Why Small Houses Matter

In 1977 my wife Marcia and I were in our twenties. We had just brought Lincoln into the world.  He was two. We lived in a $1,000 used mobile home on a 5 acre south-facing,  piece of peace on the coast of Maine that we bought from Carol Frost for $4,500. He wanted the money to buy himself a brand new Honda 750 motorcycle. My friend Steve Horton knew Carol and encouraged me to move on the deal.

The trailer was in rough shape.  When we turned on the feed from our dug well the water lines took on the form of a sprinkler system because whoever used the trailer last ( We moved it here from Owls Head) never drained the pipes, which had burst when they froze. I replaced most of the the copper pipes myself. It was not a big place to live, and although the oil fired hot air heating system kept us warm enough, by the end of that winter more than an inch of ice had formed on the inside of the aluminum door that was in our bedroom.  The three of us had to do something.

Enter Pat and Patsy Hennin and the Shelter institute. I drove down there once a week, on Wednesday nights, for several months and learned how to build, in theory.  Then Marcia and I signed up for the design option and we hand drew one sheet of  plans to build a 20 x 30 post and beam house.  I had a small 16” bar Stihl chain saw that I used to cut down a few of dozen tall, straight trees that were part of the land here- big oak trees. I was scared they would fall on me, but somehow pulled it off, as you do when you are full of hope and energy when you are young.   This was before the Hazens moved in up the street.  Alan Davis was living in that house alone, after his wife divorced him. He was going downhill fast and close to  freezing to death. He owned a big old John Deere tractor, and volunteered to haul up the logs to the side of High Street for a case of beer.  We did it in one day.

Basil Pearse still had his sawmill going in Searsmont at the time, and drove down and picked up the logs and milled them out in his tiny sawmill next to Sprowl Lumber.  I had no idea how it was done, but figured if I cut roman numerals into the butts of the logs with the chain saw and gave Basil a piece of paper with what lengths and what dimensions would come out each numbered log it would work.  It did, and a week later Basil dumped a big pile of green oak 6 x 6’s, 6x 8’s, and even a couple of 7 x 9’s by the road.  He handed me a handwritten bill for $140 dollars and my oak frame post and beam saltbox was ready to be put up.

I had my grandfather’s 1940 John Deere L tractor then.  My parents gave it to me, as they were no longer farming in Massachusetts and it still had a bit of life left in it, at least enough to hook a chain to the back of it and drag the timbers down the hill into place.  My friend Lock and a real carpenter named Jay Leach worked with me that busy summer of 1978 to build the house. I worked day and night.   Basil Pearse also sold me sheathing, rafters, and the flooring.  I pried a few choice 24” pine boards out of the pile to floor our upstairs bedroom.  We are still here. Lincoln’s in Montana.  P1050104

I still remember what Pat Henin told me- “People who build small houses can afford to relax.”  I continue to be totally happy with our smaller house.  It is pure 1978 technology, and stays warm on 2 cords of wood a year.  The water is clean and steady from the 10’ deep dug well.  It’s easy to have a great vegetable garden, and this year I decided to start cutting and hauling my own firewood.

Small buildings are coming up out west, too.   I spent the night and resupplied in Dubois, Wyoming this summer on my thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail.

Ready to hitch back to the trail in Dubois

Ready to hitch back to the trail in Dubois

The town was first settled in the late 1800’s, more than 100 years after people were carving out an existence here on High Street in Lincolnville. Dubois is nestled in a valley between the Absaroka and Wind River mountain ranges. The Wind River meanders peacefully through town.

Look what they are doing in Dubois-  Frontier Tiny Homes !

Tie-Hack Fort

Tie-Hack Fort

I love it, and encourage any one who is thinking about a home to consider going small.

Marcia and I also have a tiny camp on Hobbs Pond nearby in Hope that she found advertised for sale in Uncle Henry’s.

Uncle Tom's cabin
Uncle Tom’s cabin

I think small houses are the best. Marcia is a big fan of tiny houses.

I have fantasies about cutting way back and living in our 328 square foot camp instead of this bigger house here.  Who knows what will happen?  It’s hopeful to live small.

Gulf Hagas Winter Walk

Overlooking Pleasant River

Overlooking Pleasant River

I’ve visited Gulf Hagas a few times over the years, the last time in 2007, as I was finishing up my thru- hike of the Appalachian Trail.  Back then, it was a warm day in September, and we took a whole day to detour off the AT to explore what many consider ” a wilderness setting unsurpassed in the 2,000 miles of the Appalchian”.  General Lee, Bird Dawg, Richard Wizard, Queso, Life Traveler,  and I showered under Screw Auger Falls at the beginning, and then soaked in a giant pool at the Head of the Gulf that day.   We were the only thru-hikers that month who took the day off to check out the gorge’s 100 foot high slate walls. Everyone’s rushing lately, even hikers taking five months off to walk in woods.

In January, it’s a completely different experience.  It was Bonelady’s day off from cooking meals at Little Lyford Camps and Lodge, so we were able to hike the 10.4 mile round trip together. We left at 9:30 am and were back by 2:30. Snowshoes were lashed to our day packs, but we never used them.  The rains and warm temps of the last week lowered the snow cover to about a foot.

Head of the Gulf

Head of the Gulf

The first two miles of trail were flat and hard-packed, due to the relatively easy access to the Head of the Gulf, where most of the LLC guests stop and return after viewing the winter watercourse of the West Branch of the Pleasant River.

Bonelady points out feature

Bonelady points out feature

The view today featured ice, and the roaring cascades of  unique, light brown-tinged water that is characteristic of the iron deposits within the bedrock here.  The canyon itself is three miles long, with a trail that ascends and descends a few hundred feet, mostly along the top of the cliff alongside the raging waters below. This is the third winter that Bonelady has worked at Little Lyford Camps and she said she’s never seen the water this high. This week, five inches of rain and unseasonably warm temperatures have released unimaginable amounts of water from the melting snow cover.

Close-up of Billings Falls

Close-up of Billings Falls

Billings Falls was most spectacular.  Massive sculpted mantles formed a horseshoe of greenish ice that reached twenty feet from the top down to open pool of frothy churn below.  No summer rafting here- due to the numerous waterfalls over the 600 foot drop in elevation along the watercourse.  You can here it briefly here:

I’m not sure one could get through here today without traction devices.

Standing above Screw Auger Falls

Standing above Screw Auger Falls

Long way down

Long way down

I wore a pair of Stabilicers and Bonelady was sporting her Kaltoonas. There were three steep, icy pitches on the walk where I was super careful not to fall. Thank God for vegetable handholds in the form of exposed roots and saplings.  On the way back, the firm cover had started to melt, welcoming us to post holing through to our shins, with no cuts or bruises.

By the time I made it back to LLC, I was seriously beat. This woman can move.  My right little toe was sore, but thankfully not blistered.  I am not used to walking this distance in LL Bean winter, rubber-soled boots.

I am staying in an empty bedroom in staff housing for the next two nights.  The building has been partly renovated this summer with a new wood stove and bathroom with flush toilet and hot water, heated by a Rinnai on-demand wall unit.

The rest of the day was laid back.  I took a hot shower, meditated for half an hour, and then hung out on the couch- reading, writing, and chatting with Bonelady.  After it got dark, we took a short walk onto the frozen surface to watch the full moon rise on one end of the pond, with Baker Mountain looming up on the other end. None better.

Then no rush getting over to supper of Alfredo pasta with chicken, broccoli, fresh bread sticks, and carrot cake for dessert.

The wood- fired sauna had been heating up all afternoon, so a couple of sweat sessions at 180 degrees made up the after dinner program.

I fought to stay awake unit 9 pm, when I trundled my way upstairs where I pulled back the curtains and threw open the window to let in the refreshingly cool night air.  A giant skylight hovered above me, flooding the full moon’s magic into the room.  Into the Silence I went.

Thanksgiving morning outdoors

My neighbor Andy and I now have a Thanksgiving tradition- an early morning bicycle ride of a couple of hours down and back through Lincolnville Center to Camden Hills State Park, where we have a few routes that we choose from. According to Andy, we did this same ride last year, when we went up Cameron Mountain and then down the back side to Youngstown Road. This time, I promised my wife I’d be ready to travel at 11 AM to my sister-in-law’s place for a family get-together, so we altered the route a bit and stuck to the multipurpose trail in the park.

Home to Camden Hills State Park and back

There are just two more days of deer hunting w/ rifle season, so I wore a high visibility vest and tied a hunter orange bandanna to the back of my helmet.
It was below freezing on the ground when we left at 8:45 AM, and there was some black ice on the pavement, so no brakes or quick turns for a while.
The following picture was taken on the “closed” Martin’s Corner gravel road. Andy told me that there was a snapping turtle that was living in this super-sized puddle this past summer, that once advanced on him as he was riding through there.

Andy Hazen and the Thanksgiving ice

I’m thankful today that I live here, surrounded by woods, rocks, hills, and ocean. I’m thankful I have a loving family, that I still have my health, and that I can walk right out my door on my bikes and ride, or walk to these incredible trails and hike.

Bubbas Bike Bradbury

It’s sometimes surprising to view a visual record of where I go on my bikes. This one is wild!

Squiggles on Bradbury Mountain State Park

I haven’t ridden this place in at least 10 years, and sure regret being away for so long. I so much miss riding in the woods right outside of my house these past three weeks. Deer hunting season lasts one more week, plus snow may come at anytime to dramatically change the riding patterns up here in Maine. Thankfully, deer hunting is outlawed on Sundays.  When I heard that there was a Sunday Bubba ride to Bradbury Mountain State park, outside of Freeport, ME I was in.  The ride from here is close to 4 hours of round trip travel, including stops for gas and coffee.  Sunset is now at 4:04 PM, so you gotta take advantage of any good day to be out and this was it- blue skies, no wind, but there was that 26 degree start to the day.

There were tons of people out on the trails today.  The parking lot was full. The riding is less technical than up here on Ragged and Pleasant Mountains, so you roll through the woods faster.  There are few sustained downhills, so you pedal more, and pedal faster.  I soon shed one of my three top layers, but needed the chemical toe warmers in my shoes to stay comfortable.  It maybe hit 40 today.  At the end of the ride, Rigger and Nate grilled up some brats and hot dogs, and Steve provided some chips for some needed calories that helped warm me up gain.

Bubbas in the Woods

We stuck to the trails on the “East Side”.  The following is some of the good information from the bikekinetics website :
General Description:  Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, ME is a popular, four season outdoor recreation and trail destination. The park is located in the Casco Bay region of southern Maine just 30 miles from Portland and Auburn-Lewiston, two of Maine’s largest urban centers and 5 miles north of Freeport, a town well-known for it’s outlet shopping bargains.   The forested, Bradbury Mountain with a summit scoured bald by glacier action during the last ice age, is the hub of Bradbury Mountain State Park. Rising to 469-ft above sea level, it may be considered more of a hill than a mountain, but mountain bikers from all over the northeast know that a mountain or park need not be huge in order to be a significant mountain biking mecca. This is certainly true of 800-acre Bradbury Mountain State Park, Maine’s first state park.

Over 18 miles of multi-use trails are shared by hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and cross country skiers. The trails radiate out from the mountain like spokes on a wheel and run over varied terrain to create excellent mountain biking options and endless trail connections for riders of all ability and skill levels.

The panoramic views of the Casco Bay coastal plain, opportunities to watch migrating hawks, eagles and osprey soar on thermal updrafts or view the rainbow colors of changing seasons on the landscape below, draw trail users of all types to the summit of Bradbury Mountain. By design, there are trails of varied lengths and difficulty levels to lead you there.

Several trails that climb the steep southern face of the mountain, like the Summit and South Ridge Trails are designated for hiking only. The challenging and technical multi-use Boundary Trail, popular with intermediate to advanced riders, climbs the north and west slopes. The Northern Loop Trail provides an easier path with a gradual climb up the east side of the mountain.

Park Facilities: include over 40 camping and RV sites, showers, sheltered and open picnic areas, restrooms, playground and ball field.

There is even a bike wash station located at the south end of the upper parking lot to clean your bike after your ride. How cool is that!

The Trails:   There are 18.8 miles of shared-use trails within Bradbury Mountain State Park. Of these, over 12 miles were designed especially for optimum mountain biking experiences. The well-marked and maintained trails vary from wide woods roads and doubletrack snowmobile trails to narrow singletrack trails.   The Maine Department of Conservation is currently working to expand the trail system by linking Bradbury State Park to contiguous and nearby conserved lands. This includes the development of a trail from the park’s northern boundary, across Tryon Mountain, across a Power Corridor to the Pineland Public Land Unit, a state-owned parcel of woodlands and agricultural fields with an existing three-mile trail network.

Route 9 bisects the Bradbury Mountain State Park north/south dividing Bradbury Mountain State Park into two distinct sections: East and West.
Bradbury Mountain East Side Trails

All of the trails on the east side of the park are open to mountain bikes. Trail intersections are marked by numbered wooden posts. This is where you’ll find most of the intermediate and beginner singletrack trails. The trails range from fast and flowy to tight and twisty with ups and downs, drops, bridges, and rocky, rooty sections. There is no real elevation gain in this half of the park. The trails mostly wind through old abandoned fields that have reverted to a mixed growth forest of paper birch, red maple, white pine and red oak over the last 40 to 50 years.

Snowmobile Trail: 1.5 miles. Easy
The wide, doubletrack snowmobile trail bisects the area north/south providing connections to other trails in the section allowing for any number of longer loop rides. This wide thoroughfare trail is perfect for beginners getting used to biking off pavement in the woods. There are a few steep grades, however.

Knight Woods Trail: 1.1 miles. Easy
Wide family-friendly biking with kids trail with slight grade. Several interpretive signs along the route provide trail users with a brief history of the area, forest and wildlife.

Fox East Trail: 1.4 miles and Fox West Trail (IMBA): 1.2 miles. Intermediate
Narrow, singletrack with sharp turns, bridges, long skinnies, up and downs, slick rocky and rooty sections and a few steep hills. Warm up on the Fox West Trail built by IMBA then tackle the fast Fox East which is the more challenging of the two trails.

Ginn Trail: 2.6 Miles. Intermediate
Narrow singletrack with a series of technical, rolling climbs, several bridges and skinnies.

Island Trail: 1.3 miles. Intermediate
Relatively new trail accessed from the Lanzo Trail consists of narrow singletrack with very sharp turns and a few bridges.

Lanzo Trail: 1.6 miles. Intermediate.
Fairly level, narrow and flowy singletrack lined with logs. While you will encounter rock, roots and a few sharp turns and bridges, there is nothing overly technical.

Ragan Trail: 0.7 miles. Intermediate
Narrow, rolling and flowy single track with obstacles that you can can opt to go around. This trail also features a challenging, high bridge for those who have no fear of heights and the confidence born of practice on less lofty obstacles.

When I hear about any more rides to Bradbury, I’m going.

Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England by Tom Wessels – Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists

I am so excited by this book…..

Read my review below.  Thanks to Philip Werner, Author of http://SectionHiker.com, outdoor writer, hiking guide, and educator for recommending it:

Goodreads | Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England by Tom Wessels – Review

Running Ragged

Runner at water stop

You never know how things might work out.

Yesterday, I volunteered to work a water station, placed just past the 4th of the 9 mile Ragged Mountain Runaround, a first year trail running race organized by Steve Wagoner, taking place at the Camden Snow Bowl. My friend Trevor Mills was also with me, handing out water and encouragement.

The day was as humid as you can get- 100%. I have rode the exact course many times, on a mountain bike, but have never actually hiked it. We had radio communication and were updated as to runner progress. We knew when the last runner had started to head down from the top of the mountain toward us, with three miles to get to us, on a long downhill.

She was the 31st runner to pass us at our post, roughly half way done. We would see all of these runners again after they completed the 3+ mile-long Five Brooks Trail, and loop through this intersection a second time, as they headed down the mountain to the finish line.

We had a long wait, maybe a one hour wait. The mosquitoes were active today.


I got the idea to leave Trevor to hand out water, catch up with back of the pack, and serve as a “sweep”, to help out any injured or exhausted runners as they labored back to the finish line. At first I hiked fast, but then realized that I’d have to run a bit if I were to reach anyone before they made it back to the water station.

The problem is that I am not a runner- I haven’t run for at least 20 years, with knees that have both had the cartilage removed way back when. I knew the trail, and basically loped along in jogging mode, shuffling quickly over wet roots, rocks and ledges when necessary. The sections of softer forest floor were comforting. I was soon completely drenched in sweat, but got into it, and was surprised at just how quickly I moved, realizing that I was actually sometimes faster over some sections than when riding a bicycle over the same terrain.

I caught the last runner just after Massey Falls, when I hung back enough to stay out of the guy’s sight line. The last runner that passed us had obviously passed him.

I made it back to Trevor and the water station after 3.5 miles where I had a long drink.

Cool! I had fun, and I understand these trail running folks better now.

Light box, Vitamin D, and caffeine!

Maine is a light deprivation chamber for most of a 24 hour period right now. Up to about 14 hours of darkness, so it’s difficult to get outside and walk.
This is a shot of my morning launch pad, taken at the breakfast table. Note the light box that Auntie Mame and I fire up each winter day to ward off depression. That, a double shot of espresso, and 50,000 units of vitamin D got me going this morning. I’m riding on an up and down ferry right now in the middle of Penobscot Bay headed out to work on Vinalhaven island. My morning commute is pretty decent!

Breakwater Hike

The most unique hike in the Midcoast Maine area is the one mile (Well, really 7/8 mile) granite path known as the Rockland Breakwater out to the light house at the end.

Ready, set, avoid the cracks.

The breakwater was completed in 1902, after an 11 year construction period.  It was manned until 1965, when it became automated. The city of Rockland acquired it from the Coast Guard in 1998. The light house keeper lived with his family in a house in Glen Cove or Rockland.  He either commuted to work in a boat, or walked the Breakwater.
I recently re-discovered the pleasures of this walk when I was at work in Rockland and in desperate need of an activity break. With just an hour to spare, I hopped in my car, and drove the short distance to the parking lot near the Samoset resort, where there were a half- dozen vehicles. It was easy to see the scattered array of people stretched out on the 1 mile long granite finger that goes waaay out into the Bay.
I went out at high tide. Still, I kept keep my feet dry by dodging puddles.  This  is  a thrilling walk which can leave you in several moods, depending on the clouds, wind, and outside temperature of both the air and water.

Old and new

This picture was taken just at the end.  To the left is an antique schooner, heading out into the Bay.  To the right is the Maine State Ferry that is completing its 70 minute trip from North Haven Island.
Next, I plan to see how long it takes me to walk the whole way out and back from the office.

A Real Day In Maine

Today rocked, because I spent time doing meaningful work. Translation= actual physical labor. Life for most of us in America is insular, removed from water, land, and sky. Today, I chose to bathe my actions in sunlight and meaning. In the morning, I used my $4 four-tray dehydrator to process several pounds of fresh chanterelle mushrooms, that my mother and I harvested from my friend Steve’s woodlot in Searsmont.

Pile 'o chanterelles

The fragrance of those heady, earthy life forms brought me back to the days when I was a boy, living with my parents and grandmother, when I would leave my room and wander through the kitchen upstairs where my grandmother had lines of sliced wild mushrooms dangling from threads of cotton in the dark warm cupboards. Tonight a hard frost is predicted, so next on my to-do list was to harvest any remaining vegetables that would be ruined by the cold. Most of what I picked were bell peppers, Ace variety, with those bright reds and mottled greens into a basket, next to the eggplants, zucchinis and tomatoes that were left amidst the weeds at this time of year.

Garden veggies

I was still aching for more of the outside that I could not clearly identify. Thus the hour and a half of moving and stacking firewood. I had bought two cords of mixed 24” and 16” lengths of oak, beech, and maple a month ago and have been moving the pile from where it was dumped up by the road to the woodshed, several hundred feet away.

Two cords or 9,000 pounds of wood

Normally, I crank up the little John Deere, hook up the trailer and shuffle back and forth, moving the stuff. Today, was different. I used my wheelbarrow instead, lifting lots of heavy loads, and then pushing and grunting my way up the little hill to the shed. Lately, I have been seeking genuine experiences with real work that include heavy lifting, pushing, pulling. What follows is the sweetness of genuine fatigue, the kind that makes sleep come easy and deep. I have also enjoyed cooking for myself, with my wife away for four days. For supper, I fried up a mess of the fresh peppers, onion, and a half pound of chourico, accompanied by a half a plate full of fresh tomatoes, topped with mayonnaise, salt and pepper.


Tomorrow is going to be a long day, and before I laid out on the couch for a while, I put into the crock pot the fixings for a roasted butternut squash soup, including kielbasa, yellow split peas, sage and marjoram. The squash was one of two dozen that my mother grew for me in Massachusetts. When I come home from my ferry ride to work on Vinalhaven tomorrow afternoon, the house should be filled with the aroma of real food, from real vegetables, produced by real hands, from the very real world.