Everything Looks Just a Little Different

IMG_4111The photo above is of the house I’m sitting in right now, where the wood stove is spitting out just enough heat to perc my coffee and, soon as I’m finished writing this, fry a couple eggs. Maybe three; I’m hungry. I like a fire on these cool mornings that don’t really need a fire. It won’t be long before I don’t have the luxury of choosing between fire and no fire.

The view of the house is on the way back from feeding the pigs; they’re at the height of a little knobbed hill we’re clearing for pasture. You can’t really see it, but between the lens of the camera and the garden, there’s a steep slope; not long ago, it was densely wooded – spruce, mostly – but I cleared it this spring, piled the brush in windrows, and then we planted blueberries between the windrows. Forty of them, I think. They’re doing pretty good.

I guess it’s not a very flattering photo of our home, but it’s an honest one. You might be able to see that many of the windows don’t match; that’s because I bought all but two of them used. One of them has a big crack in an upper sash, but I got it real cheap, and we’ve sorta gotten used to the crack, hardly notice it anymore. We own the siding – spruce clapboards stacked inconveniently in that little nub of a room poking out the south-faced gable end of the house – and it’s nice to think about covering up that tar paper, but it’s been difficult to make a priority of it. Thought it would happen this spring, but it didn’t, then thought it would happen this summer, but it hasn’t. And this fall is looking pretty full already. Ah, well. Keeps the taxes down, I suppose.

We started on the house almost exactly a year ago, maybe a little less. We’d just finished getting tin over the barn, which we’d made a priority because we hoped to get the roof on in time to stack the first cutting of hay under it. We made it with three days to spare. At that point, it was clear we  probably weren’t going to get the house closed in by winter, so we spent another couple weeks making the upstairs of the barn kindasorta livable, and that’s where we stayed for the first three months we moved up here. It wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t too warm, either.

It’s remarkable to me how quickly and profoundly humans can remake a piece of land. A year ago, that house site was a piece of woods, that garden space was under a thicket of wild brambles, and if I’d taken a photo from the same vantage point, all you would’ve seen is a wall of trees. Gone, now. We’ve taken over, I guess.

This house is less than half the size of our previous home, and despite its still-rough edges, I like it better. It’s simpler, more humble, feels more manageable. No one seems to miss the extra space, though I don’t think we’d want anything smaller. We’ve got somewhere around $35k into the house, and could probably polish all those rough edges for another few grand. So it’ll be a $40,000-ish home by the time it’s finished. It could be done cheaper, for sure, by someone with more time and resourcefulness than we possess. Then again, it could also be done a whole lot more expensively.

I’ve written about this before, and I know it sounds sort of strange, but I’m ok with knowing that someday, this house will be gone. Rotted right into the ground. Someday, all the land I cleared, the trees I took, all that stuff, will return. Or at least I hope they will. I guess I have this sense of us merely borrowing this place, arranging it to suit our temporary needs. Maybe our kids will stay on or maybe they won’t, and maybe our kids’ kids will stay on or maybe they won’t, and maybe somewhere along the way someone will sell it to someone else, and who knows what they will or won’t do with it.

For now, though, I’m glad to have this tight roof over my head. I’m glad for the cook stove fire, coffee burbling, bacon grease heating for eggs. I’m pleased about those little berry bushes on the hill. They’re not much to look at now, but in a few years, they’ll start bearing like crazy. Come to think of it, I’m glad, even, for that cracked window sash. Because when I stand in front of it, everything looks just a little different.

Musically speaking, today I’d like to introduce John Moreland. Please, please do yourself a favor and give a listen. If you can honestly tell me you don’t like it, I’ll send you… hell, I don’t know, but something. 

You Don’t Care For Me Enough to Cry


Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars



58 thoughts on “Everything Looks Just a Little Different”

  1. Yep, reminds me I have to clean out the woodshed for the next wood delivery in September. I used to cut some of my own but not anymore. Our first winter in five years spent at “home” is coming soon enough. The condo in Florida is for sale and the road calls to us to travel a bit before we get too old or too, well, you know. But most of winter we will be here. There just ain’t anything like wood stove heat.

  2. For a young child, such as Lindsay when she was the age of 3 as she is in the photographs before me as I respond here, the idea of a berry bush “bearing” might be rather frightening. But that is what they do.

  3. Ben, what are “windrows?” I haven’t heard this term before–am interested to find out, and how you used them with your planting blueberries. And–nice house!

    1. It’s generally used as a haying term… windrows of hay are the long, raked up rows of hay awaiting the baler. So windrows of brush are just long, narrow rows of piled brush. We’d originally intended to bury the brush with topsoil and plant into those rows… a technique called “hugelkultur.” But we didn’t really have enough topsoil, so we planted between the rows of brush and will just let the brush rot down and fertilize the hill.

      Hope that all makes sense.


  4. I think this is such a beautiful photo of a gorgeous unique home and a lovingly tended garden. What a blessing, this place! Savor it!

  5. It’s a beautiful house, not despite but because of the mismatched windows. It reminds me of our house here in the wilderness: cobbled together with used materials. My husband is putting up hand split cedar shingles as I write this, which is great because the look of the tar paper has been getting old. It’s turning out beautiful. So is your house!
    … and I’m glad to see there are other people out there keeping their pigs pretty close to their house!

    1. Nice comment. It makes me think that if I were a house, it would be very unlikely for one to see me with matched windows. Not that one would like what they see, but authenticity is important

  6. Glad to see you’re using tarpaper–now the cutting-edge technology–rather than tyvek, which is a worthless product. And beyond that (warning: buddhist sermon approaching) a house built with a healthy appreciation for the basic impermanence of everything will always prove a more satisfactory living space. Best of luck in your new digs!

    1. Yeah, I really despise all those new-fangled house wraps. I even love the smell of tar paper… got some nice memories wrapped up in that smell.


      1. Ben…I worked in the carpentry trade all my adult life until retirement in 2009. Taken apart more homes than built new by far. The homes with tar paper had no moisture transfer issues in either direction. None. Tar paper keeps the weather out but it breathes perfectly. Moisture barriers slowly destroy buildings and create damp, unhealthy interiors unless continuous mechanical ventilation is utilized. I always doubled the door and window splines for long life. If you do it right, a house can be made watertight with just tar paper and tar paper and perimeter drip edge on the roof. It can also be flashed into siding and roofing to eject water at specific points. Old time carpenters from Nova Scotia, all long deceased now, men who could install a screen door in a submarine that wouldn’t leak, taught me the benefits of and how to properly install tar paper over 40 years ago. I highly recommend the 30 lb. variety over the 15 lb. variety. Much heartier, easier to work with notably in windy conditions. Tyvek and house wraps are junk IMO and you can’t flash correctly with them like you can with tar paper. Tar paper works!

        I think your home is beautiful, I’m jealous and the mismatched windows greatly add character. Especially like the gable with the main entry door. Well done!

  7. You have no idea how much hope this gives me. The way you describe the dense woods that are no longer, a process we are smack in the middle of… it’s nice to see the other side. Rented an excavator for next weekend, we feel so close to turning a big corner and hope it’ll bring us there. The countless tree stumps will not remove themselves, despite my willing them to do so.

    John Moreland kills me! Of course you know him.

  8. And everything looks fantastic! So much accomplished in a year; be sure to cut yourself some slack over the siding. Well done, Hewitt’s.

  9. I hope you didn’t clear land by hand! Speaking of Gah! No matter how you did it I must say what you’ve done is a thing of beauty. And thank god Nature will reclaim when we let her. She does it fast.

  10. I’m going to reblog this if I may ….not that I have loads of followers …but would love to have this post on my blog …PROOF that sustainable living CAN be done ….always love your posts Ben:)

  11. Your house and garden look lovely. I also built a home on what had been woods, out of mismatched windows, tarpaper and love. A handmade home tends to show a bit of the builders soul, I think. Thanks for sharing it here. And John Moreland… thank you!!!

  12. It’s a beautiful house – with so many windows. I don’t want to part with, nor afford to replace, my old wooden sash ones – many that are broken so must be propped up by pieces of wood. I’m often self-conscious about my rundown little place in one of the richest counties in the country but this reminds me that it’s lovely – mismatched and partially painted and all.

  13. Damn!
    That really is impressive! Dwarfs the progress at my place, but I am still quite pleased with and proud of that anyway.
    Unfortunately our house isn’t as savvy as yours, being built in the mid 60’s with all the high tech from the age; concrete, plastic matting on the floors and in the walls, electricity driven ventilation….. Getting rid of that is a hell of a “project”. I sometimes wish I could have built it all from scratch too. So far I have to be content with the chicken coop (house. I could actually live there).
    The window mishmash lends a lot of character to the house. And I can picture it in winter; thick snow cover, dimly lit windows, smoking chimney. A romantic picture not showing the everyday work involved to keep it going. Although to me that too has a kind of romance in it. The romance of everyday, simple life….

  14. Nice post, I ended up buying your book at the Warner book store, We’ve corresponded before. I am building a blueberry farm from the ground up and while I live the house now, someone else built it for me, it still needs work, I have more debt than I would like and have spent the last 20 years working as a factory rat just to get this far.

    Needless to say I am floored by the amount of work you have done in a year. I wish that I had put myself in your position coulda , shoulda, woulda I guess. I did wonder about your motivation for moving though, by reading your book it seemed like the old place was just about perfect.

  15. Hi Ben,
    My wife and I have been following you for about 2 years now. We read your columns in Yankee every month. Have bought and read all of your books, except the one on raising children, as we don’t have any. You have much to be proud of. You are an inspiration to many. If we were 30 years younger and knew what we know now, we would be up there with you folks creating a similar lifestyle.

    But life takes us in many different places and directions, and we are where we are for a reason I guess. But we are making our home, purchased 2 years ago, into our little homestead.

    Thanks for your writing, thoughts and inspiration to us. Well done my friend, well done!

      1. As Foghorn Leghorn used to say, ” That boys’ as sharp as a bowling ball!” That’s me sometimes! Real dull! 🙂 I forgot you can see my email address. Yea, I’ve picked the banjo for about 7 years now, although it’s been gathering a lot of dust since we bought our house 2 years ago. I hoping to do some ‘wood shedding’ this winter and pick it up again. I Love the ‘twang’ it makes!

  16. Thank you so much for sharing this view of your home. I had wondered how it was all coming together. I think the fact that you left a home you so clearly loved, was so filled with memories and was really a part of your family to move on to do it again speaks very much to that impermanence. On the surface, I’m not sure I could leave the house where my children were born but, boy, do I admire you for that. It shows that the spaces we inhabit are a reflection of who we are and why shouldn’t that change if we (hopefully) continue to change. Exactly why a home is never done or shouldn’t be, it seems to me, as we should never be done. Your new home seems to be distilled to its most vital parts, the things which you most value with nothing extraneous. And, at this time in your lives can be done with the input of your boys which is so special. All things I have come to value more and more and are motivations for us to make a similar change (working on that more seriously now.) Thanks, as ever, for the inspiration and the glimpse into your life. And John Moreland makes me tear up, always. Thanks for the reminder.

  17. The house looks great. Thanks so much for sharing the picture. It sure makes me feel better knowing you’ve still got tarpaper… I’m pushing the limits for length of time a house is framed (ok, only partially) before the roof is on. In one of our wettest summers in recent memory.

    Good work on the garden and berry patch.

  18. It was really nice to have an update on the progress of your homestead. The photo looks like it could be a snapshot out of some glossy magazine. Truly inspiring. Yet what often lacks being understood, or is adequately explained in the fancy magazines, is that not everyone possesses the necessary prerequisites, the guts, or the courage (er..”pig-headedness”?) to face the infinite challenges inherent on the journey of becoming a homesteader. Not to mention being considered a bit weird. Okay, I am weird. And a bit pig-headed. Doesn’t mean that sometimes I couldn’t use a little boost to stay the course, which is why I appreciate you and others like you being kind enough to share your stories. So.. thank you.

    1. This is one of the things I really appreciate about the Interwebs… access and exposure to all sorts of music I’d probably never hear otherwise.


  19. Hi Ben, I love your reflections, photos, and music referrals. Thanks for celebrating living our lives as an ever unfolding work in progress! As a Sister New Englanders I find that our woodpile, gardens and do it yourself lifestyle are always interesting and a reason for happiness. Linda Zeigler Camden, Maine

    Sent from my iPhone


  20. What a terrific looking home and garden. The picture exudes tranquility, yet we know all the hard work going on there. I like the idea of the trees and bramble coming back. Very zen.

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