dad had built (my earliest memorie are of the tent with the blue tarp over it we lived in while my parents built it)because, frankly, they don’t like “outsiders”. This post made me wonder how it would have been if the house had survived. (side note: we were not living in the house at the time, Ma had put her foot down and moved us to an apartment near the local hospital where she worked graveyard shift…as a nurse).

  4. Let’s talk about Tavi’s adorable yellow jumper. I think it should be featured in something or another.

    My mom and her partner have a cabin, and it required some crazily retro-fit windows after they bought it. It was dark and gross, and even now, the cabin part is always too hot or too cold compared to the addition.

  5. As a true admirer and home builder, i fucking LOVE your cabin. Many of days peeling bark from posts and reclaiming scrap metal for our roof, we now live in a beautiful cabin, nestled down in the cracks of NorCal. gotta give love to the forest, as they too helped me through the troubles of adolescence. Plus the river,praise the goddess, i love the Yuba river 🙂

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