Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Floatshack

Photo courtesy Flickr

A recent visit to the Seattle Art Museum showing of seminal Northwest work brought local housekeeping to mind. The Skagit valley produced a unique “floatshack” in the early twentieth century. It was a small house set on logs in a tidal area that floods twice a day. The ones I’ve seen resemble the portable housing units that logging companies used to provide for their work force. The houses were moved from show to show by train. Even the most modest local house was constructed of museum-quality timber.

I lived in and near a floatshack for several months and had a chance to experience the quiet joy of an intact, untainted structure set in near wilderness. The building was hewn from genuine virgin timber, cut from a forest that had never been logged. It had weathered grey in clean air and been battered by waves of clean seawater. At some point, it was dragged up the beach and set on level ground.

There was no electricity or telephone. I cooked over cedar and alder on a cast-iron laundry stove. Potable water was piped in from the nearby stream. The outhouse had a good view.

From this little dwelling I learned the value of timing at the stove, of pacing life to take best advantage of weather and natural light, of field skills and emergency preparedness, and of intelligent, responsible visitors. The house was sited to full solar advantage in a small cove that offered sheltered moorage. There were several other equally small and primitive cabins near the house, but the original one outperformed them all.

Search "fishtown washington" on Flickr to bring up an image of a classic floatshack, the building at six o'clock. It's a sad and rare image of one of the most original designs in American architecture.


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