Chapter 3: The Cabin

“The second key, you will build in the woods.”

Summer 1963. It was decided. We were going to build a cabin way back in the bush, and that was that. Built from the trees on the land, felled, bucked and notched with nothing but axes, saws, and our own sweat, it was gonna be fantastic.

We were three: John Stephen (our fearless leader), brother Jamie and myself – three young teenagers, full of snot, vinegar, and ‘Yahoo! Carpe Diem!’

We planned, we discussed and we measured – far into the night. Then one day, all of a sudden, there we were – standing at the chosen spot in that dense rain coast forest, axes in hand, all thinking the same thing:

‘Brother, this is going to be a bigger job than we figured.’

First of all, it was unclear how we were going to get the logs to the site. We were reasonably strong kids, but these logs were big – hemlocks, red cedars and firs, many of which were 18 inches in diameter. A spar tree, blocks and tackle, and a line maybe?


The whole business started with an exuberant John barging into the basement with that look on his face – the one that said ‘I’m so excited I can barely speak.’ Finally though, the words came tumbling out:

“Virgin forest, the whole area … the old trail wasn’t easy to follow … I had to crawl through devils club and brambles and wade across the Seymour River to get there. We have to explore this place.”

Kids from the banks of the Tyne, that’s what we were; and western Canada was heaven, in a Viking sort of way. And now that the gates to heaven were open, we weren’t going back. We were going to explore this country, climb its mountains, forge its mighty rivers and yes, build a cabin way back in the wilderness where normal mortals could not go.

Me far left, kid on my shoulders, Jamie in the air, John far right.

Shortly before we took over the world


“Well,” John said, scratching his head, “We can’t just stand here. Let’s get on with it.”

We cut with axes, we cut with saws, we hoisted, slung, notched and fitted. And we set up those spar trees, with cables, pulleys, blocks and tackle. We weren’t messing around. The walls rose a foot at a time, then we started thinking about rafters.

Walls finished, a fake ridge pole tossed up, ‘just to see how it was gonna look.’

Visions of us sitting around a rustic table, in front of a roaring fire, clutching beer steins and toasting our Viking lives, danced in our heads as we toiled. And I don’t believe they ever left.


We live in a chaotic universe, and I suspect we spend a lot of time attempting to create meaning in this strange, unpredictable place. It’s not always an easy task, so being handed the gift of a path, (or in my case, two paths), was a lifesaver. A guitar in a trash can? An insatiable drive to build a cabin in the bush? Only an idiot would have missed those signs. The only question remaining, was how to combine these two passions with some kind of grace.