Su Lum: Slumming

The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

A few days ago, I came across the old manuscript of a book I tried to write about our Alaskan homesteading experience, a project that bogged down because I couldn’t figure out how to deal with what started out as a jolly lark and ended up in misery.

My ex-husband Burt was attempting to build a double A-frame cabin on a hill of sand, requiring that 12 35-foot skinned trees (the pilings) be dropped into 20-foot holes that he was digging, at considerable peril.

I thought that a simple cabin built on the ground was a more sensible plan, but Burt insisted that his project would be completed by the time our daughter Skye was born if I’d just stop bitching at him. Skye arrived two weeks later.

From the manuscript:

“To prepare for the dropping of the first piling Burt spent several days in the tops of trees arranging ropes and pulleys, then winched the peeled log to the clearing. I did not realize that I was to be a part of the operation until Burt informed me that I had to drive the truck while he maneuvered the tree into the hole, a piece of information which I did not happily receive. I am only a tolerable driver under optimum conditions, and difficult procedures such as parallel parking or driving in snow or guiding a big tree into a very small hole are out of my line.

“Burt said not to be an ass, that any fool could do it, and just to follow his directions and everything would be all right, which gave me a hint of what I was in for.

“The truck was attached to the pulley ropes and as soon as he was poised on the brink of the pit with the monstrous log, Burt’s heated directions flew thick and fast. ‘OK, now back up…more…more…back UP for chrissake…T*H*A*T*’S TOO FAST…ok now EASY, take it back…easy..DON’T RIDE THE GODDAMNED CLUTCH…ok…keep it taut.’

“The skinned tree rose in the air and hung perpendicular, four feet above the mouth of the hole. Burt straddled the top of the pit, holding the weaving log with both hands. An ignominious end to our homestead career seemed imminent.

“‘OK now, VERY SLOWLY come forward. Ok…ok…WHAT THE HELL’S GOING ON?…You STALLED it? Sonofabitch…well, START IT AGAIN. DON’T RIDE THE GODDAMNED CLUTCH and come forward VERY SLOWLY..too slow…I said TOO SLOW, that’s TOO SLOW…Jesus Christ I can’t stand here like this all day, now MOVE IT FORWARD.

“‘THAT’S T*O*O F*A*S*T…ok…ok…keep coming…ok’ and Burt leapt back as, with a resounding THUNK, the tree dropped into the hole.

“I wondered how fast my heart was beating and thought how handsome and strong and smart Burt was and how close he had come to being a piece of pulp at the bottom of the hole, and Burt put a shaky arm around me and said, ‘Well-eleven to go.'”


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