The quest to improve our lives is vital to our personal success, but if it consumes all our energy, when will we start to live?
After we signed the papers and cleaned out the shack, Ben and I spent as much time as we could the rest of that summer camping in the shack so we could plant tree seedlings, listen to the coyotes sing, watch the sunsets and sunrises and any other excuse we could think of just to be here. Throughout that first winter we visited often just to see where the show drifted, which way the wind blew, and how deep the ice piled on the creek so we knew what was ahead and where to build the studio.
Ben had been involved as another hand on a few building projects, but had always been able to follow others’ directions. I, on the other hand, had not built so much as a doghouse. Our first project was an outhouse without a door, because we didn’t want to block out the view we had of the mountains. We bought three carpentry textbooks and drew up plans for a studio with an attached apartment, since we couldn’t afford to build separate living quarters.
Beginning on the first of July in 1994, Ben and I started living in the shack, returning to Bozeman on the weekends to work. Ben’s brother and sister-in-law, Jerry and Denise, came up from Wyoming with a family friend, Earl. They gave up their Fourth of July weekend to help us build the barn. On the fifteenth, Micky dug a trench with his father’s backhoe for us to put in the footing of the studio. There wasn’t electricity to the the land yet, so we borrowed a generator from Micky’s brother.
We began studying our carpentry textbooks by lamplight late in the evenings and built, chapter by chapter, each day from sunup to sundown. My friend, Tana, came up from Casper to help put in the footing, so we put a sheet on the outhouse for a door, which proved to be an acrobatic challenge to keep closed in the wind.
We got the roof tarpapered in late September, finishing just the day before we had to leave to teach a pottery workshop at a recreation leaders workshop in the Black Hills. That was a greatly needed break for me. I had gotten so exhausted working from sunup to sundown that I really had to push myself every morning just to climb the ridge from the shack to the studio site. We were both refreshed from the time away and, though fall had settled in Montana style and we were out of money, we decided to add the steel roofing and insulation, charging it on our credit cards so we could stay here that winter – albeit without plumbing – to start working in the studio.
We had wanted to go off-grid, but alternative electric energy sources were not yet reliable or powerful enough to run an electric kiln on a daily basis, so we had the local electric cooperative bring in a power line in December. Then we quit working in town and started making pots.
Our first building project
Ben and his brother, Jerry, working on the barn
Micky digging the trench for the footing
Me and Tana building the forms for the footing
Ben using the generator on the newly constructed floor to cut all the lumber we would need for the day
Me, taking a breather inside the new walls
Ben and my dad raising the upper walls
Sunrise over the Crazy Mountains
Ben working on the rafters
The Studio, closed in and roofed, with the lean-to greenhouse to raise seedlings and the boardwalk we named The Canasphere because the pallets we scavenged to build it were all labeled with that name