I Once Put a Roof Over My Head


I once put a roof over my head.

(At this, my cynical friend, who knows me long and too well, will protest: “you never put a roof over your head! Much less a meal on your table! Your father, in all his great effort, has provided all for you!”
I cannot dispute this. I can only compound my friend’s protestation by agreeing: “yes, indeed I have been blessed in everything."

I once put a roof over my head)

It was mid-August, 2003.
I had been living on and off in my little cabin in Wiseman, Alaska, since 1998.
At that time, Wiseman was all of about thirty souls, nested and bundled and curled up into a southern valley of the Brooks Range, just inside the boundary of Gates of the Arctic National Park.
As the village is located a seven-hour drive, one-way, to the nearest doctor, grocery store, electricity, indoor plumbing, etc, one could say that to live in Wiseman is to live in the 1850s.

Like everyone else in the village, I had to heat my cabin by wood-stove. The sixty-below-zero winters necessitated my collecting a sufficient supply of wood. For this I had to learn to use a chainsaw.
I recall the first day I went out into the hills to collect wood: I stopped at a neighbor’s cabin on the way, and he told me “Be careful out there.”
Assuming he was talking about bears, I naively responded: “I’ll be alright. I’ve got a chainsaw.”
He wryly smiled back and chuckled: “hmf, yeah.”
When I felled my first big Black Spruce, I realized immediately that he absolutely, positively was not talking about bears.

So as not to get crushed by a falling tree, I picked up about eighty feet of climbing rope on a subsequent trip down to Fairbanks; fourteen hours drive round-trip. When I got back to lumberjacking, I would tie the rope around the base of the tree, run the line all the way out straight in the direction I wanted the tree to fall, then I’d chainsaw part-way through the tree twice, on opposite sides of the trunk, at different heights, hike the rope up above these cuts, run out to the end of the rope, and oscillate the tree until it snapped off.
Felling trees this way took a lot longer.
On the other hand, I never got squashed by a crashing Black Spruce.

So I was putting in pretty good work to heat my humble shack. I put in a better wood-stove, and re-chinked the logs with moss; but I was losing a good amount of heat through an ad-hoc and ramshackle roof. Thus, in the summer of 2003, I decided to put a new roof over my head.

The first step was to remove the old roof, which was an odd collection of blue tarps, sticks, dirt, moss, flattened blazo gas cans, metal scraps, and more dirt, and more moss, and more dirt.
Next, I went down to Fairbanks, rented a truck, filled it with new blue tarp, two-by-fours, Guardian insulation (our old family company), blue aluminum sheeting, tools, screws, etc.
I re-used the old flattened Blazo cans for the spine.

In three days time we knocked out that roof.

It’s a bit cockeyed.

It’s a bit crooked.

Not gonna win any beauty contest from Architectural Digest.

But it keeps the heat in.

And it keeps me warm.

It keeps me warm: even from four-thousand miles away.

I once put a roof over my head.