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The living room spreads out of doors

Self Portrait
Nature helps with perspective
August 8th, 2008

On the eighth day of the eight month of the eighth year of the new millennium I headed to familiar fields and forests to gain a fresh perspective on my journey since the devastating Big Creek forest fire of July 30th, 2006. It seemed like almost everyone had lost interest in my house rebuilding project. Kim and Shane were "burned out" from working inside the house all winter and spring. Their time tolerance is about 9 months. Then they must have a change of scenery and move on to a new job. Chuck finished some of the outdoor dirt work and then packed up his family and moved to Alaska. In early July Rich took his tool trailer with Kim and Shane in tow and moved on to finish five jobs that he accepted after agreeing to build my house.

I hiked along the Gardner river and into the lower reaches of Mount Everett. The day was bright, sunny and warm. Around noon I ate lunch on the river bank and searched for wild raspberries. I napped in the shade of a few tall fir trees and then explored one of Mount Everett's flanks. As the sun dipped lower in the western sky I descended the mountain and followed the Gardner river back to my Jeep. My day in familiar meadows and forests helped to place my problems in perspective. A search for solutions was the next step.

Grassy mountain meadow
A peaceful mountain meadow in Wyoming
Gardner River Wyoming
Along the banks of the Gardner river in Wyoming
Ebony Library Shelves
Staining library shelves in the garage workshop

Idesigned the house and took responsibility for procuring much of the finishing and trim material. I worked in the yard extensively but did very little carpentry. That was about to change. My first project was sanding and finishing shelves for the library book cases. I studied various methods, picked up materials at Walmart and went to work in the garage paint shop. For an hour or so every weekday morning I sanded, stained, clear coated, sanded again and clear coated again both sides and all the edges of my shelves. I learned a great deal about staining and was a step closer to solving my problem.

In the afternoons I surveyed my yard and thought about how I wanted it to look. What kind of lawn did I want and where should it go? What barriers could I use to separate outdoor rooms? Where did I want to place walkways and how could they be used to enhance the experiences of visitors? I pondered these questions and many more in the early days of August.

Icelandic Poppy
A beautiful orange Icelandic poppy
gently flutters in the afternoon breeze
Forest Fire Sunset Smoke
Smoke from a forest fire in Idaho
turns the evening sky red and grey
Garden Walkway Construction
Gravel Walkway Construction
August 19th, 2008

Rich suggested that I try one of his subcontractors to get the landscaping done. The crew started on a gravel walkway that went along the lower driveway garden wall. They had other jobs and the work on my place was sporadic. A few days later their mini-excavator broke a track in the front yard. Work halted and the excavator sat idle for many days while a new track was ordered. Most of the crew were school teachers and soon left as Labor Day was almost here. At the end of August I had a broken mini-excavator in the front yard, one gravel walkway done, one set of stairs and a bill I was not happy with. The solution was at my fingertips but I still could not see it.

Bobcat Mini-Excavator
Three men and a Bobcat mini-excavator work
on a section of the gravel walkways
Broken Bobcat Track
A broken Bobcat sits in my front yard
Concrete Truck and Conservatory
A concrete truck fills the forms for the
thermal pool in the conservatory
August 22nd, 2008

Darrel previously laid the forms for the concrete thermal pool in the conservatory. In mid August Darrel graded and laid forms for the sidewalks and fire break around the house foundation perimeter. Today he brought his crew; his oldest son Eric and his wife to pour and finish fresh concrete. Just before 8 AM a huge concrete truck pulled up to the conservatory. Within a few minutes several tons of concrete was poured. The oversized truck then pulled into the back yard to pour sidewalks on the east side of the house. The north and west sides were followed and by 9 AM the truck was on its way back to Livingston. All of the concrete work went surprisingly quick and smoothly.

Concrete Sidewalk Work
Smoothing and finishing the fresh concrete sidewalks
Pouring Concrete Sidewalks
Pouring concrete for the house perimeter
sidewalks and firebreak
Rich Spallone
Rich Spallone at work in his office
August 28th, 2008

Rich asked me to build a web site for him in July. I started the process by securing a domain name and space for his business, R & B Builders. Then I came up with a framework for his site, reviewed it with him and made changes. By late August we were ready to shoot photos and assemble the site. Rich invited me to photograph several houses under construction and a few completed ones. We took photos over several days. Then I edited photos, created copy and posted new pages. By the end of September we launched his site and listed it with every major search engine. Visitors from around the world have stopped by and admired the quality workmanship, attention to detail and custom carpentry that Rich has built his business around.

Visit the R & B Builders at randbbuildersmontana.com/ by clicking on the underlined text.

R & B Builders Home
A beautiful custom home nestled
in the Gallitan mountain foothills
Home in Paradise Valley
R & B Builders constructed this lovely rustic home
that overlooks Paradise Valley in Montana
Beaver Ponds Trail
A late summer hike around the Beaver Ponds
in Yellowstone National Park
August 30th, 2008

Summer was rapidly ending and I was growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress on my home. I headed off to the woods for relaxation and inspiration. Today I hiked over the Beaver Pond trail in Yellowstone National Park. The path starts at Mammoth Hot Springs, quickly ascends a few steep foothills and then glides around and over smaller hills and through gently sloped canyons. I saw several beautiful ponds left behind by the last glaciers and populated by ducks, fish and of course, beavers.

I thought about my upcoming college classes and what I might choose this semester at MSU in Bozeman. I pondered the problem of my incomplete house project and wondered what I could do. I thought about Rich's web site and wondered how I could finish it while still going to school and working around the house. No answers came to mind but I felt better after the long and pleasant hike.

Mount Everet and a glacial kettlehole
Mount Everets rises behind a glacial kettle hole
pond on the Beaver Ponds trail
W A Hall building in Gardiner, Montana
The original roof of the W A Hall building in Gardiner
is exposed during the remodeling process
MSU Book Store
A busy and crowded MSU book store
September 2nd, 2008

The first day of college for the fall semester. This is my second year as a non-degree graduate student. I chose a course concerning the history of technology. The professor started by talking about victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki without mentioning the Bataan Death March ,American casualties or how the war started. I got an uneasy feeling and thought about finding another class. I headed to the book store and looked at the reading lists for several more courses. Maybe one on the Civil War I mused? Two books on slavery, one on women who lost their husbands, one on people who died during the war and another about the horrors of war in letters from the front. I could not find anything about Lincoln, Grant, Sherman and other great men that shaped that era. Maybe a course on the Revolutionary war? No, the reading list was strikingly similar to the Civil War course. Finally I settled upon a Greek Art and Architecture course. I reasoned that ancient history would be less likely to follow the precepts of political correctness and revisionism than other history courses.

On the way home from school I stopped and shot photos of several new houses Rich was building. In the evening I often spent two to three hours working on his site. Since I only had classes on Tuesday and Thursday I devoted time on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday to his site and house work.

R & B Builders Home
A lovely R & B Builders home rests on the bank of the
Yellowstone river just south of Livingston
Home and Pond
R & B Builders created this riverfront home which
draws heat and cooling from a man-made pond
Artist Joe Fay
Joe Fay artistically paints the carriage
doors in the conservatory
September 8th, 2008

Joe Fay stopped by in the middle of August to touch up trim and get the garage ready for winter. He artfully painted the roll up doors on the garage and in the back of the conservatory. Next spring I will add hammered iron hinges, lion's heads and pull handles to complete the illusion of swinging carriage house doors.

On September 29th, 2008 the conservatory roof finally received its last tiles. The first tiles were installed almost one year ago in December 2007. I thought that a year was a long time to complete a small job like tiling a roof. That delay was typical of the time lag for many jobs within the overall house rebuilding project during the past 18 months. The roof still needed copper flashing against the glass panels. Sean of Western Glass stopped by in September to measure the roof. He agreed to cut and bend the flashing. However, despite repeated requests, Sean was so busy that June of 2009 is the most likely installation date.

Visit Joe Fay's web site at joefaysart.com by clicking on the underlined text.

Bondo Work
Joe smoothes concrete panel seams with Bondo
Vande Hey Roof Tile
Almost one year later the conservatory
roof receives its last tile
Tim Brockett
Tim Brockett cuts timbers for the
east side gravel walkway
September 20th, 2008

Frustrated by the slow progress on the house project I decided to employ myself. I was not a professional carpenter, landscaper or even an architect. But I built a log cabin once and lived in it for 10 years. I also designed my newest house and knew what I wanted for a yard and garden. So I rolled up my sleeves, educated myself, bought some tools on eBay and set about designing and building gravel walkways, creating a lawn and installing a 30 foot flag pole.

I chose to exclusively use hand tools for they offered the most benefits in terms of economy and personal health. I also wished to dispel the notion that professional quality work can only be achieved with expensive power tools. You can judge whether that effort succeeded or not. In between toiling on Rich's web site and schoolwork I squeezed in a few hours of carpentry and landscaping three to four days a week. The most difficult chore was swinging a pick axe to break up the soil that was severely compacted by 50,000 pound concrete trucks, a 10,000 pound skid steer and multi-ton man lift. In four short weeks I completed a gravel walkway along the east side of the house, tilled, graded, fertilized and seeded lawns that surrounded the house and installed a 3 foot deep, concrete and steel base for the 30 foot flag pole.

Bolting Timbers by hand
Tim uses an antique brace and bit to drill and
bolt 6 by 6 inch garden walkway timbers
Garage Tyvek Wrap
The sweet feeling of accomplishment...A garden
walkway and graded lawn are close to completion
Mountain Garden Walkway
The east side lawn and tiered garden edge walkway
Tiered Gardens
The back yard before grading and after
the flag pole base was installed
Paradise Valley Mountain Sunset
The sun sets over the front yard, Paradise Valley, Yellowstone River and the distant Absaroka mountains

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