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To North House Folk School

by Tara

I was poking around on the internet about a week ago when I randomly discovered the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota. As I was paging through their tempting list of classes (stuff like birch bark weaving, black ash basketry and knife making) I stumbled upon a 9-day timber framing class. At this particular workshop, you could learn how to build a 10x16 foot structure, and then take it home with you.

When I told Tyler about the class, and how we could build the frame for our house—one we could easily haul to our woods in Vermont next spring—he was sold on the idea before I could finish explaining it. So, we began to mobilize. Over the next few days, we telephoned the gregarious staff at the folk school, who answered all of our many questions about the course. We even contacted the town clerk and zoning official in our hometown-to-be of Arlington, Vermont to see what sort of permitting we'd need for such a small structure.

As it turns out, without electricity or running water, we can permit it as a "camp" for about $40. They don't even care what we build, as long it it doesn't violate any setbacks (distances from the edge of the property line or specific features like septic systems). With that final bit of hopeful news, we decided to go for it!

On the day of our departure, just one week later, we headed north in a truck that Tyler's Dad kindly loaned us, hauling a trailer from his equally generous brother-in-law. Thanks, Tony and Paul! As we pulled on to the highway, we were buzzing with giddy excitement. With arms hung out of the windows and grins spread across our faces, we made a quick getaway from our daily routine of book-writing and programming, ready to embark on a new adventure: building our house!

Tyler Tara in the Rear View

The drive passed quickly. A mere five hours after we left, we arrived in Grand Marais, a picturesque town on the western shore of Lake Superior. After a short cruise along the main shoreline strip, past fish and chip shops, sail boats bobbing in the marina, and a cute little pie place, we headed to our campsite with the impression that we'd arrived in a midwestern version of maritime Maine!

Fishing Shack in Grand Marais, Minnesota

Our first order of business after staking a plot at the local municipal campsite was to visit the Folk School. Just a two minute walk from where we pitched our tent (talk about an easy commute!), we scoped out where we would be working for the next nine days. Inside the school shop, where they sell all manner of books and handcrafted items, we met the staff we'd been chatting with on the phone for the past week. Everyone was just as friendly in person, and they seemed to be as excited about the project as we were!

Welcome to North House Signs in Grand Marais, Minnesota

We also poked around the courtyard, where two assembled timber frames were already standing as examples of what previous classes had made. Settling in, we took a seat under a the smaller of the two skeleton-houses: a little 10x16 frame planted lakeside. Sheltered by the bare pine rafters and a metal roof, we dreamed aloud together, brainstorming about our future home, getting goosebumps as the empty walls around us filled in with imaginary straw bales, plastered and finished with white limewash.

After hanging out at North House, we whiled away the hot afternoon at camp, drinking ice cold homemade lemonade from the cooler, catching up on letter-writing, and reading our books about straw bale and timber frame building.

View From Our Tent

Later on, when the sun sank below the horizon and dark clouds rolled in over the water, we took another walk through town. How peaceful it was to meander slowly along the shoreline, watching the golden light from street lamps shimmering on the water, occasionally stopping to skip a few rocks. We capped off the evening with a short hike to a lighthouse, as flickers of lighting lit up the night sky.

Fence Rope in Grand Marais, Minnesota Grand Marais, Minnesota at Night Grand Marais, Minnesota at Night Lightning Strike on Lake Superior

Two weeks ago, we weren't sure how our homesteading project in Vermont would begin. Would we buy a trailer or live in a tent or build a log cabin, or what? Now, in just over a week, we're going to have the frame for a wee little straw bale cottage of our very own!