Experiment in home building is for the birds | TheUnion.com
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Experiment in home building is for the birds

Mike Drummond, Columnist
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

On cold days, I sort the mail near the woodstove, toasting my backside, shucking and chucking. Shucking envelopes and chucking the junk mail into the fire. More labor-intensive than deleting e-mail spam, but oh, so satisfying.

The “Seminar Guy” at a time management workshop said, “Handle each piece of paper once.” I’ve applied that principle to his follow-up circulars. From his lips to Jotul’s jaws.

Jotul is the cast iron fire god that sits in the living room here at Clear Creek Ranch. At harvest season, his hinged jaws swing open to demand endless offerings of split oak and madrone in exchange for intermittent warmth and the occasional belch of smoke.



“Life is like a woodpile,” the Seminar Guy declared, leaving the interpretation of this fact-simile up to the audience (a few of whom were “sawing logs” at the time). What could he mean? Life has bugs and splinters just below the surface? Life can be knotty (if you do it right)? Or, no matter how well stacked you are in this life, in the end there are only ashes?

But MY life wasn’t the issue. Outside my window a tiny gray titmouse struggles against the cold each year to make a nest in a gap under the sheet metal eaves. It might not be the same titmouse each year. It could be his “eavel” twin.




The other day, being a compassionate person, I pulled birdhouse permits and paid the exorbitant mitigation fees at the county’s building department. “Life is like a birdhouse,” I thought. Let the Seminar Guy figure that one out!

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I tacked a postcard above my workbench. It pictured the Rhyolite Bottle House – a mining camp house built in 1905 by “Mr. Kelley,” and constructed entirely of beer bottles laid on their side and plastered together. As to whether Mr. Kelley was constructed entirely of beer from those bottles, and lay plastered on his side, the postcard caption is silent.

The urge to construct something similar has been bottled up inside me for some time. But my experiences working with cement solidified my awareness that one’s triumphs (and failures) are permanently etched in stone. And nowhere near as good kindling, as my woodworking mistakes are.

I’d build a tiny bottle house to serve as a bird house. Over the years, I had amassed hundreds of miniature bottles filled with aviation fuel of the type with which airline stewardesses sedate passengers.

I won’t bore you with the details about chickenwire grids, rebar, slipforms, anchor bolts, curing times, etc. Soon the finished product, with walls two inches thick and matching floor and pitched roof, was ready for occupancy. Provided I could budge it off the workbench. Which I did, with the aid of an engine hoist borrowed from a neighbor.

I wheeled it onto the deck to show the shivering titmouse. He liked it, but through a series of eye movements and head tips indicated he’d prefer it hanging from the eave beams. Now this thing weighs 200 pounds, more weight than I want swinging over my head on a windy day.

So I lowered it to the deck, figuring he’d step inside when he got cold. But he was stubborn. He shivered all night in the eaves rather theatrically, especially when my wife was watching.

So we compromised, which explains why he’s living rent-free this winter while I’m paying rent until spring on my neighbor’s engine hoist.

Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at miked@theunion.com.


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