The Autobiography of an Idea

To be honest, I’m really not sure. It most likely began in March, in the year 2015, after a lengthy day of skiing in Lapland, sitting with Scott and Danielli, on cedar boards, by a hot stove. It most likely took shape after other days skiing, on the cold and clear nights that followed, with steam rising off naked, sweat-soaked bodies under the stars.

Then it most likely developed, becoming ever clearer and much more distinct, in memories of those days of skiing, and the nights that followed, stumbling back to a wilderness cabin in the woods under the glow of northern lights. Or just maybe it began with a friendship that has carried me across forty years to points north of the arctic circle where we are sitting silently together in a warm Finnish sauna.

Scott and Mark, on the trail, in the forest above SarkiJarvi, Lapland

Our ideas are experiential in nature, as the seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke once told us, and so the idea to build a sauna surely furnished my mind through this series of sensations: of hot rooms, sweat, cold water, and the memories that follow of the pleasures of the ritual of the Finnish sauna that Becky and Mark enjoyed together last winter on another trip to Lapland.

And so it is summer, and there I am, with an idea. And there is Nathaniel, too, back from summer session courses at Lehigh, with three summers of building experience with Bill. There is an idea, building a sauna, and there is my son, with the skills and the temperament to build a sauna.

There is Jer, too, who came up for the weekend during Viv’s horse camp with his drafting board and who went to work in Jer’s wonderful way, thinking and making, ending up with drawings of a sauna we imagined at the back of the pond. The “back of the pond” part was in fact one of Jer’s formative ideas that contributed to the idea of the sauna, actually, as we had spent a few weeks considering a building site above the pond, among the fruit trees in the orchard.

In fact we brought back from a hardware store in Hetta, the farthest point north we skied in Lapland last winter, an insulated toilet seat (for our outhouse) and two plastic sauna scoops (for use in a sauna). The indefinite article in the previous parenthetical is in italics, as the idea of the sauna, as I am explaining, had not fully formed. Or at least where the sauna would go had yet to be settled as, to be honest, the scoops were purchased with another idea: that we would build a sauna from the scoop up; and so, over the summer months, I placed the black and pink scoops at various places around the pond as we imagined where a sauna might fit into the scheme we were developing here at Water Run Farm.

And then there is Bill, to get back to the story, who looked over the plans with me, endorsed Nathaniel’s carpentry chops, and generously drew up a list of materials for the lumberyard. And there is Laura, master woodworker, whose Tiny House of Tools and Wonders is now parked behind the barn–that ever generous and oh-so-kind Laura who has offered a chop saw, a table saw, a drill, as well as all manner of tools one needs when when one needs tools to do one thing or another-in this case, to build a sauna.

Tayne arriving at the farm with concrete piers

For so many reasons not worth recounting here we did not get started building the sauna until August. Yet the process began to rapidly fall into place when Tayne and Teegan arrived to grade the site and place the concrete piers.

As it happens, the summer of 2018 has featured one rainy day after another. And afternoon downpours slowed our progress. But by mid-August the building of the sauna began in earnest.

Nathaniel placing the first board for the frame for the building

Or at least Nathaniel got to work. For my summer was already busy with another idea that was well on its way from thought to action. I was already out on rainy afternoons lifting and placing stones for a sixty-foot run of stones five feet high, and building a stairway up through the retaining wall to the back-patio-to-be.

With only a few weeks in hand before he would head south to his junior year at Lehigh, though, Nathaniel did need to get out there and get it done. Happily, Nathaniel knows how to work. And work he did, as the sequence of images below will chronicle. Once he left (as you will also see below) the stones for the patio stayed put as Mark took up where Nan left off with the hopes of firing up the sauna by winter.

Frame and floor joists taking shape
With the subfloor in, let the framing begin
Our new Paslode nail gun in hand, Nathaniel framing in windows and doors,
Nathaniel measuring roof beams and joists
With an old bark stripper we had in the workshop in hand, Nathaniel pulling bark off a cherry tree Mark cut for the porch posts
When the roof is on, the idea becomes a thing: Say it! No ideas but in things.
Nathaniel laying down and nailing the roof paper (from Finland!)

The last job of work before heading back to school, framing in the sauna room so that Mark has the skeleton to work with when the cedar boards arrive.

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