Thursday, 5 September 2013

Hermitcraft: Shelters For Forest Practice

The interior of Thoreaus original cabin replica, Walden Pond

Thoreau's cabin at Walden
My decision to live in a tiny tent during my 100 Days on the Mountain, rather than more comfortable quarters, was largely influenced by my determination to live in the forest, rather than just near it. (It was also my only option when I thought I'd have to sit on public land.) But in the doing I discovered that a cabin is necessary to do this right; it spares you practice-robbing work and health risks. Let's be clear: by "cabin", I mean four walls and a roof. A shepherd's trailer; a wall tent; a tool shed; a plywood hut; eight by twelve of simple headroom. More, and you're no longer in the woods.

• Your shelter should have as many windows as possible, for morale and to keep you "in-frame". A broad, wrap-around opening in the walls, screened and shuttered, is perfect. A roofed porch or awning is also useful.

• As I learned, a woodstove can be invaluable in northern climes, even in summer. Otherwise it can be impossible to stay clean; you can't dry your clothes and it's difficult to bathe through cold and rainy weeks. The small portable models they make for hunters are fine.

Shepherd's trailers
• Since cooking on a woodstove is an arcane skill, uncomfortable in warm weather and time-consuming, you'll need a camp stove as well. A single propane or butane burner is entirely adequate and can be used indoors with adequate ventilation.

• Take pains to secure a comfortable cot and a good pillow; unbroken sleep is vital to effective practice.

• You will also need a table and chair. Lack of comfortable seating is a technique governments use to torture prisoners. They do not become enlightened. (Mandarin or convict.)

• Install shelves or cabinets, and a variety of hooks, for storage.

Simple garden shed
A corrugated metal roof and/or sides makes for a fast and solid building, fine for one-season use. A corrugated plastic roof, light to carry and cheap to buy, also acts as a skylight. A wood floor, while not necessary, makes staying clean a lot easier. (If using a tent, consider a plywood platform, a sewn-in floor, or at least a heavy canvas ground cloth.)

Finally, it's a good idea to make whatever structure you choose as neat as possible. People are already suspicious of us. You don't want to give those Ted Kaczynski references any free hand.

Basically, you want something that's dirt-basic but a whole lot cleaner. Then raise the Bandana Ensign in the dooryard and bust some suffering!

UPDATE, 19 June 2014: see my post on Kamo no Chômei's classic hermit hut.

UPDATE, 30 July 2015: Swedish architect draws designer hermit digs! Read about it here.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photos: Thoreau's cabin (Tom Stohlman) and shepherd's trailers (John Shortland) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; simple garden shed from Sheddiy.com.)
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