We’d put the cart before the horse, in that we had a finished house frame ready to assemble, with no foundation to put it on. But winter is the time for logging, and summer the time for stonework, so we had to follow the seasons. The house site was basically a crater, with a mess of dirt and rocks, so before anything we had to clear the site, cleaning up what the big machine couldn’t grab in its behemoth hand. We’d dug down to bedrock, so after removing the remaining dirt and rubble, we swept it clean, let the rains wash it, and had a nice and solid (if uneven) place to start our foundation. Barring any major tectonic activity, this house would not settle!
We were on a schedule now too. Over the winter we’d decided to get married the coming fall, and it was only natural, with all of our friends and family already there, to combine the wedding celebration with our frame raising. So, September 1st we’d be married, and the next day we would raise the frame. The clock was ticking.
Why didn’t we just pour a concrete foundation and be done in a day? Good question. It was some combination of idealism, frugality, and a simple love of working with stone. Often when looking at what appears to be an old farmhouse, I focus on the foundation to evaluate it: fieldstone? cut granite? or concrete? Any time it is concrete, I feel a slight disappointment I can’t completely account for. Maybe I’m looking for evidence of craftsmanship, and find instead a cold industrial material. I had always dreamed of building a house right on bedrock, and the feeling of connectedness, rootedness that it would give a home. In our travels in Europe I amassed a huge collection of photos of buildings, from humble little houses all the way up to grand castles, growing out of the parent rock. So it was a joy to begin growing our own home out of the bedrock, with the rock of the land. It is a primal feeling to lay stone, to work with a material that is ancient beyond comprehension, and to relate, in a humbling way, to builders of temples and works of stone that have endured the millenia. Our’s is no masterpiece, but it will be around a long, long time.
It was a whole summer of wrangling stone and mixing mortar, and I don’t know that I’d have it in me to do again. And even though most of it is underground, I still feel it–the house feels whole, and rooted. Going down into the cellar to grab some carrots and potatoes for a winter dinner, it feels like being in an old farmhouse. And whenever I approach the house and glance down at the little bit of stone wall protruding above the soil, it brings me back to the piles of rocks, the summer of laying stone, the weight of it. It is not just a thing to put the house on, it is a foundation (think profound, profundo in Spanish meaning deep, fundamental). It’s something of primal significance, and in my mind this justifies the enormous effort that went into it.
With a couple of weeks to go till the big show, I wrapped up the stonework and we prepared to install the floor system. We needed the first floor deck completed in order to raise the frame. Given an unlimited amount of time, I would like to have built the foundation up another foot or foot and a half for more headroom in the cellar, and to get the house up off the ground a bit more. But, with our time constraints, (and in all honesty after being pretty burned out after laying nearly 100,000 pounds of masonry), it would have to do. As it turns out, the aesthetic of the house hugging the ground is quite pleasing, reminiscent of the early capes built in New England.
After months of sweating, fighting blood-thirsty insects, dodging rain and thunderstorms, busting my back, bruising my arms and legs, and bleeding (and occasionally laying stone serenely under clear, dry, breezy skies) asssembling the floor timber system was the icing on the cake. There is something about making that transition from foundation to frame, from stone to wood, from geological to biological material, that creates immense effort and frustration. But once over that hurdle, it is incredibly gratifying to be in the realm of wood: clean, light, flexible, and easy to work with.
Though I never doubted Robbie’s accuracy, it was certainly reaffirming to see the 25 pieces of the floor system slide and drop into place magically, and fit just right. I could feel a little pressure lifting as we reached a milestone necessary raise the frame. We now needed only to board the deck over, assemble the three house sections, or “bents,” throw a big wedding on the land, and wrangle up enough hands to lift the frame…
Next: Raising Day
Previous: Logging, Milling, and Joinery