From Forest to Frame is the latest in a series of courses
that Vermont Family Forests has offered since 2011 through its
Hogback Community College (HCC) program, a loose but lively
confederation of local teachers and learners.
On the first day of the course, a month before the final frame-raising, McNerney and the other students gathered in Brynn’s
sugarhouse, where Brynn led a conversation about ecologically
sustainable forestry and the nature of our relationship with the forest.
“As Aldo Leopold said, the health of the forest is its capacity
for self-renewal,” said Brynn. “So we first talked about some of
the elements we wanted to be sure to maintain while building our
forest hut – native biodiversity, water quality, soil structure, plenty
of carbon left to rot on the forest floor.”
Brynn then took the students to the Waterworks property, where
he had marked the trees that would become the forest hut. “We
went from principles and ideals into real application,” he said. “We
came upon the first two trees – a hemlock and a very crooked sugar
maple – and the students got to know these two living organisms
that had been standing in the forest for, in the case of the hemlock,
over a hundred years.”
Brynn and the students discussed how to fell the trees to mini-
mize residual damage. “And we talked about what parts of the trees
we’d take for the timber frame, and what we’d leave in the forest to
restore forest soils,” said Brynn.
In all, the timber frame used eight trees from six species well
represented in that forest – white and red pine, red oak, sugar maple,
white oak, and hemlock. Logger Paul Cate felled the trees and hauled
the logs to a landing using a light-on-the-soil forwarder. Miles
Jenness milled the timbers on site, with the exception of a red pine
log set aside for the students to hand-hew later.
In the second of the course’s three meeting days, the students
gathered at Gusakov’s workshop in Lincoln, just a few miles from
the Waterworks property. Gusakov explained the basic methods
of timber framing and demonstrated how to create mortise-and-tenon joinery.
Under his guidance, students practiced the art of hewing a pine
log with an axe and carving wooden pegs, or trunnels, from white
oak with a drawknife and a shaving horse.
The final day of the course – the day all the pieces came together
– dawned with a steady rain. The challenging conditions enhanced
the experience for participant Roger Howes. In addition to the rain,
he said, beavers in the wetland below the reservoir had dammed a
culvert just before that final meeting day, causing the access road
“We had to carry the beams in. It was fun! That was more
bonding than if it had all been dropped off.”
That sense of community felt particularly poignant to him, even
though Howes had traveled more than two hours to attend.
“I told them I felt like I was one of their neighbors,” said Howes
of the shared sense of purpose that pervaded the course. “It was
awesome in this day and age.”
Alexandra Murphy explores and writes about the natural world in Vermont and the western
United States. She’s currently working on a book, Rewilding in the Northern Forest, about
cultivating membership in the forests of home.
Assembling the first bent (post,
plate, and a diagonal brace).