The Christmas Shed

We showed up ready for business: nail gun, level, saw, tool belts… Ash had told her parents we’d build them a shed for their Christmas present. So we drove down to Texas from our little home in Colorado with that in mind. After two days I can only say, what an awesome experience. I can’t think of a better Christmas present.
On the first day, after we’d been at work for a bit, this old guy comes over with his wife to see what’s going on. He sort of sidles up to the edge of the piers we’ve set, just as we’re starting to mix the concrete. “Looks like it’s decision time or something,” he fairly hollers. He must be 75 or 80. Burly. Shakes my hand and it’s like grabbing a tree branch. “I run by the name-a Hoss,” he says. Jerks a thumb over his shoulder: “And that’s my wife – she runs by the name-a Elaine.”   Run by the name-a. I have never heard that before. Sounds like some kind of old-school motorcycle talk. He is Mr. Bergeron, and he has a wood shop up the street where he makes, among other things, elaborate cutting boards from scrap wood. This is Wimberley, Texas, where the bumper stickers says “Oops” with the same O’s from Obama’s hope sticker. The Blanco River flows through Ash’s parents’ back yard. Pecan trees tower above, their dark branches like cracks in the moonlit sky.   We’ve brought the dogs. I’m so happy to have every day to spend with them instead of feeling like I’ve ditched them again, like I do every day to go to work. We’ve slept in the truck together every night, but Ash is eager for a real bed tonight so I might relinquish. The house is great and the bedroom’s comfortable.   But to be honest, I’d prefer to be packed into the bed of the truck with 150 pounds of dog, covered in sawdust, breathing the cool river air. Like the old guy said, it’s decision time.

The site when we started. Hardest part was cutting down the little tree in the middle. 

Working the concrete with Ash’s dad. Man, I look thick. What happened?
This is where we got by the end of day one. Frame built, piers poured, everything level.

There’s something about driving across state lines with a level you know you’ll use on the other side. I feel like I should have bought an old gun rack to hold it, like the old timers did in North Carolina. (A lot of them had an old cane on the second rung.)

Tuffcakes the helper.

A better shot of my helper.

And Ash’s dad, who helped pretty tirelessly as well.

Morning of the second day — overcast and rainy. But the concrete was dry(ish.)

Cut the rafters and got ‘em up in under an hour. So cool. My first roof.

End of the second day.

And the finished product.

The Shed

“The man who works recognizes his own product in a world that has actually been transformed by his work: he recognizes himself in it, he sees in it his own human reality. In it he discovers and reveals to others the objective reality of his humanity, of the originally abstract and purely subjective idea he has of himself.” — Alexandre Kojeve
The whole ass-whipping of putting The Shed together diffused the pain of losing Estes, abandoning self-employment, selling away all the work we did on the house. For months after the move I prided myself on not killing a single house plant, not to mention the dogs or my wife. We all made it down, every last sentient friggin’ one of us. But it wasn’t enough.

I’d stood on the scaffolding when we remodeled the Estes house and ran my fingers across fascia dimpled by wind-driven hail—maybe the first hands to touch it since a crew hammered it up in ’73. I’d cut holes in its hide and filled them with new windows, replaced shingles driven off by winter wind, sanded 30 years of crap-brown paint off its ancient redwood deck.

I hugged it the day we left, an awkward embrace of its southeast corner, and apologized.

It took two solid years to make beauty from the randomness we bought into down here. Who would have thought 360 square feet of dirt and cinder block would be the foundation of a wonderful new relationship with my parents and wife? (And even with the damn dogs, who seemed to discover something new in themselves in the Shed’s grassy plot.)

I remember visiting Boulder more than a decade ago. I visited a friend, and in her rental there was a screen door. Someone had screwed a piece of one-by-six pine across the screen right where everyone pushes, so instead of ramming a hand through the screen you’d hit the board, which was rounded on it’s edges and polished by the grime of hundreds of renters’ hands.

I pushed the door open and let it shut several times. It was a clear, August day, and sunlight glinted off the nails in the board. Wind chimes tinkled in the dry morning air—a delicious change from Virginia in August.

The Flatirons rose silent and red above town, and the bustle of college students on the way to class made the streets feel lazy but alive. It was a morning for brunch, Frisbee, and feeling unfamiliar bricks underfoot. I marveled at the door. Such a simple, considered repair. So opposite the disrepair of life back then.

The catharsis of building is in nurturing an old, dying thing back to its once-proud self. What’s already there isn’t lost or discarded but, through art and effort, made whole. The soul of it is resurrection. Which is why our little creation is still called The Shed.

Someone asked this summer why I put so much work into it. I think I mumbled something about penance. Funny thing is, I loved every minute of it. 

How we found it in March of 2008. Thirty cubic yards of trash inside — 15 years of the previous owners’ cast offs, presided over by one angry pack rat (whom we spared in the razing / clean-up.)

Our neighbor Hans dug the water line. Here in cold-ass Colorado water lines sit at around 6 feet. even with a backhoe there’s a lot of hand digging to do. like under that footer you can see at upper left of the shot. The “dirt” is actually granite.

We had to demo a wall inside. It was only about five feet high, but all cinder block and every hole of the block filled with poured concrete. The pile weighed two tons. They told me so at the dump.

Momma firin’ up the hammer. My God she’s strong.

Hired out the slab. Did the framing myself with a little help from a yahoo who drove up from the plains.

Bay window — funnest part of the project. And to think I didn’t want to do it at first! Mom pushed it. Wife designed it. Turned out so cool. Can’t even imagine the place without it.

Looking slick now. This was before we blew the cellulose in.

Ash did the landscaping. I hadn’t even considered it. Without women the world would be really… functional. But not so pretty.

Patio looks flat. But it’s not. Still more than comfortable — it’s just that grading a piece of ground to accept stone is like doing math with your biceps.