News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mike Lunsford

November 1, 2010

Lunsford: What I did on my summer vacation

TERRE HAUTE — One thing that many of us probably have in common is that when we were kids we were given the annual “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” writing assignment on the first day back to school. And, each fall, I imagine, most of us had the same trouble coming up with a few lousy paragraphs.

Since I didn’t go anywhere or do much of anything in my childhood summers, I rarely produced work that, let us say, would have intrigued publishers. But, boy, did I do something this summer. Get out your red grading pens. This may not be on notebook paper, but here’s my report…

I built a cabin this summer. Well, my friends and I built one. Call it a studio; call it an office; call it “cute,” as a few of my buddies’ wives have done, but we started from scratch on June 22, and by the end of August, I had something that I have yearned for and dreamed about for a long time.

I was originally determined to spend this past summer writing a book — a real, write-from-scratch story — a memoir of sorts about growing up in the country amidst a kooky menagerie of relatives and animals and friends. But late last fall, I submitted an application for an Eli Lilly Teacher Creativity Grant, and lo and behold, by winter I was informed that I had won one on my very first try. The grant, a generous sum, would go a long way toward making my own crude floor plan, scratched out on the back of a church bulletin (sorry, Pastor), a reality.

The proposal I sent to the Endowment folks called for me to build a “Cabin in the Woods.” I wanted to use their money — for which I am eternally grateful — and a good-sized chunk of my own change, to drive my family to Walden Pond in Concord, Mass., walk the walk that Henry David Thoreau took, take a long look at his famous “experiment in living,” and then get myself back home to build something just about like the small cabin he had built on property owned by his good pal, Ralph Emerson.

My cabin isn’t actually in the woods. My heart originally told me that it would be located well away from my house and that I would walk a beaten path to its vine-covered door. But when I discovered exactly what the cost would be to run electricity to the building, and the difficulty of getting materials down into my woods (the Creator personally designed my property to train Big-Horned Sheep for life in the Rocky Mountains), I opted instead for a location much closer to my house. After all, I want to be able to get to it in cold, snowy weather without a team of Huskies and an ice pick.

Duplicating Thoreau’s cabin board-for-board never really entered my mind. Although my cabin is within a few inches of having the same measurements as his (10 feet by 15 feet), has a cedar exterior, and a similar pitch to its roof, there is little else in common with the great man’s place. Thoreau hardly had triple-pane windows and a heat pump; I have no fireplace or bed. Instead, my cabin is really a reflection of my wants and needs, and a certain kind of improvisation that led to wall-to-wall bookcases, a small deck, a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired entry door, and a floor made of Douglas fir planks that were recycled seats from an old high school gymnasium (one of the cabin’s conversation pieces; a special thanks goes to my Virostko family friends for those).

Before I ever saw any of the grant’s money, I made my way to my big brother for a floor plan. Brother John has never let a lack of actual training keep him from doing things, and he soon produced a more polished design for me. For help with ramrodding construction, I considered no one else but my buddy, Joe Huxford. I mention Joe often in my stories because the man knows tools, never shies away from hard work, and is always willing to lend a hand; we enjoy our time together. Along with his capable assistant, Torre Lynn, a former student of mine who has already forgiven me for my rather rough treatment of his English essays, we laid the cabin out and had most of the posts in the ground in a single day. It was blistering on that first day, but it proved to be just the first in a long succession of cruelly steamy days in a long Sahara-like summer.

My son, Evan, soon joined the crew on days he wasn’t working; it is always nice to have someone on hand who is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and can bench press small automobiles, so making Evan a “material handler” was a perfect fit. Another friend, Joe’s brother-in-law, Dennis Weber, soon came to the job site, too. Dennis is an amalgam of perfectionism and common sense, of mathematical accuracy and creative craftsmanship. Considering myself more a student manager than an actual player, I knew the team needed at least one more all-star to make the roster complete. I called Charlie Wheat, an old school buddy who knows more about electricity than Victor Frankenstein; he wired my building, most often in the hot late hours after his work day was done.

By the time the cedar siding went up, Jared Weber, Dennis’ younger son, entered the picture. Jared, an engineer, runs job sites considerably larger than a cabin, but he says he doesn’t get to wallow in the dirt and sweat enough doing that job, so he got involved with mine. I’m not suggesting that the cheese has slid off Jared’s cracker, but on a few days when the temperature was pushing 100 degrees, he stood on a stepladder in the withering heat and said with upturned arms, “Come on Sun, you can get hotter than this.”

This story couldn’t be complete without mentioning one other assistant, and he was there from the very first day. As I stepped around the east side of my barn in search of a tamping rod on that initial first shift, I came across — or he came across me — a skinny, little striped kitten, who stood at my feet and seemed to announce, “Well, you’re surely going to pick me up.” So, Henry, named in honor of Thoreau, not only joined my work crew, but also joined my family, too. His work mostly involved inspecting our daily progress, then napping on building materials.

Well, my assignment is pretty well done. I’ll admit, it’s incomplete — I can’t fit my whole story in this tiny space. I can’t tell you much about how Dennis built a gorgeous work table out of wormy oak for me (and totally disregarded even a modicum of ladder safety); how Joe cut my trim out of sassafras and didn’t want paid for it in honor of his dad, Herman, who would have given it to me, too; about what an honor it was to work with friends and my son and never have the first cross word; about how beautiful the changing season is through the 5-foot picture window that sits before me right now. I now have, as Gaston Bachelard said, in reference to the best reasons for owning a house, that it, “…shelters day dreaming, protects the dreamer, and allows one to dream in peace.”

His line is perfect, but I think another is just as appropriate. In an early scene in Frank Capra’s “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” Gary Cooper’s Longfellow Deeds stands on the rear platform of a train car and says, “Gosh, I got a lot of friends.”

Now, I have a place in which to dream, and I most certainly have a lot of friends who made it happen.        

Mike Lunsford can be reached by e-mail at hickory913@aol.com or by writing to him c/o The Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Read more of Mike’s stories at http://tribstar.com/mike_lunsford, and visit his website at www.mikelunsford.com to learn more about his books. Check out the website soon for more cabin photos.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Mike Lunsford
  • IMG_9352.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: One man’s trash is, well, another man’s trash

    Many people are growing weary of ecological doomsdayers, and if so, they are the folks most likely to tell us that Planet Earth isn’t in that bad of a shape, that it can repair itself, that new technologies just around the corner will solve our carbon emissions and greenhouse gases and oil consumption and the ever-growing pile of plastic in which we are drowning.

    April 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • Inscription 3.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: A book inscribed is surely a book treasured

    I don’t think it’s a secret that I value books as one of life’s great joys; “I am, therefore I read,” could be a T-shirt-worthy motto of mine.

    March 30, 2014 6 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: Something to crow about, as our neighbors return

    It is in the spring, I think, that I notice crows the most. They are noisy neighbors year-round, but they come calling (I resisted saying “cawing”) in early March in earnest, and they do so before the frogs on our pond and the buds on our trees make the new season official.

    March 16, 2014

  • Sworn In.jpg Author visits birthplace of Calvin Coolidge

    Editor’s Note: Today, in this seventh and final installment of Mike Lunsford’s “New England Journal,” the writer visits a small town in south central Vermont, birthplace of the nation’s 30th President, Calvin Coolidge. Be sure to look for Mike’s regular column in Monday’s edition of the Tribune-Star.

    March 16, 2014 12 Photos

  • Waiting for Spring.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The long goodbye to winter

    I have no idea what the weather is to bring to us on the morning this story runs, but on the day I write most of it, the sun is shining, and we have just come off a weekend of pleasant warmth and cloudless skies.

    March 2, 2014 16 Photos

  • The Inlet at Thunder Hole.JPG Heaven on Earth: Writer gets lost — both figuratively and literally — at Acadia National Park

    Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day hiking the Atlantic shoreline and the trails of Maine’s Acadia National Park.

    February 16, 2014 9 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’

    I’ve been thankful this winter for a full propane tank and ample cold cranking amps and school snow-delay days that have kept me off the roads until the sun is up on the most frigid of these mornings.

    February 3, 2014

  • MET010714 lunsford art.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The night the snow fell

    You would think that the cold winds and deep snows that we endured two weeks ago would be old news by now, but as I stood in the checkout line at a grocery store just a few days back, a gallon of milk in one hand and a quart of orange juice in the other, a customer just ahead of me appeared to be stocking up to make a run for the Donner Pass, and all she could talk about was the storm.

    January 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET010414 lunsford 2.jpg THE OFF SEASON: Seeing the miraculousness of the ordinary

    It was just a few nights ago that I announced to my wife that I was headed outside to watch the International Space Station pass overhead.

    January 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Millay at Steepletop.jpg ‘Afternoon on a Hill’: The formal poet who led an informal life — Edna St. Vincent Millay

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of an afternoon exploring the rural gardens and home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay near Austerlitz, N.Y. Join Lunsford in February for the sixth installment of this series as he wanders along the wooded shorelines of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.

    January 5, 2014 6 Photos

  • MET121713 lunsford radio.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Lying by the warm radioside

    I am writing this piece well before Christmas Eve, although you wouldn’t think that it can be far away by the look of things out my windows tonight.

    December 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • MET120713lunsford.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’

    If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.

    December 8, 2013 1 Photo

  • Beach Roses.JPG Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio

    Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.

    December 1, 2013 8 Photos

  • MET100913 woolybear.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?

    I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.

    November 24, 2013 1 Photo

  • B Plot at Epinal France.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘I’m going simply because I’ve got to … ’

    Late in the year 1944, the great Hoosier war correspondent Ernie Pyle, mentally and physically exhausted from his months reporting from the battlefields of Europe, came home for the last time. He was scrawny and gray.

    November 11, 2013 4 Photos

  • Black Cat.JPG MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife

    My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.

    October 28, 2013 3 Photos

  • Stephen Kim 1.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Déjà vu, courtesy of violinist prodigy

    It’s been said that the longer married couples stay together, the more they begin to think alike. I can’t refute that, although, for my wife’s sake, I hope a similar theory — that they begin to look alike, too — is far from true.

    October 14, 2013 2 Photos

  • Harry Evans Bridge II.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The beauty, spirit of a ‘lonely’ bridge

    It was the best kind of day a few Saturdays ago: not quite 70 degrees, a slight breeze from the northwest barely pushed flat-bottomed white clouds around in an otherwise blue sky.

    September 30, 2013 6 Photos

  • MET0909113goldenrod.jpg Mike Lunsford: The golden rods of September

    The sunflowers that are framed in my cabin’s eastside window are soon to become things of the past, for no matter how much I water and weed, the time has come for them to go.

    September 16, 2013 2 Photos

  • MET083013lunsford squirrel2.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: It isn’t the end but it is the beginning of the end …

    I had every intention of writing about Labor Day today; it has become a tradition of sorts for me because it seems as though my column and the holiday have an annual convergence. But as I thumbed through a number of other stories I’d written on the subject, I felt I had nothing new to say.

    September 2, 2013 1 Photo

  • tslunsford MIKE LUNSFORD: A long day’s journey into night

    We arrived at the sprawling hulk of a motel well after dark, the parking lot pitch black except for a few spots illuminated by flickering blue lights that hummed a monotonous tune.

    August 19, 2013 1 Photo

  • Beulah Gravestone.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Searching for Beulah Jane

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s Mike Lunsford column is the second in a two-part story on his search to solve a family mystery. Part 1 was published in Monday’s Tribune-Star. Both are available at www.tribstar.com.

    August 6, 2013 2 Photos 1 Story

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: The girl who wasn’t my grandmother

    EDITOR’S NOTE: We travel this week with Mike Lunsford on a journey across miles and memories, as he seeks answers to a long-ago family mystery. Today’s column is the first of a two-part story. Part II will run Tuesday.

    August 5, 2013 1 Story

  • A Sailboat on the Lake.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Once more to the lake…’

    We are heading home today after spending a few days on Lake Michigan, and I am a bit sad for the leaving. We have made it a habit to come here every year, dragging weary bones and beach towels and enough breakfast food to last us a week. And, as expected, when I turn my back on the cool blueness of the lake for the last time this afternoon, I’ll know that another year has gone by, and there’s no getting it back.

    July 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • Frost Writing C…Near Ripton.jpg Poets at heart, writer, wife walk paths that Frost walked

    A few summers ago, my family traveled to New England to see what we could see. Along the way, we dipped our toes into Walden Pond, holy waters to those who have read Henry David Thoreau. My wife and I returned to the region last month to seek shrines that poets at heart revere: the Vermont homes where Robert Frost wrote magical words.

    July 21, 2013 7 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: Mice really do play when the cat’s away

    I am rarely away from my place much in the summer. I like the quiet here and don’t yearn to be gone for very long at a time. To me, a vacation often means that I don’t have to start my car for days on end, or put on socks, for that matter. But this year has been different; my wife and I took a two-week driving trip through New England, the longest vacation we’ve ever had without our kids along for the ride. We had a great time, but when we got back, we were surprised to learn that all kinds of things had been going on in our absence.

    July 8, 2013

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: A New England journal begins …

    BAR HARBOR, MAINE — I am beginning this story before I can possibly know how it ends. The view from my window isthat of a green Maine countryside on a Thursday morning, so I felt compelled to get started, knowing a deadline looms. It is difficult work, not because I have so few ideas from which to draw, but because I have so many. …

    June 24, 2013

  • tslunsford MIKE LUNSFORD: We’ve created a honey of a problem

    The Dutch clover is making its appearance in my yard this week. A cooler-than-usual spring has slowed its arrival by a few days, but it is here for now, bringing the honeybees and bumblebees with it.

    June 10, 2013 1 Photo

  • Green Heron3.JPG A walk in the woods

    I went for a walk in the woods one day last week after work. It was a warm and green afternoon, and a fresh blue breeze blew in from the west like a new spring friend.

    April 28, 2013 5 Photos

  • MET041013dowsing.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Dowsers’ provide hope more than science

    My grandfather was a man of God. Many times I saw him, his right hand held high in the air at his Wednesday night “prayer meeting,” praising the Lord before weeping at the altar on his knees. And yet, he was a “dowser,” a “diviner,” a “witcher” who, as a favor, would grab a forked sassafras stick and find water for some poor unfortunate whose well had gone dry.

    April 15, 2013 2 Photos

Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Easter Morning Delivery for Space Station New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Popular Science Honors Year's Top Inventions Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home
NDN Video
Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity