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I quit!


Literacy lesson learned. I spent 10 months of my life sleeping outside, all because I didn’t read a book.

If you read my last few posts, I made a pledge to sleep outside until I finished writing my first novel. The story was about a 12 year old boy who got stranded on an island off the coast of British Columbia. Without any survival experience, he had to rely solely on his imagination to survive from summer to spring.

I started sleeping outside- in June was it? or July? I forget. I thought I’d be done in October. No such luck.  Then I thought I’d finish by the first of February. No go. Then the weather started warming up. Not good. If the cold winter hadn’t prodded me to finish the story, the warm nights weren’t going to do it either. I could be sleeping out there forever.

Then in April, I read a book. A great book! But a bittersweet read. Every page came with a gut churning realization. This was the exact book that I had been writing for the past 10 months! Ugh.

The book: Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

The synopsis: A 13 year old boy fights to survive after being stranded in the Canadian wilderness.

The clincher: Gary Paulsen was writing from real life experience. I was writing from my imagination.

I tried to salvage what I could, tried to change my story, to accentuate the differences and adjust the plot. But it was an entirely different experience. It was a literary identity crisis. As a matter of pride, I didn’t want to give up. I just didn’t know how to bow out gracefully. But it all happened pretty naturally. The story died quickly on its own, and in May I realized it was time to move back inside. I had a weak (but somehow rational) justification- my story was finished! It just happened to be written by somebody else…

But there’s also a more poetic justification for wrapping things up, complete with irony and a sleight-of-hand plot twist. In an Escher-esque way, the story had come to life. It started with my main character, a kid, relying on his creativity to survive a year in the great outdoors. It ended with me, an old guy, relying on my own creativity to survive a year on the porch. The boy didn’t make it, but the old man did. It was hard letting the boy go- he had a great story to tell- and it was difficult coming back to reality without him. But I survived the adventure, and in a strange way, the story is now complete.

I’m grateful for the experience, and for a patient wife and kids who put up with stunts like this. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a writer, it’s that the job comes with heaps of frustration, anguish, and struggle. But that’s the stuff that makes a story great.






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Past Tents

So much has happened since my last tent adventure update.  The last time I checked in I was livin’ large in a cozy sleeping bag on an air mattress with a headboard. Then two weeks ago, I was livin’ a little less large, in a sleeping bag inside of another sleeping bag, on a roll mat on the tent floor. Tonight I’m sleeping on a concrete slab.

The wind was crazy last night. The zip-ties that held the tent in place on the deck- all except 2 of them- snapped. Then the tent poles were almost bending in half, until one of the main ones broke from the stress. Then the whole tent collapsed. It was pretty cool actually. The wind found its way under the rain fly, and every time a gust would come along, it would fill the tent up like a parachute and try to carry itself (and me) away. There were a few times when it rolled me over onto my side and woke me up.


My tent collapsed into the shape of a Jack in the Box spicy chicken sandwich box.


aw snap!

This morning the rain came and soaked everything, and I had to take down the tent and bring everything into the living room to dry. Suzanne wasn’t super thrilled about that. Nor was she thrilled about my plan to sleep on the front porch. So now I have to break down porch camp every morning. That, along with the aggregate concrete flooring, should be enough incentive to get me down to REI tomorrow for new tent poles and carbon fiber zip ties.


Temporary temporary housing. (Yes- that’s a pillow pet. It’s comfy. Don’t judge me.)

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Angel in the ice field

This morning at the coffee drive through window, this was the question of the day:

“What is the most common decoration on a Christmas Tree?”

I guessed lights. It was angels. Wouldn’t have guessed that. I’m not an angel kind of guy.

Anyway… later in the afternoon, I went on a walk in the woods.

Check it!

elegant angel

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Greetings From the Cuckoo’s Nest

Today on my walk I found a bird’s nest in the middle of the trail. So cool! So I built a human-sized nest of my own. I built it where three cedar trees come together, and took a surprisingly comfy nap until a squirrel started barking at me. It had a nice dry home in the roots below, and wasn’t going to give up his space without a fight. Good on ya, li’l guy! Clearly it’ll be awhile before I’m initiated into the fraternal order of forest animals.




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A Fool in the Forest

As it turns out, it’s not so bad to be completely incompetent at all things handy. I used to think it was a curse. I’m no Bob the Builder. I am Wreck-it Ralph. But sometimes it’s good to know nothing, to be blind of conventional wisdom. There’s a massive amount of freedom in that!

The main character in the novel I am writing is a 12 year old boy, shipwrecked on a Pacific Northwest island with his older brother. Everything they’ve learned in their private school upbringing has been rendered useless. And with the exception of some limited resources, they have to start over from scratch. (My previous post talks about the start of this character study adventure.)

woven grass fern blanket one island novel

It’s hard to tell, but this is a blanket, woven from grass and ferns. Yeah, it sucks. But it held together relatively well when I slept underneath it, despite it’s many holes. I had to support it around the sides with some sticks, because when I moved it too much it would fall apart.

It would have been easy to throw in a boy scout past, or maybe a detailed memory of a 4th grade report on Native American basket weaving. But I want to show a gradual shift in the characters moving away from conventional knowledge, in the same way an unused forest trail eventually succumbs to the undergrowth before disappearing altogether.

One great thing about their lack of knowledge here- I don’t need to become an expert on survival skills. I don’t need to know the way the Salish natives used cedar bark or the medicinal uses for ferns. Instead of relying on things they’ve learned in the past,  the boys seek solutions through personal, real-time experience. They are going to make mistakes. That’s part of the journey.

So what to do, as the writer? Wander the forest. Experiment. Make discoveries. This has been a fascinating process. I’ve walked the woods for my whole life, but I’ve never looked at it like I am seeing it now. I have to find soft plants for bedding, sturdy plants for protection from the rain, a way to test what is edible and what to avoid (I’m not completely reckless though- I’ve taken the necessary precautions of learning the deadly and poisonous plants in our area.) I get stung by nettles and pricked by thorns. All of it relevant, all of it stimulating my senses and teaching me things. My awareness increases, as well as my understanding of my role in this environment. The forest becomes a living creature that I’m exploring from the inside.

My first experiments were making shelter and making a blanket. I taught myself how to weave 3 strands of tall dry grass, and started to weave a blanket. But it was taking too long so I started substituting ferns. There are a zillion ferns in the woods, so I took scissors (a luxury item) on my walk for a few days, and cut a few fronds (is that the word? arms? branches? leaves?) from different plants, because I didn’t want to kill them.  And I always tried to get the hidden arms, so I didn’t take their strongest assets.

teepee 1

This is the teepee I ended up with. The big alder branches are easy to find, but easy to snap as well. But there were lots of them in a younger area of the woods, and I didn’t feel like tromping too far out. I wove the ferns in between the sticks, and layered them as best I could, and put upside down moss of the top, hoping that it would keep it alive and keep me dry.

teepee blanket

On the floor of the teepee, I wove this mattress. I used ferns and grass again, as well as some fern/vine plant that was super soft. I couldn’t find it in any of the plant books, so I don’t know what it’s called. But the mattress was surprisingly comfy! And I used some dried thick moss for a pillow, but I wore a hoody when I slept on it, to keep the bugs out of my hair…

Anyway, I have to get back to writing the story! The pictures here have more of the details. In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about the next adventure- trying out this shelter and blanket with a night in the woods. Freaky!

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Writing- It’s in tents!

tent 1

Rough start! Suz wondered if I was practicing for Survivor, or practicing being homeless.

I haven’t slept inside my house for over two months. I pledged on Facebook that I’m sleeping on the deck until I finish the novel I am writing. I’m hoping it’s before Christmas.

Why outside? The main character is a 12 year old boy, trying to survive in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. I want to get to know him better. So I spend a couple hours a day in the forest, and I spend my nights on the deck. That’s close enough to get a glimpse of his life.

Now I'm stylin'! At least I was until the rain kept leaking in...

Now I’m stylin’! At least I was until the rain kept leaking in…

I love the challenge! And really it’s not bad, because you can’t really call this “roughing it.” I’m on the deck, 10 feet away from the back door, with a cush air mattress and Christmas lights hung all around the inside of the tent. I even have great company. Zack, our 9 year old son, and Roger, the family dog, have both been sleeping out there pretty much every night. Love it!

Oooh yeah! goodbye patio furniture cushions, hello air mattress (and a leak-free tent!)

Oooh yeah! Goodbye patio furniture cushions, hello air mattress (and a leak-free tent!)

Anyway, I can see how Thoreau ended up writing Walden, because the adventure of writing the novel can become more intriguing than the novel itself…

My li'l buddies!

My li’l buddies!


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Pride of the Sewer System

sewer lid bellinghamSilver?! I didn’t know they made these in silver. I took this picture 2 days ago, and it’s been bugging me ever since. Why have I never seen these? I have so far come up with 4 possibilities:

1. Maybe there are lots of silver sewer covers and I just never paid attention.

2. Maybe they all start silver, and I’ve just never seen a new one.

3. Maybe the sewer people were all “screw bronze! let’s go for silver!”

4. Hey! Magical sewer!

I sent an email to the public works department, and they’ll be getting me the details soon. But in the meantime, I went searching for images of sewer covers from around the world. Awesome stuff out there! For my town, I think it’s time for a manhole revolution! I’m doing my part. I’ve just sent my second email to the Public Works department, asking if, after I die, I can have a Harris Avenue sewer lid for a tombstone. Now that’s a legacy!

Anyway, here are my favorites-

Saturn is on the outside. Uranus is on the inside

Jiminy Crapit!

Knock Knock. Who’s there? Birds on a sewer cover. Birds on a sever cover who? The only birds on a sewer cover in the history of sewer covers. That’s who.

don’t be fooled. it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Is this a sewer lid, or did a giant drop a quarter?

Royal flush!




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