Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Just 24 Hours—From Home Renovation Catastrophe to Restoration Kayaking

Last Saturday morning, Brian and I hopped in the Honda and headed for Maine. We were on a mission. We stopped in Portland to buy Timbor—a product designed to eradicate fungus from wood—a malady our little cottage in Maine is suffering.

We arrived in Waldoboro armed. We had our 25 pound bucket of Timbor, Tyvek suits, gloves, goggles, shovels, hoes, and hammers. We were ready—or so we thought. We thought that ripping the skirting off the master bedroom addition would be easy—accomplished in minutes. Then, we would spray the fungus with Timbor and let the crawspace breathe. Later, we would re-skirt the addition with inorganic material—and provide for appropriate ventilation and dehumidification.

The mosquitoes and deer flies followed us. The sun came out as soon as we were suited up, and in just minutes of trying to pry the lattice skirting off of its plywood backing, small but steady streams of sweat were rolling down my chest. My respirator, which I was wearing in case the fungus was harmful, slid around on my sweaty chin, and the flies buzzed around my head.

After the ever-requisite trip to Lowe’s and the acquisition of a new circular saw, two thirds of the skirting was removed; however, the undressing of the house revealed that several of the six by six support posts holding up the master bedroom addition were rotten. Large, wet splinters of wood stuck out from the supports that were in the worst shape, and a few probes with Brian’s pocketknife revealed that much of the neighboring wood was compromised as well. Mission curtailed.

Jacking up part of the house to replace the rotten supports is a relatively straightforward task for those with both time and experience. We had an insufficient quantity of both. Over Sunday morning breakfast at Morse’s, waves of worry made the tears rise in my eyes as I pictured the master bedroom addition falling off the house and crashing into a contorted heap. Brian wondered aloud about whether or not the addition could be replaced for the same cost as repair, and I sunk further into a home renovation depression.

We talked through the probabilities. The addition would probably not fall off the house—at least not immediately. If the addition did start to collapse, it would likely do so slowly—due to all of the additional structural support from the two layers of siding and other framing. To repair the supports, we would need help, but emergency services specializing in keeping your house from falling down are scarce—especially on Sundays.

Brian started to think that maybe we should just accept the situation as one that would not be solved this Father’s Day Sunday, and perhaps, we should just go kayaking instead and make calls for help on the house on Monday, when we would be more likely to find the assistance we needed. It was a compelling suggestion, but was it irresponsible? Even if we couldn’t fix the rotten supports today, wasn’t it my job as the homeowner to worry about it?

On the way home, I searched the lines of the old farmhouses and barns along the rural highway looking for signs of how houses collapse—trying to reassure myself that while ancient houses and barns typically do sag and sway—they do so slowly—over time. I tried to convince myself that my house would not fall apart, not all at once, not on this very Sunday.

After returning to the cottage and investigating further, we convinced ourselves that as bad as it looked, there was likely still sufficient structural integrity to keep the house intact until we could enlist some help. So, with that decision made and my worry shoved aside, the next question was “would we go kayaking”?

A stout breeze had come up since the previous afternoon’s thundershowers, so we walked down to the water to see if there were whitecaps in the cove. A green frog the size of Brian’s fist sat hunkered down in the grass at the top of the path to the beach, and taking pictures of him helped distract me from my woes.



The cove looked breezy—but not dangerous, yet we waffled on making the call. Finally, wanting to salvage something of our weekend, we decided to go. It would be worth hauling the kayaks down our neighbor Susan’s clearing with our new kayak wheels from L.L. Bean, and the stunningly beautiful day would be good for our sagging spirits. It seemed the right thing to do.

A few lingering flies and mosquitoes chased us from the put-in, but several short strokes out into the cove, and the breeze whisked them off—leaving us calm water, sun, and the sound of water dripping from our paddles. We moved along the shore near the Hemingway’s property to the west and waved to someone sitting out on the front porch steps of the next huge home near the water. As we rounded the rocky point, the wind howled up the river and turned the calm surface into chop in the shallow water. We dug our paddles in harder, and spray landed on my face and sunglasses and soaked my shorts and legs.

We had the tide on our side, but the wind was funneling down the river with amazing strength for a fair, sunny day. Our progress was slow, but little by little we moved along the shore, coming around one rocky point and then the next. At one point, the wind and waves were so fierce, Brian and I were both having trouble keeping our bows into the wind, and Brian asked if I wanted to continue.

The strange thing was that as lazy and unmotivated as I had been feeling lately—struggling to get myself into the gym—and mostly failing—I didn’t want to turn back. The desire to see what was around the next bend was the athletic motivation I’d been lacking. At the gym, there is no “around the bend” on the treadmill. The TV screen images may flicker and change, but the treadmill stays the same; the gym’s warehouse building stays the same—dingy and humid; there is no salt spray in the face; there is no battle to keep the bow pointed into the wind, and there is no excitement of discovery.

In the kayak, all of a sudden, I felt back in my element. I felt like an athletic, outdoor adventurer once again—where lately, I’ve felt like a city-dwelling, lazy pants. As we paddled toward the narrows of the Medomak River, I happily watched seagulls ride gusts of wind and watched the sea grasses near the shore vibrate and bend. Everything about me felt alive again. My mind wandered to essays I want to write, and the rhythm of my paddle strokes became soothing—a meditation of sorts. This river, where the waters from streams in Liberty and Appleton come together and become the estuary that leads out to Muscongus Bay, is undeniably beautiful and rich in wildlife. Paddling on this river is a joy that made the pain in my slightly injured elbow utterly bearable. It summoned my determination to keep paddling into the wind, and it realigned my priorities and expectations. So hopefully the little cottage can hang on a little longer; hopefully, with help, we can stave off catastrophe, and hopefully, the river will continue to restore us.

1 comment:

  1. Oy. Saggy little house, rotting wood, inexperience. What an adventure! And exciting even if daunting. Having restored a magnificent Victorian house, I hired a gifted man who spent several weeks just dropping in on me, bringing no tools. At last I asked him, "John, are you going to give me a proposal and maybe a start date?" He hemmed and hawed and finally told me he'd spent all this time visiting the site to be certain he would get along with me, since he knew what I did not: this was going to be a long term project. Three years later, and with a disatrously expensive time and materials plan, my house was a polished jewel and I had made a friend for a lifetime. Last year John, pushing seventy, fell off his ladder, struck his head and never woke again, then, finally, left us. I always suspected he was too embarrased. A master falling off his ladder would have mortified him.

    Thanks for leading me away from the daunting mess of mold to ride the water in a kayack.

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