Whether or not throwing a massive party the day before a frame raising is a good idea is by now a moot point. Even the most responsible of us weren’t asleep till 2 in the morning. With a huge medley of our most cherished friends and family; good beer, mead, and wine flowing all night; an open mic filled with talented musicians and poets; dancing, and a cozy fire, all under a full moon…how could we miss it? We the newlyweds, already chronically underslept for weeks trying to pull off this whole weekend, dragged ourselves out of bed for morning chores and got psyched up for the big day of building.
I should add that it was raining. The forecast assured us of a 0% chance of rain for the whole weekend. Well, it poured Friday night, cleared off for a stellar wedding day, and now Sunday morning it was raining again, and increasingly so. A group began to gather at the building site, someone rigged up a tarp to stand under, and there was uncertainty in the air. There was no way we could do this in the rain. One by one and two by two people emerged from their tents, in various states of disrepair. Robbie wanted to go back to sleep till the rain passed, but I wouldn’t let him. Things were not looking bright.
But, some angelic being made a ton of coffee and began circulating it, the rain tapered off, and we started getting the gears turning. There was plenty to do, and we were blessed to have some experienced builders and even a few timber framers among the crew. People started moving beams around, doing final checks on joinery, preparing pegs, and a hundred other little tasks. We saw some patches of blue, the mobile oven arrived and the catering company (aka Aaron’s dad and cohorts) got set up to crank out wood-fired pizza. It was beginning to seem possible.
There was no shortage of eager hands on deck, brimming with energy that could be put to good use. It was finally time to start the ceremony, and the 20 or so people most itching to get in on this lined up along the section to be lifted. We welcomed everyone, explained some fundamentals, gave our safety speech (watch your fingers and toes, if it falls don’t try to catch it, etc. etc.), and then got ready to lift. We counted out: one…two…three! Slow and steady, heave ho! Many hands make light work, but this thing was still heavy! This was not some staged “everyone can be a part of it” activity. We needed them. Some of these timbers were hundreds of pounds.
The first half of the lift is heaviest, then as it tilts more vertically it gets lighter and lighter. I was afraid with all the enthusiasm that the crew would lift it and dump it over the other way. But no, it was smooth, and right as it got to vertical, thunk! as the tenons dropped into the mortises. The crowd cheered, we slapped some temporary braces on it, and we stood back to gaze at this first section of our house. It looked huge! Once a building goes from two dimensions on the ground to three dimensions in the air, it is a huge leap. I gulped at the thought of hoisting the roof frame up, but put the thought off till later.
The second and third bents went up just as smoothly, then the really fun part started as we broke into smaller teams and started dropping in the connecting pieces one by one, seeing the frame lock together and come to life. It was magical. Every time a piece went in there was an applause and a ripple of elation through the group. The solidness of the timbers, the clunk of them dropping in, the squeak of tight joints coming together…pounding in oak pegs and wedges with sledgehammers, racking and cinching things with big come-alongs and rigging straps…it was very visceral we were creating something rugged with these powerful timbers. The cooperation, the teamwork, the comaraderie, people who had never done work like this before but plugged right in to the flow. It is hard to describe accurately, but the whole work site was operating like a hive, with a single mind and a single driving purpose. A number of times I needed a tool and turned around to find someone handing it to me, or thought of the next step, and a moment later a group was doing it more accurately and efficiently than I could have, without their being prompted to. Dozens of small and not so small hurdles and challenges presented themselves, and were solved, without the lead builders ever even learning about them until hearing stories or seeing photos after the fact. People pulled out skills and tricks where needed, while others invented them on the spot. We seemed to be reading each other’s minds, and the process unfolded with a surreal smoothness and naturalness.
And the pizza. Oh my god I’ve never tasted anything so good. Honestly. Besides being the best pizza on earth (if you’re in the NJ/Philly area you better visit Nomad Pizza), I didn’t realize till someone handed me a slice mid-day that I was nearly collapsing from hunger and fatigue. I felt a rejuvenation of energy like someone rescued from days in the wilderness. I’ve never felt my food so strongly. This was a theme for the whole weekend. It was a high, a time of heightened sensations and deep perceptions about everything. I’m using up my effective words. Visceral, tangible, magical. Here we were doing something so fundamentally human, and so beautiful: building a home with the help of our loved ones, and doing it in a day.
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