Sample Chapter

[From the middle of Chapter 1]

Our first task was to tangle with the building permit bureaucracy in Seaview, a sleepy coastal burg that serves as the seat of Taylor County. As we drove into town, fog was rolling in from the gray void of the Pacific Ocean, burying the town’s abandoned lighthouse and piling up behind the airy arch of the Harbor Bridge. The edge of the fog hovered over Highway 101, dappling with sun breaks the rust-streaked motel signs and roadside crab stands. We found our way to the courthouse’s cement block basement. A weary-looking woman at an old wooden desk was stamping a stack of papers that read, “Mobile Home Application.” Finally two young men in ill-fitting suits emerged from an office to see what Janell and I might want.

I laid my drawings on a table and explained, “We’d like to build this log cabin on my parent’s property, and we need a permit.”

The men studied my sketch, frowning. “What kind of property?” one asked.

“Half timberland and half pasture.” I pointed it out on a wall map. “Fifty-three acres on the Sahalie River.”

Log Cabin Interior

The other man examined the location on the map. “Isn’t that the place where the old man was murdered?”

Janell glared at me. “You told me that was just a rumor.” “I thought it was. I heard it from one of the farmer’s boys. He made it sound like the homesteader died ages ago.” The first planner shrugged. “It’s probably been ten or fifteen years. And I think they finally ruled it a suicide, anyway.” Janell did not look entirely reassured. I wished the incident had been a hundred years in the past, but I wasn’t about to back out now. “What about our log cabin?”“Well, what you’ve drawn here looks like an accessory building,” the second man said.“No, the old homestead that used to be there rotted away.”“Then we’re talking about a new main dwelling.”“I suppose.” I looked to Janell for help.“There’s no road or electricity,” she put in. “It’s really just a place to camp in the summer.”

“Yes, while we take care of the place,” I added.

“Ah, a forest or agricultural shed,” the first planner announced.

The other shook his head. “But this drawing shows a stovepipe. It’s clearly a dwelling. That means we’ll need running water, electricity, and a road for emergency vehicle access. What’s the square footage here?”

“It would be just one room, 280 by 380 centimeters inside,” I said, pointing out the dimension on the drawing.

“Centimeters?” The man pronounced the word slowly, as if he were repeating it from a learn-to-speak Swahili tape.

“Well yes, I drew it up in metric. It’s based on a traditional Norwegian design.”

The planners looked at each other. One scratched his head.

“That’s about ten by twelve feet,” I offered.

The second planner humphed. “A hundred and twenty square feet? Minimum size for a dwelling is five hundred.”

I groaned. “You mean it has to be four times larger or we can’t build it at all?”

He wrinkled his brow. “That does sound a bit stringent. But it’s not our job to make the rules.”

I shook my head. “I think you’d have thrown out Lewis and Clark for substandard housing.”

“Probably,” the first planner said. “The pioneers of yesterday are the shiftless hippies of today.”

Janell crossed her arms at this barb. “College students on summer vacation are not shiftless hippies.”

The forcefulness of her response seemed to set the man back. “No?”

“No. We’re—“ she groped for the right word—“We’re part-time pioneers.”

”I see.” He pursed his lips. “Well, hang on and maybe we can find something in the code books that will work.” He pulled several weighty tomes from a shelf and began leafing through them.

Minutes passed. Finally I asked, “Well?”

The second planner scoffed, “He’s just stalling, waiting for a bribe.”

“I am not,” the first retorted. Then he glared at me. “Why did you come in here anyway? This is the sort of thing people build out in the woods without bothering about permits.”

“I wanted to do it right. My father works for the newspaper, and I don’t want to get him in trouble.”

The first planner drummed his fingers on the book. “All right, here we have it.” He read off a code and section number. “We’ll call it a rustic storage facility. Mark, fill out a permit for our pioneers.” He slapped the book shut and stalked off to his office.

Mark pulled out a triplicate form and began filling the blanks. “Frontage direction?” he asked.

“Pardon?” He translated. “Which side of the building faces the road?”“There isn’t a road.”“Right. Well, then the river.”“It bends.”He rolled his eyes. “I’ll put down ‘east’.” Then he asked, “Setback?”Again I hesitated.“How many feet is the building set back from the edge of the lot?”“Oh. Again, that depends. Between an eighth and a quarter mile, I’d say.”

Finally he used a felt pen to fill out a stiff yellow cardboard sign. “This will have to be posted conspicuously on the premises until completion.”

I read the sign’s list of mandatory on-site inspections: Frame. Lath. Wallboard. I asked skeptically, “You do understand that this is a log cabin, and not a frame building?”

Mark shrugged. “We don’t have guidelines for log construction.”

“And so the inspections—?“ I began.

He shook his head. “Don’t call. I don’t like boat rides.”

Janell quickly put in, “Weren’t we supposed to get some kind of sewer permit for an outhouse, too?”

Mark looked at her a little sadly. “I didn’t hear that question. Goodbye and good luck.”

This sample taken from Cabin Fever: Notes From a Part-Time Pioneer by William L. Sullivan.