The Log Cabin: An Adventure in Self-Reliance, Individualism, and Cabin Building

The Log Cabin: An Adventure in Self-Reliance, Individualism, and Cabin Building

by Len McDougall



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The Log Cabin: An Adventure in Self-Reliance, Individualism, and Cabin Building by Len McDougall

Almost every man (women are saner) dreams, at least once in his life, of getting away from it all, deep into the woods, and going it alone. Expert tracker and woodsman Len McDougall shows us the way in THE LOG CABIN .
In the Spring of 2001, Len packed a grubstake and a couple of loads of handtools, and went deep into the North Woods. Using only the materials available on site and what he could carry in on foot, he pitched a tent to tide him over until the roof was up. Then he cut a few trees, built his own cabin, dug his own well, and lived a year in splendid isolation before returning to the hubbub and pleasures of Petoskey, Michigan. He had no phone, no electricity, no computer, no distractions of civilization--not even a radio (until he dragged in a car battery to power one). An inspiring narrative of self-reliance redolent with a rugged individualism that hasn't yet entirely vanished from the fabric of American life, suffused with a deep love for nature and its creatures, THE LOG CABIN is both the journal of that adventure and a great reference for building your own retreat.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781585744596
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 06/01/2003
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.34(w) x 9.24(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

LEN MCDOUGALL is a full-time outdoor writer and professional photographer and illustrator with more than thirty years' experience in the North Woods. He makes his living as a writer, wilderness guide, tester of outdoors products, and survival instructor. His companions include three full-blooded timber wolves, a team of sled dogs, and a friendly Rottweiler. He has also worked as a field guide and tracker. His books include The Field & Stream Wilderness Survival Handbook (2001), Practical Outdoor Projects (2001), The Outdoors Almanac (1999), The Complete Tracker (1997), Made for the Outdoors (1995), and Practical Outdoor Survival (1993).

A professional writer since 1983, his articles have been published in Backpacker, Field & Stream, Michigan Out-of-Doors, Michigan Sportsman, Michigan Natural Resources, Michigan Hunting & Fishing, Gun Digest, Fur-Fish-Game, Woods-N-Water News, American Survival Guide, The Traverse City Record-Eagle, Michigan Country Lines, and The Whitefish Eagle News. He lives in Paradise, Michigan.

Read an Excerpt

The Log Cabin

An Adventure in Self-Reliance, Individualism, and Cabin Building
By McDougall, Len

The Lyons Press

Copyright © 2003 McDougall, Len
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781585744596

Excerpt 1

I still needed to dig out the well. Being without it for a few days had showed me just how much I'd come to rely on this hole filled with water. Without it, the place really was nearly as intolerable as Jerod had described. It wasn't a job I was looking forward to, but comfort, if not survival, depended on having a permanent, readily accessible source of water.

I started in the morning. I was wearing sneakerlike Teva water shoes that were actually made for kayaking and rafting, but water is water, I figured. Besides, I didn't like getting wet, abrasive sand inside my boots, the way I had when I'd first dug the well. I lowered myself to the bottom of the 7-foot hole by placing my soles against one side, my shoulders against the other, and wriggling downward. I couldn't help a sharp intake of air through pursed lips when my feet hit the few inches of frigid water laying in the bottom. It wasn't going to feel better when that water was knee deep; I understood why the proverbial well-digger's ass was so cold.

I noted a stench of decay as soon as I'd lowered myself into the hole, and it became fouler as I dug, flinging shovelfuls of wet sand and rocks out of a hole that was already a foot taller than me. The source of the smell became apparent as I removed the upper layer of sand, tossing 3 drowned mice and a dozen bloatedfrogs out of the well. Drawn to the odor of fresh, clean water, the little animals had fallen into an inescapable pit, where they died of hypothermia and drowning. The well definitely needed a cover to prevent that from happening, and I made a mental note to get it done before winter.

I stopped digging when the well was 10 feet deep and smelled of clean earth. There was enough water in the bottom to make my feet numb, but I knew it would take a day or so for the bottom to refill with fresh water. I estimated the depth of that water would reach a minimum of 3 feet, and remain at that depth or more year-round. I got out of the well the same way I'd gotten in, only in reverse, and with a little more effort.

The well never again went dry, and for all but the driest months it had a full 4 feet of water in its bottom. I learned to empty it periodically by dropping a 5-gallon bucket with a rope attached to its handle to the bottom, dragging it up after it had filled, and dumping the water onto a slope that ran away from the well pit. It was hard, tedious work, but the bucket suctioned in any dead or living critters that had fallen in, and it proved surprisingly effective for removing all but a tiny puddle of water at the hole's center. When the well refilled a day later, it was with pure, cold springwater that was a pleasure to drink without filtering or boiling it.After four days the broken molar had begun to ache from its roots. The pain was tolerable with an assist from ibuprofen at bedtime, but then the gum began to swell. I continued to chew with the broken tooth, hoping to loosen it from its moorings, and kept it brushed clean, but after a week my entire jaw became swollen from an infection at the molar's roots.

Excerpt 2

Here's where it got a little scary for me. Having grown up under conditions that would be described as abusive today, I'd nearly died when I was 12 when an abscessed tooth had eaten clear through my lower jawbone on the right side. My parents, fearing only that they'd face explaining why their oldest kid had died of neglect, had finally driven me to what was then Little Traverse Hospital in Petoskey. I recall the doctor who took my temperature exclaiming "Jesus Christ!" when he looked at the reading of 107 degrees. A thousand milligrams of penicillin shot into my buttocks had me feeling good the next day, when the foul abscess drained through the bottom of my jaw. I came close to death that time, and I had no desire to repeat the experience in a wilderness setting.

Most critical, I figured, was preventing the abscess from being a closed infection. If pressure were allowed to build under the molar, the trapped sepsis might be forced into my bloodstream, where it would likely cause a systemic reaction with a debilitating and potentially fatal fever. If that happened, death would come slowly and almost certainly.

First I needed to localize the infection. I soaked a washcloth in boiling hot water, placed it into a zipper-lock bag, and wrapped them both inside a dry towel. Then I held the makeshift heat pack against my jaw, directly on top of the abscessed molar, where it created an artificial fever to bring the poison to a head at the gum, thus preventing the infection from getting into my bloodstream.

When the applied heat had caused a blister of sorts on the outside of my gum, making the skin there taut like the skin of a balloon, I took a large-gauge carpet needle from my sewing kit. With an index finger crooked into the side of my mouth to expose the gum, I felt around for the most swollen spot with the middle finger of my other hand, which held the needle pinched between thumb and forefinger. I didn't bother to sterilize the needle, because it couldn't have carried anything worse than the germs that were already there. Regrettably, I didn't have a mirror either, because that might have made the operation less hit-and-miss than it was.

Predictably, the most blistered spot was directly over a root, very close to my jawbone. That was good. I steeled myself for the pain, then shoved the carpet needle directly into that spot, perpendicular to the gum. Tears came to my eyes as I drove the needle inward until I felt the tip scrape solidly against a root. I wiggled the needle in a circular motion and felt the electric shock of a pus sac bursting from around its still living nerve, followed by an immediate relief as pressure was released from that sensitive area.

With thumb and forefinger, I squeezed the infected gum around the hole I'd lanced. I wiped away a copious amount of yellowish pus with tissue paper, reducing the size of the swelling considerably as I did so. When the tissue came away bloody, I figured the infection had been purged-for now at least. I hadn't solved the problem, but by lancing the gum I'd insured that the molar wouldn't become more than a painful distraction.

Now came the hard part. The abscess had killed the tooth, and the socket would keep infecting, trying to push it upward, as long as the molar was left in place. I had no choice but to pull it.

Oral surgery wasn't one of the contingencies I'd prepared for, so I didn't have much in the way of dental tools. I took the big lineman's pliers from my tool bag and wiped it clean with alcohol pads. I snapped its disinfected jaws open and closed a few times; I doubted a dentist would approve, but it would have to do.

By feel alone I managed to get the pliers jaws locked around the molar. Tooth material is hard, and the pliers slipped a couple of times before I got a grip strong enough to twist against. When I did get a solid lock, I rocked the molar back and forth with the steel jaws. The pain was almost blinding as I heard the cracking sounds of flesh tearing away from tooth. My vision narrowed to a black tunnel and bright spots danced in front of me as I channeled the energy of this powerful stimulus to rock the molar even harder.

It came free with a cracking sound, and I was holding the dead tooth before me, still gripped in the pliers jaws. The good news was that I'd extracted the roots completely on one side. The bad news was that the other 2 roots had broken off below the gum line. I rinsed my mouth with salt water and spat blood until the hemorrhaging stopped. With my tongue I could feel the remainder of the tooth still embedded just below the gum, where I couldn't get at it with tools.
The dead root wasn't a danger to my health, but it was a constant irritation. The gum tissue healed nicely around what was now essentially a foreign object, a sliver that was no longer part of my body. There was an occasional jolt of pain when I was chewing, and if I ignored the pain I'd awaken the next morning with the gum around it feeling tender and swollen. The root had to be extracted too.

With some trepidation of the unknown, I honed my Spyderco folding knife to shaving sharpness and prepared to perform oral surgery on myself. I laid the tip against the outer gum, directly over where the dead root lay trapped, and pushed the cutting edge inward through the soft tissue until it stopped against the harder root. I could only imagine what was happening as I operated by feel alone, but I felt the gum separate from around the embedded root. I used the knife to pry tissue away from tooth until the root lay exposed.

Then I went to work with the big lineman's pliers. Blood was flowing, causing me to spit bright red from time to time as I felt around for a grip with the pliers, but my endorphins were apparently working because the pain was negligible. When I felt the jaws close securely onto the broken root, I gripped the pliers handles firmly and twisted hard. A bright spot of pain formed in front of my vision as the root rocked free of my jaw, finally coming free in the jaws of my pliers.

Like an iceberg, the extracted root was larger than it had seemed from the surface, measuring roughly half an inch square by a quarter-inch thick. I rinsed my mouth with salt water to help stop the bleeding, glad to have that irritating chunk of bone removed, but a little concerned that the incision I'd made to get at it might not heal properly. A dentist would have stitched the severed gum together, but I doubted I could perform that operation by feel alone, so I left it to heal on its own.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. The incision and empty socket healed quickly and without secondary infection. I kept the damaged gum brushed regularly to keep out food particles and to toughen it, and in 2 weeks time I was healed enough to chew on that side.

Maybe I am masochistic, but I enjoyed the experience for the insight it gave me. I had a new empathy for a part of life that had been endured by all trappers of old, and by every animal unlucky enough to survive past its prime. I could imagine what an aging bear must go through as every tooth in its mouth progressively became the same problem I'd had with just one molar. I'd known from books that dental troubles become a real health issue in older animals, but now I understood why that was so from a personal perspective.


Excerpted from The Log Cabin by McDougall, Len Copyright © 2003 by McDougall, Len. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1Gearing Up to Leave3
2Leaving for the Woods: April 14, 200119
3The Monsoon Season39
4Coping with Critters57
5Heat, Humidity, and Bugs69
6Pete and Noki83
7Building a Fireplace97
8Deer Season113
9The Gales of December 2001125
10The Blizzard of 2001135
12April 2002159
13Saying Good-bye171
14New Adventures185

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