Buildings speak to us clearly if
we will listen. They reflect the needs, skills and wealth of the owner, and the dictates
of the environment. Today our homes are compact with most of our needs filled under one
roof (stove, refrigerator, freezer, pantry, living quarters and garage). We can build of
almost any material, in any style, and engineer out the local environment. The life of the
farmer was more scattered out, with whole buildings given over to one function. The
smokehouse and corn crib stood between him and hunger. The springhouse cooled his food.
The kitchen was often a separate building, while the barn sheltered his livestock from the
winds of winter.
The location of the buildings is significant.
The house faces west, its southern shoulder against the prevailing winds and summer heat.
Nearby, the garden sprawled on a warm south slope convenient to the house. The smokehouse
huddles close to the kitchen, secure from animal and human intruders. The springhouse
looks down on everything else, insuring a clean water supply; while the barn stands below
all other buildings.
Although they all look alike, there are
notable differences in workmanship and use of wood material among these structures.
Several show the same hasty selection of logs, with very little hewing and many knots and
limb stubs remaining. Another shows much more care in the choice and use of materials,
with corner notching of a more durable type and better executed. Yet another is made of
split logs, each half going into an opposite wall, reducing the number of trees needed to
build it. Do you think that they were all built at the same time by the same man?
There are other things to look for -- points of
function and beauty. Peg holes in the logs on the porch tell that a weaver lived here.
Smoke from thousands of fires still clings to the kitchen walls. The creamy smoothness of
the mud chinking sets off the rough texture of the logs -- run your fingertips across
both. In the chimney, bees have made a home in someone else's home. The spring -- in
winter the water's so cold it'll crack your teeth. Pause, and feel this place with your
Everything around you here speaks of an organic
society, one living in and off of things that could be found or grown at home. The human
settler that lived among these logs was almost as much a child of the forest as the other
beasts. They pressed close to the breast of the earth and danced with the seasons far more
than we. Like the beaver and the paper hornet, he built shelter from native woods. He and
the bear robbed bee trees and berry bushes. He took live prey, as did other predators.
These buildings merely refined man's life here. Rugged as it was, the pioneer at least
understood the how's and whys of his existence. If a dough bowl split, he knew the cause
lay in the seasoning of the wood, not in the miscalculation of some unknown plastics
technician in a far away land.