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The Phenomenon Of “Shacking Up”

What is it about guys and shacking up? I’m not talking about co-habitating with some bikini-clad kitten who thinks you’re a god (boy, if I had a nickel for every time that happened, gosh, I’d have about three cents). No, I’m talking about the phenomenon of the male species, at various stages of life, who shack up by going out from a comfortable, well-appointed home to build some sort of a makeshift lean-to, often within a good supper-yell of the well-appointed home, who then take great pride in the rustic structure even if they have to sit in there on a hard plank in the cold and the dark. It is some kind of sublime suffering.

Speaking from my own experience, some of these “dwellings” are lacking in such structural soundness and comfort that if you made a dog live there PETA would be protesting on your front door the next day.

But give a boy or man a board, hammer and saw and a good sturdy tree to anchor against and they can create a magical kingdom that, at least in their minds, rivals Windsor Castle.

What’s got me on this thinking is a recent photo I received from young friends Bryce and Josh, aged 16 and 17 respectively, who have been building a log cabin on property near their B.C. homes for three years. I’ve never been there, but it looks and sounds exquisite — four walls, a tarp on the roof, smoke coming out the chimney, bunk beds and a table. It must be Heaven on Earth, because an image of this particular shack was enough to wake Bryce from a coma after an incident with an ATV earlier this year. Oh, yes, these shacks are special.

THESE ARE THE SHACKS I HAVE KNOWN

The photo brought me back to the shacks in my own life. After outgrowing the novelty of a canvas pup tent in the back yard, I remember as a kid at different times having two shacks on the farm in Ontario. The first, I believe I built myself. It really was a shack. I took cull boards off the board pile — a geographically defined collection of lumber that was in the yard as long as I can remember and is probably still there — scrounged some nails, hammer and saw and set to work in a corner of the farm yard where three maple trees lent themselves for shack building. The upright for the fourth corner took some thinking.

I’m guessing this thing was five feet by seven feet and maybe five feet tall. It had a flat roof, and windows weren’t necessary since there were so many gaps in the boards there was little structure to impair my vision. I built two bunk beds on one end in case company showed up, and it had a sloppy, wooden door, attached by leather strap hinges. I served tea at 3 p.m. sharp, daily.

I don’t think I slept in that one much, if at all. It wasn’t rain-proof and it was scary. There were a lot of wolverines in the area that year snatching children, if I recall correctly.

With the second project, my cousin Brock, who lived in Montreal and came to farm for summer visits, helped with the development. Our high expectations were to refurbish the colony house — the old abandoned chicken coop — as a summer place. Now, this was a deluxe cabin. Four walls, a shingled roof, floor, three windows and a working door. Move over Graceland! Well it would be deluxe as soon as we got several centuries worth of petrified chicken poop off the floor. Carbon dating later proved they had indeed used this structure to rear pterodactyl chicks, which was also about the last time it had been cleaned.

I remember sweating our collective asses off on hot, Ontariohumid August days trying to get that place clean. Shovel, scrape, sweep and wash with bleach borrowed from the milk house. We didn’t paint in order to preserve the rustic charm. I’m sure we found some type of bed and dragged in a couple old wooden kitchen chairs for added comfort. It was a very good project — a real labour of love, a wonderful place to sit and sweat during summer days. Dad helped by using the front-end loader to lift the old coop onto skids and drag it to a spot in the yard about 30 feet from the house. We probably slept there a few nights. Soon enough it was time for Brock to go back to Montreal, and fearing another wolverine outbreak I didn’t sleep there at night alone.

Many years later, my brother Mark and his friend Lenny built a hunting cabin in the cedar bush north of the barn. It was probably a good seven minute walk from the main farm house. My brother was probably in his 50s when he started this project, so with good planning and resources, the place actually looked like a cabin. I know he and Lenny spent many hours not only building but enjoying the cabin. They’d start the wood stove, play cards, eat stew for lunch, and I’m sure carried out a lot of R &D for Seagrams in that cabin— at least the “R” part.

And I have helped my buddy Mike work on three cabin projects in southern Alberta over the past 15 years or so. Two were old log buildings that he moved to or reassembled on his property that remained pretty rustic with no power or water, but the last is quite a nice log house. It has electricity, comfortable beds, couches, a full kitchen and bathrooms. Very attractive. Yes, it does have satellite TV, but for a long time we had to go without wireless Internet. Talk about roughing it! Even though he has a very nice home nearby, when I do visit, we still have to decide which cabin we will sleep in that night. Not much of a discussion these days.

These might be the only shack-building projects ever recorded, but I think there are many young and old hearts with shack stories to be told. Why is a mystery, but it probably has something to do with Neanderthal Man and friend Thag becoming giddy when they found their own rock to sleep under, across the mammoth trail from the main tribe cave. It wasn’t everything, but it was all theirs, and as long as they had good sharp sticks handy, they were safe from wolverines.

LeeHartisafieldeditorforGrainewsin Calgary,Contacthimat403-592-1964orby emailat [email protected]

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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