Making a (Adult) Playhouse – Part 1

I’ve been watching videos for some time on people camping in non-traditional tents and building everything from simple overnight survival shelters to semi-permanent shelters (or even entire compounds) for weekend camping.

Having done medieval reenacting for 16 years now, I am well acquainted with living in a tent without electricity, running water, etc. (although never as completely off-the-grid as the people in the videos). Provided the weather’s not too God-awful, it’s even fun.

But I keep looking at people building survival shelters and I think to myself, “That looks like fun.” I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I was constantly building houses for myself from grass clippings (more of a floor plan than a house, really) or making them under trees or bushes.

I have also hit a crossroads in that I want to continue to do reenacting (at least I think I do), but not in the SCA. Watching shows like Tudor Monastery Farm make me Jones for a place to do really immersive reenacting, but there aren’t any medieval living history museums like that anywhere near me.

So I’ve been thinking about combining those two things and making myself some sort of medievalish shelter that I could camp in on the weekends–maybe even invite some friends over to also camp and/or build their own house.

Building even one semi-permanent structure, however, is no small task. And I admit I haven’t decided how I want to make it yet. I’ve thought about everything from a lazy man’s log cabin (simple and relatively fast to build, but not terribly medieval unless you’re in early-period Scandinavia) . . .

to a wattle and daub structure (very period) . . .

to a pallet shed that I could cover in daub (would look the same as a proper one, but much less time-consuming to make; probably would last longer, too).

But, before I can build anything, I have to have a place to build. I have woods surrounding my house. On one side, they are either quite open (which means you can see the house and garage easily when you are in them), or they’re a tangled mess of undergrowth, meaning a lot of work to prep them. On the other side, however, once you get through the undergrowth that grows on the transition line between the yard and the woods, the woods are generally cleaner and easier to get through–i.e. less to have to clean up to make usable spots.

I had one spot picked out as a likely place to put a small shelter; it was near the house, but the woods were thick enough that you could barely see the house in the wintertime and not at all in the summer. Then, the other day, I took a walk down the property line almost all the way to the creek at the other end and I found a different location that had interesting trees and a bit more space (also, the ground was a bit more level). A deer trail from there popped me out just above the lower pond. You can partially see the neighbor’s house from the new location, but won’t be able to see it once the trees leaf out.

Soon mosquito season will be here, and if it continues to be wet like it has been all winter (and like it was the last two summers), I will not be able to do anything outside during the summer. I have flood zones in the yard that I affectionately call the “upper pond” and the “lower pond.” I am hoping to get them dug out and turned into proper ponds this summer so that I can control the mosquitoes, but right now, both areas are just a mosquito-breeding swamp. And those feckers are numerous and aggressive. You can coat yourself with Deep Woods Off! and you will still get accosted by two types of mosquitoes: the ones who say “You didn’t spray your eyeballs or inside your ears!” and the ones who land where you just sprayed and say, “Ooh, I like ’em spicy!” So, unless we have a dry summer that keeps my yard from becoming a mosquito-breeding haven, I can’t really work on this project until fall comes around and kills off the mosquitoes. At that point, I will have the fall and winter (weather permitting) to work on building my shelter-house.

In the meantime, though, I’ve decided that I can at least make a good trail to the camp site. Personally, I don’t like getting eat-up by briars all the time, and I need a clear path for bringing in building materials, too (which I will have to do regardless of what style I choose; not everything I need is right there in reach).

The weather here has been fairly pleasantly cool (highs in the 60’s) and sunny all week. We have had so much rain this winter that I feel starved for sunlight. (I know now why Seattle has such a high suicide rate; the constant rain and gloom is beyond miserable.) So yesterday evening, after I got home from work, I walked down to the spot where I had come out of the woods on my previous trip and I started to clear a path in.

This is where I started.

I feel like I made good progress in the 45-60 minutes I worked on it before I started to lose the light (and get hungry).

If you are wondering what that white thing is, it’s a water spigot. There are random water spigots all over the property, probably from back when it was a day lily farm. This one is in an advanced state of deterioration; I think I could just break it off with my bare hands. I am unsure where the water main to these is located, but all of them seem to be cut off at the source. Still, I’m leery of messing with them.

I had three main things I had to contend with: briars (both blackberry and cat/saw briars), honeysuckle vines, and privet. When I was cutting out the edge, where the undergrowth meets the yard, I had a lot of material, but no good place to put it because everything around me was just a tangled mess. So I took advantage of some privet trees that I was leaving in place and I made myself a little living hedge fence.

I feel like that gives it a bit of a medieval feel. Come right this way; a medieval experience awaits you down this wooded lane.

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