Our first year
That first year we owned the land, all we wanted to do was to keep going out to Colorado to visit it. Each trip the first thing we did when we got up the mountain was go “on walkabout” and hike the entire perimeter line (panting; it’s at 7000 feet above sea level). Although this land is just shy of 5 acres, to us, who lived on small plots our whole life, the fact that we could walk to the back edge of our Ponderosa pine forest and look towards the road at the front of the property line and BARELY SEE IT was so astounding. We bought a log tete-a’-tete kit in a local Illinois store and carried it out to Colorado in two duffle bags (just under 50 pounds each bag, making Southwest airlines weight limit). We built it on site, marine spar urethane varnished the living daylights out of it, and put it on the highest meadow slope overlooking our land so we could play at being king and queen of all we surveyed.
The chairs were nice, but we still wanted a greater sense of belonging. Each time we visited we wanted to bring some things up on the mountain with us, like a tent, some simple tools, binoculars, a cooler, etc. At first, we just bought a really sturdy Rubbermaid bin to store those things and hid it in a dense growth of trees each time we left. Eventually, that wasn’t enough, so we decided to come up for four days and build a little storage barn purchased from Lowe’s as a kit. Though the carton said this was an easy DIY project, that all you needed to construct the barn was a screwdriver and a hammer, we should have known nothing was going to be easy about building a ten foot tall and wide barn that came in an eight foot long, four foot wide box. We rented the little truck from Lowe’s to take the barn up to our land. It was insanely heavy, and since we only had ninety minute time limit to use the truck, we ended up tearing the box apart in the truck bed and quickly laying the pieces and boards all over the ground. While we took the truck back, it snowed. And the instructions blew away. This was May.
We diligently pieced together the frame of the barn, using the picture on the box it came in for reference since the instruction sheet was on its way to Nebraska. To make a ten-foot tall barn out of eight foot pieces of lumber and siding, you have already figured out it was necessary to join those together, which made for some weak spots. A segment worthy of any America’s Funniest Home Video awards ensued of one of us trying to hold up a ten-foot long section of wall siding while the other person juxtaposed another ten foot long section of wall siding and tried to join it. This is, of course, when the wind kicked up again and the walls would blow over, along with whoever was trying to hold them up. A neighbor, Dave, took pity and helped us hold the walls in place long enough to get the joinery fixed so it would stand by itself. Things got easier after that until it came time to try and fix the gambrel roof joists in place. There were five of them, none of which would stand up independently while we nailed crosspieces on. This was the source of some serious angst, as we had limited other stuff around with which to concoct some sort of temporary brace.
Another neighbor lucky enough to have property adjacent to ours let us borrow all kinds of power tools and ladders in exchange for quality beer. He’s retired from both his career job and his side job building log homes and additions, but that didn’t stop us from picking his brain about how to build stuff. He also owns a backhoe, making him an awfully popular fellow up on the mountain. His name is Dennis, and he and his lovely wife Jan have been good friends to us in the years since we first started mooching their stuff. Luckily, we got the roof figured out before having to crawl to Dennis for help.
Each night when we finished our building escapades, exhausted, we returned to a poetic little cabin dotted resort called Castle Mountain Lodge along the Fall River Road in Estes Park with a wood burning fireplace and sometimes even a hot tub in the cabin. No matter how much we ached and how many holes we’d accidentally poked in our skin that day with nails or drill bits or splinters, the warmth of the pine walls, the smell and crackle of the wood fire, and the stone hearth reminded us of what our eventual goal in owning this land was. These were happy, happy days.
Shingles are really, really heavy. We learned that both buying them and trying to carry them up the ladder on the last barn build day to finish the roof. Once again, it had snowed the night before so we had to wait until the snow melted to do the roof. I knew from nearly being blown off the ladder that the wind was very strong, and we didn’t want the shingles blowing off. I put a copious amount of roof cement on nearly all the shingles, especially the corner ones I worried would be the first “lifted up” by the wind and consequently take some others with them as they flew away. To this day, nine years later, we haven’t lost a single shingle. On that last day, we also hung a big metal star on the back of the barn, and put a string of solar lights behind it. Tired and a bit overwhelmed by all we had done and all that was still left to do, we paused next to the barn admiring our roof. Suddenly, a herd of elk appeared on the property next door and made their way over onto our land. We stayed still by the little barn as one by one they hopped the wire fence separating our properties and wandered by us, nibbling grass. They were curious, but not frightened. If we had ever doubted we’d picked the right place, all those doubts would have disappeared at that moment.