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Rebirth and Renewal - Basement Framing

The bare basement awaits the framers
October 24th, 2006

The concrete basement walls and floor are completed. Now we must frame structural walls, inside the basement, before we can level the yard and backfill dirt against the outside foundation walls. After we backfill we will clear the front yard of burned trees and finish the driveway.

The insurance is not enough to pay for replacement of the house, garage and greenhouse so I must conserve my funds. All the buildings were destroyed by the fire and the land was devastated. Every tree was charred black and the vast majority were killed quickly by the intense flames. The question that I ponder continuously is "how can I transform this land and my new home back to the Garden of Eden it once was?". I look at majestic and inspiring buildings and ask "what makes this building beautiful?".

US Capitol
Is this building beautiful? Why?
US Supreme Court
What makes this a beautiful building?
October 24th, 2006
Rich discusses the framing with Justin and Aaron

Justin and Aaron, framers and excellent carpenters, start to apply their well honed skills to my basement in the clouds. Over the course of the next week they studded several interior walls, put redwood mud sills on top of the foundation walls, laid joists and installed sheeting for the first floor. Meanwhile I studied books devoted to Classical Architecture including volumes by Vitruvius and Andrea Palladio. I mulled over the ancient principles of symmetry, harmony and proportion and started to apply them to the design of my new home.

Rich lent me a home design computer program. I spent countless hours designing several basic layouts before honing in on one. My first big break came when I started to understand the differences between various architectural styles. Gothic, Neo-Classical, Victorian, Prairie, Adirondack, Modern, Post-Modern and a local favorite of tourists; Montana Rustic. I chose Classical because that style was started by the ancient Greeks who spent considerable time exploring the nature of beauty. Their monumental and enduring buildings reflected a passion for all things learned; an idea that I held dear also.

Basement Framing
Framing the basement
Emigrant Peak
Emigrant Peak and the Absaroka mountains
provide a beautiful twilight scene
Floor Joists
Mountain foothills rise above the first floor joists
October 25th, 2006

Aaron and Justin worked quickly in the cool mountain air. At the end of their second day the first floor joists were nailed securely in place. Next they would install the floor sheeting before returning the site to the excavation crew for a week.
The black, rubberized coating on the concrete foundation walls prevents moisture from seeping through. As a touch of Indian summer rolls past the snow melted and my yard turned to thick, gumbo mud.

Once I decided to follow a specific architectural style I had a framework for my home. Over the next several months I studied many books regarding classical architecture. I learned about pediments, columns, the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders and how they are applied to buildings. I learned about symmetry and ratios and how they relate to window and door sizes and placement. I applied each new piece of knowledge to my house design on the computer and then at the site. Aaron and Justin often looked perplexed when I talked about window ratios, door placements and house axis. They were accommodating though and integrated every idea into the framework of the house.

First floor deck and snow covered 10,900 foot Emigrant Peak
Sea of Studs
A sea of studs fills the basement
Mountain Sunrise
Sunrise over the Absaroka mountains in Emigrant, Montana
Front End Loader
Jack deftly maneuvers his front end loader
November 3rd, 2006

Jack and Norm from Mike Adkins Excavation came back on November 3rd. Their job was to grade and gravel the driveway, backfill the foundation, dig trenches for underground phone, electric and TV cables and create a front yard with a view. Jack deftly maneuvered his front end loader as easily as Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong leaned into a winding mountain road. Seemingly without effort, his loader and Norm's excavator tore into the soft, earthy hillside and created an almost perfectly level yard and driveway. They smoothed a wide spot for the future greenhouse and then moved on to digging utility trenches.

I mixed common sense with classical ideas of symmetry when I decided where to place the three buildings, my house, garage and greenhouse, on the 20 acre yard. The house was put where it had the best views of the Absaroka mountains and was most protected from winter winds. I then lined up the center axis of the house with the center axis of the front yard. Next I spaced the greenhouse and garage equi-distant from the center axis of the house and front yard. I also angled them so they both faced the house but were clearly subservient to the house. The house was placed on a rise; a device Andrea Palladio and ancient Greeks often employed. The house rose above ancillary buildings, dominated the landscape and appeared taller than its 30 foot roof would suggest.

Tamping the driveway
Norm packs the driveway entrance to the future garage
Backfilling Basement walls
Jack gently back fills the foundation walls
A cheerful rainbow greets me while I hike to my future home
November 7th, 2006

Acheerful rainbow greeted me while I hiked one mile up the mountain to my future home. I was surrounded by blackened skeletons of what once were centuries old Douglas Firs. A few survived but they may succumb to drought or beetles over the next year or two.

For a few hours every day I study classical architecture. The ancient Greeks and Romans knew how to design buildings that were intrinsically beautiful. I want to build a house that visitors will draw pleasure from simply by looking at it, like they once did when they walked amongst the tall green trees that surrounded my previous mountain home.

Front yard
Brush and dead trees burn in the front yard
November 7th, 2006

Jack and Norm pulled the dead, blackened trees from my front yard with the excavator and tossed them in the brush pile. Most were small and only a few years old before the Big Creek forest fire cut their life short. I thought we could plant a few fast growing trees around the front yard's perimeter next spring. Then I would like to build a formal, symmetrical garden with lots of flowers and perhaps a few statues of Greek or Roman gods. Perhaps Diana, the god of the hunt and protector of children could greet garden visitors. Gravel walkways would radiate from the center and be lined with hundreds of drought resistant flowers. A few inviting benches would offer breath taking views and a little serenity. Today's soot and destruction could be replaced with lovely flowers and inspiring vistas when spring blossoms next June, I mused.

A wide and smooth driveway also makes for a good fire break
A family of Mule Deer cross the new driveway
Water Cistern Fire Vault
An old 1,000 gallon cistern makes a solid, fire-proof vault

Memories of the tragic Big Creek fire are hard to shake. Jack buried an old concrete cistern underneath a basement window. It makes an ideal fire-proof vault for photographs, computers, papers, valuable books and other treasures that another fire might consume. The wide driveway circles the house to create a fire break and easy entry route for fire trucks. The future cement/stone siding and cement/shale roof will not burn even in a blast furnace. A large 1,700 gallon cistern is conveniently located by the garage so pumper trucks can easily tap into it.

Treasured books cover my coffee table
November 8th, 2006

Several people graciously donated used and new books to replace the 2,000 volumes in my library that were devoured by the forest fire. The gift of books brought comfort, happiness and a sense of security back into my life. I often sat for hours immersed in the pleasure of reading. The soft, worn pages felt comfortable in my hands. The scenes and ideas that leapt from the pages enticed and stimulated my mind. I felt secure with books around me. For me, a library is a place of companionship with authors, safety and discovery.

Mark and Carla donated cookbooks. Rick sent a childhood favorite Weekly Reader book while Jack sent books about architecture, politics and medicine. Barry mailed children's books along with several novels and text books. Rodd stopped by with a Greek History book. Julia gave a volume of Celtic Tales while Todd enclosed a few DH Lawrence titles. Greg donated books from his mountaineering collection and Andrew gave a wonderful novel about Japan. Perry mailed a beautiful book of photographs from Greece along with other thought provoking titles. Carol and Phil gave me a book I can read to children. George sent a book on philosophy and Dave enclosed a Hemingway classic. Many others donated books and one generous rider, Charles, sent a bicycle frame and a few components to replace the beloved Grandis I lost in the fire. Your outpouring of kindness is deeply appreciated. All your gifts are treasured and many have already been read. Thank-you all very much.

Simkins-Hallin Lumber Delivery
Simkins-Hallin Lumber Company delivers everywhere
1st Floor
Aaron and Justin start to frame the first floor
West Wall
A cold sunset settles over our first floor walls
November 10th, 2006

Afresh coat of snow covered the building site. As the appointed shoveler of snow I reported for duty just after sunrise or 7:30 in the morning. My breath turned to frost as I cleared the first floor deck and watched the cold sun slowly rise over the distant Absaroka mountains. Soon Aaron and Justin drove in and prepared for another day of carpentry amongst the snow covered peaks. 30 minutes later a Simkins-Hallin lumber delivery truck with chains on its tires rumbled up the steep and narrow road. I thought it was amazing that such a large and seemingly cumbersome truck, fully loaded with lumber, could traverse such a treacherous road with seeming ease. By days end the west side and part of the south side, first floor walls were framed. Everyone was cold and tired. We called it a day and headed down the mountain towards our respective homes.

Absaroka Mountain Sunrise
Sunrise, November 15th, 2006. Every sunrise is different...
America the beautiful...God shed his grace on thee
East Wall
Justin and Aaron secure the east wall
Firewood Cutting
Jerry and Jeremiah cut and collect
firewood for neighbors in Livingston

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