Chapter 4: Playing In the Dirt
While work on the guest cabin proceeded, I shopped for a septic system contractor. I had to pick through a bunch of grunts who wanted to clear-cut half an acre just to make life easier for themselves, until I found the right one: a tree-hugging animal-lover like me who also lived in a mini-house he built himself on a rugged woodland lot. It was hard to believe any contractors like that existed, and I was certainly thankful that at least one did.
But of course, there's always a snag. It turns out I couldn't obtain a septic permit without also getting a well permit at the same time, a little detail that three different involved parties had failed to inform me. Meanwhile, I'd already booked the septic contractors, and the date couldn't be moved, so it became a mad scramble to find a well driller. I had to search outside the county before I finally found one who was available—and just in the nick of time. I was blown away by my good fortune: the gentleman was kind enough to hand-deliver the permit application to the Township himself. How often does one encounter that level of willingness to help?
And so on 24 October my property was being torn asunder by excavators and dump trucks mere feet away from my camper as they replaced many yards of dense clay soil with approved sand for the disposal bed. Meanwhile, the pump system had to be buried 15 feet underground and carefully wedged between the trees. Plus, they had to build a temporary road across the ravine so they could bring in a crane to drop tanks that were custom-built to withstand the depth. It required a lot of complex excavation of near surgical precision. But the crew said they loved the challenge, and it showed: each night before they left, they carefully cleaned up the path to my cabin.
It was an exciting week, and seeing such progress made me feel as though the house just might actually happen after all. I also thought that finishing the septic system might inspire my architect to get his act together. And it did... sort of. At long last he had a preliminary drawing done, along with an estimate for construction: nearly a quarter of a million. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! I was dumbstruck. How could this be? Evidently it was because of my choice to use poured concrete for most of the structure, that and the rooftop garden over the living space. I immediately abandoned the design and opted for traditional stick construction. Which meant delaying the blueprints still more.
But it didn't matter. The weather was turning cold, and pretty soon I wouldn't be able to start the house even if I had the blueprints the next day. To make matters worse, my body once again failed me. Wracked by crippling, systemic pain, I went from doctor to doctor, getting test after test, all with the same shoulder-shrugging results. No one could figure it out.
After spending the remainder of 2015 beating the crap out of my architect via email to get the job done, it finally happened: the blueprints were FedExed to my anxiously awaiting hands. I could at long last get started on my home—only a year behind schedule. I immediately called my tree guy (a wonderful man who was a pleasure to spend time with) to ask if he could recommend someone to grade the end of my driveway so it would accommodate the massive equipment to come.
The fellow who did the grading was also an excavator, and offered to do the job for a song simply because he loved the property and the project. Plus, he had a concrete specialist he'd worked with for a couple of decades who was equally excited by the job. Thus, through a series of happy accidents, I'd gathered a group of highly skilled and delightfully friendly local contractors.
Along the way I learned that it wasn't necessary for me to adhere slavishly to the blueprint, which came as a huge relief because, among other things, I had to redesign the deck—some months before, a storm had blown over the trees around which it would have been built (fortunate timing). Consequently, I made some fairly substantial changes to the entire plan, and my contractors would be working from new drawings I'd rendered myself. I can tell you it felt really good.
Sidebar: Blueprint versus As-Built