It seems like only yesterday: those exciting the first couple of months as landowners trying –– without success or joy –– to imagine staying in a tent at the Would-Be Farm.
Even for a few days at a time, it's just too much cooking and cold wind, early sunsets and muddy boots.
In the spring of 2014, we found a used camper at the back of an RV lot. We drove the 1985 Sportsman (so much orange plaid!) away for $800 bucks, hoping it would make the trip to my sister's lawn. A few solid days of rehab, a whitewashing, and voilá! a place to sleep, cook, and close the bathroom door.
Bringing the Sportsman over to the farm was like the first part of a buddhist koan for capitalists: If a camper breaks apart on the twisty road, how attached are we to this material item?
We were not tested. It held together even over those bumps and muddy ruts.
We docked the camper on a bluff overlooking the marshy stream, the old barn foundation, and the antique windmill. Base Camp.
It became almost immediately clear that Base Camp was by nature slightly too porous and fragile to stay intact in the North Country. The tin-foil roof leaked and some important wooden structure was spongy. We had visions of a foot or two of snow rendering Base Camp into a compacted oblong of foam and tin.
That autumn, we rustled up carpentry talent in the form of Jeff's brother John, my sister Sarah, and Sarah's friend Curt Dundon and had them put our muscle to work constructing a shed roof over Base Camp.
My sweet elderly Boston Terrier, Lilly, was there in her usual supervisory position. To this day, her ratty little footprints can be seen on the clear roof panels of the shed.
Over the years, we slept like neatly stacked logs in our small bed in Base Camp. We drank innumerable cups of scalding hot tea and watched the weather come up the valley from a drafty inside. We berthed houseguests under the dining banquet. We saw deer and coyotes and turkeys wander by.
Base camp grew more porous, though while mice found portals, raccoons did not.
Then came the morning when the thermometer outside read 28° F. The inside thermometer, likewise, read 28 big degrees Fahrenheit. From my cozy nest of wool and goosedown, I said to my favorite skipper, "I don't know what else it's going to be, but the cabin starts with a wood stove."
We finished the interior of the cabin during that first plague summer of 2020, channeling anxiety into planks and nails and paint.
Through 2021, we kept Base Camp intact for houseguests, but perhaps we revealed her mousy shortcomings a bit too liberally; only one set of visitors moved in for a weekend. Other guests made themselves comfy on the expanded level parking area with access to shore-power.
In any case, April of 2022 was time to play taps and send Base Camp along her dharmic way.
We unbuilt the shed a little, which is to say, Jeff defied gravity and removed beams as well as yanking the A/C unit off the top of the camper and then, once the camper cleared the beams, replacing the beams AND the A/C.
Not thinking, I charged into the camper to retrieve the fire-extinguisher and a box of potting gear while he was tap-dancing on the roof. One could nearly see the imprint of his boot in the vinyl-covered ceiling.
We dug a pair of trenches for the wheels –– to keep the profile low, and ended up deflating the rear pair of tires (stale air!). The fact that all four tires held air is remarkable; the tires had to be 20 years old, and the porcupines failed to nibble on them.
We first tugged and then pushed with the tractor and astonishingly enough, Base Camp submitted to being heaved onto the driveway.
The next morning, hitching the truck up, we relived the koan: what if the hubs seize up or an axel gives out? what if the trailer's back breaks or the hitch lets go and Base Camp goes sailing into a ditch?
"It's just as easy to call for a tow truck from the side of the road as it is to get them to find us here," we consoled ourselves.
Our better helmsman took the wheel and, sticking to backroads and driving 45 (sorry speedy little car! sorry guy! sorry big pickup! sorry beat-up Suburu! sorry to you too!) we winced over potholes and gritted our teeth when the suspension rattled. And in about 30 minutes, the truck eased Base Camp into the muddy parking lot of the one salvage yard that scraps campers.
I felt a pang, seeing Base Camp among the wrecks, but that big wheel of dharma will keep turning.
So let us charge our glasses and offer a toast to Base Camp: the best $800 house of all time. This may –– or may not –– be your final resting ground. I suspect you have another season of shelter for humans as well as small rodents in your diminutive chassis. Hail Base Camp! Fair winds to ye!
As for the shed, we have plans to transform it into a barn over the summer. A red one, as befits a farm.
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