Column: Dreaming of a cabin in the woods

One of the big challenges we of a certain age face as we approach our retirement years is to keep looking forward, as opposed to behind.

There is a tendency, at least in this camp, to dwell on the past and the small annoyances that accompany old age — like aches and pains, cuts in Social Security and receding hairlines. It’s seems easier for some of us old timers to focus on JFK and Woodstock than on civilian space travel or the Next Big Thing after Facebook.

Thus it is imperative, I think, to force ourselves to set personal goals and/or follow our unrealized dreams, no matter how impractical.

Some of my personal goal-dreams extend well beyond impractical to the neighborhood of insane — like returning to my former college football playing weight or hiking the full length of the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail. Others, however, are more doable — like learning a foreign language, visiting Machu Picchu or building a cabin in the woods.

It is the latter endeavor that is the subject of this week’s column.

Since my late teens, when I had the good fortune to regularly visit a college friend’s family cabin well off the grid in Jackson, N.H., I have dreamed of building my own cabin in the woods. For many years, I drove my wife and daughters mad looking at remote mountaintop sites between the Carolinas and Canada’s Atlantic provinces, but never did I have the resolve, or the dough, to pull the trigger.

Then, I am pleased to report, our daughter Anna had the good sense to marry a man who owns 90 mountaintop acres about 20 miles southeast of Lake Placid, N.Y. They call it the High Peaks Region, and it’s smack dab in the middle of the six-million-acre Adirondack Park.

In other words, it’s really “the woods.”

So my son-in-law and I made a deal. If he would supply the site at a deep family discount (that is, free), the former Joan Giger Walker and I would assume the cost of building a one-room, 210-square-foot cabin that might serve — when we’re not there or, ahem, “after were gone” — as a guest house or spare bedroom for Anna and William’s expanding family.

And it would be entirely “off the grid,” with no electricity, no water well and no flush toilet. Instead, we would heat and light the place with propane gas, collect rain water in an underground cistern and employ the environmentally acclaimed technology that is the composting toilet. (The end product of which is advertised to be something like dry garden mulch, but I’ll have to get back to you on that.)

There were some bumps in the road in our bid to create our own version of H.D. Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. Wall Street was uncooperative there for a while, and the original construction estimates came in higher than a fully loaded BMW SUV.

But the market eventually recovered and the builder found ways to trim the budget, in part because I volunteered to assist the construction crew — presumably by fetching lunch and spare rolls of toilet paper — and to personally paint the cabin inside and out when the job was completed. (I am, after all, the grandson and son of professional house painters.)

As this is written, they are less than 24 hours away from pounding the first nail, at least figuratively speaking. The drawings have been completed, the permits have been obtained, the site has been prepared and the materials have been ordered.

Let the games begin.

And if you check back here in a month, I’ll let you know how things are going.

[email protected]