Friday, 29 April 2011

"Pioneers all we are bound/To root-hog or die on the Sound"

I had a lot of fun building this structure, which is about a foot and a half long by a little less wide. It encloses an electrical riser at the zendo. Any Old Settler will instantly know it for a split shack, also known as a slab (or slap) shack, or shotgun shack. It's what we lived in before there were trailers.

At its most elemental, the split shack is pole-framed, eight feet by ten, and sided in "splits," rough cedar boards froed directly off the log without benefit of saw. These were free for the taking, especially if you lived on the bay. Where nails were scarce you could knock it up with whittled pegs and an auger, or notch the splits and sew it together with rope, First Nations style. (This is basically just a hillbilly longhouse, anyway.)

Because splits come away thicker at the bottom than the top they impose slightly asymmetrical lines on the whole, for a touch of whimsy, as if brownies lived inside, or maybe hobbits.

Cabins of this lineage also usually had at least one window, in front, opposite the front door. If there was no glass, it was "glazed" with greased rawhide or paper and protected by a wooden shutter. If there was, it was as likely to be bottle bottoms as plate.

I believe the various names originally referred to different cabins, though they're used interchangeably now. The derivation of "split shack" is obvious, but "slabs" were the round sides of logs, ripped off by the head saw when they were squared for milling. As a waste product, slabs were cheap or free; in my day, it was common for families to order up a truckload from the local mill and make one of the kids (I'll call him "Robin") saw them up for firewood. I'd bet even money that a "slab shack" was originally sided with those instead of splits, and that the term "slap shack," as in something just "slapped up", is just a mutation. As for "shotgun shack," I know why it's called that (because the front and back door are sited in such a way that you can fire a shotgun straight through without hitting anything), but I have no idea why it's a selling point. Seems an even better plan would be not to shoot at the house in the first place.

By the way, the gravel "beach" on which this enclosure is bedded actually came from the very beach I grew up on. By purest coincidence, there was a bucketful in the house, left over from a large philodendron my grandparents brought with them from the bay. This finally died during the years the house was locked up, and when I liquidated the remains, I kept the gravel the pot was lined with, just in case. The decision to put the two together made itself.

And it really wants a stove pipe. The oversight just glares. But the thing's supposed to be unobtrusive, and not attract attention to itself, so I didn't put one in. It still took all my determination not to.

Because it isn't home until it has one.
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