When I was a teenager, my Dad restored/rebuilt a dilapidated farmhouse in rural Minnesota. Like Tara and I, he'd never done anything of the sort when he started. I remember coming along to lend a hand a few times, but mostly, I was too busy being a rebellious teenager to appreciate all the things I could have learned by working with him.
My most vivid memory of the project is the early demolition. Working in a cloud of dust, I funneled my teenage angst into the work, sending wood lath and plaster shrapnel flying with a sledge hammer I could barely heft. When it was all said and done, we heaped the debris into a massive mound next to the house. The pile was nearly as big as the cottage Tara and I are building now.
I don't remember if my Dad got a burning permit to get rid of it, but even if he did, the inferno we started in the front yard was anything but permissible. The blaze was so hot it melted the paint (siding?) on the house over fifty feet away. The howling vortex of flame belching from that mountain of hundred-year-old-wood was both terrifying and awesome to behold. It would be a decade before I'd see anything the likes of it again, photographing a brush fire on the border of Kazakhstan and Russia.
For years, I never had much appreciation for what my Dad built. These days, I look upon that time through a new lens of understanding, and I'm humbled by what I see. Through my own experience, I finally understand the grit and determination it must've taken to realize his dream. Building a home to stand the test of time is anything but easy.
This week, my Dad took a two day detour on his way home from a business trip in New York to see our homestead for the first time. Because the visit was going to be so short, he wanted to stay on the land with us. We don't have a dedicated space for guests yet, so we cleaned up the camper and pitched a tent next to it for us to sleep in during his stay.
To be honest, even though I really wanted him to see our homestead, I was apprehensive about the visit. I'm putting it mildly when I say that we've had our fair share of heated disagreements over the years. Before this, I can't remember the last time we spent more than a few hours together at a stretch.
Happily, my worrying was needless. Having him with us was an absolute joy. After a tour of the land, we spent the bulk of our time working together on our homestead. We finished both nights listening to wildlife and watching the stars together around a campfire.
During the day, we worked on the electrical situation in the solar shed and cottage. I've been putting off the final connections ever since Tara and I finished trenching a power line between the two buildings. It took several trips to town to get all the required parts. During the drives, we commiserated about building things for the first time—no matter how much you plan, it's practically impossible to get all the right bits and pieces on the first try!
By the end of the second day, we had working power in the house!
A few days after Dad left, he sent this email:
Being at your place, and reading your blog tonight (Tara's meltdown) brought back a flood of memories…
Doing the house with Gabe at three years old and Vivian one was a long, unending exercise in mental gymnastics. From this old house to this new house… I guess maybe crazy runs in the family.
You guys have no idea how hard it is to do what you are doing. Then again maybe you do. But like anything… when you don't know what to do… KEEP DOING SOMETHING!
As a side note: I can point out all the hundreds of imperfections in my house… BUT I have yet to have one person in 12 years point out even one of them. Don't sweat the little things, keep your eyes on the end goal.
Thank you so much for your help, Dad. I love you! Come back soon <3
Tara's note: This is one of my favorite photo of Tyler, ever. I think he and his dad look like little boys playing together.