Journalist Ellie Tennant has been scouring the shelves of secondhand bookshops in search of more fascinating vintage tomes. This month she stumbled across 'Cabin Craft and Outdoor Living' by Conrad E. Meinecke (1947)...
It’s easy to fall in love with most aspects of Iceland, but the traditional ‘torfbæir’ – turf houses – are among my favourite features of that raw, wild country. A product of a challenging climate, these cosy, grass-covered dwellings are often difficult to spot because they blend into the mossy plains so seamlessly – they are part of the landscape. After a particularly inspiring trip, I became a bit obsessed with torfbæir, adding them to an ever-growing list of dream ‘shelters’ I secretly fantasise about living in – alongside remote Scottish bothies, tiny, ancient shepherd’s huts and American-style log cabins.
I’m not alone in my passion for rustic, rural retreats. In our fast-paced, constantly-connected world, the idea of escaping the rush and returning to a ‘back-to-basics’ existence, living simply within the natural world, is increasingly appealing…
When it was published last year, the cult book: Cabin Porn: Inspiration for Your Quiet Place Somewhere, by Zach Klein and Steven Leckart (advertised as ‘an invitation to slow down, take a deep breath, and enjoy the beauty and serenity that happens when nature meets simple craft’) was the number one new release in the bestsellers category on Amazon.com. Today, the authors’ Cabin Porn Tumblr website has an audience of more than ten million people, who enjoy browsing an archive of more than 12,000 inspirational images of remote cabins and shelters.
Fantasising about cabin life as a way of retreating to a simpler, appealing ‘wilderness’ (or, perhaps, escaping the ‘wilderness’ of the modern, urban world for the ‘civilized’ realm of nature…) is not a new idea. In the 1940s, American author Conrad Meinecke penned Your Cabin In The Woods and Cabin Craft and Outdoor Living, two books which offered practical advice about building simple wood cabins as well as spiritual wisdom on living with nature. Lively and conversational, they read as if Meinecke is chatting with you around a campfire deep in the forest and you can’t help but feel inspired, even if building an actual cabin is likely to remain a distant dream. Cabin Craft and Outdoor Living teaches you how to build a log cabin, with diagrams featuring bush-craft kit – think axes, knives, and stoves – but it’s not just a how-to book for boy scouts – it’s a poetic celebration of life lived outdoors.
Meinecke was channeling an American - but also an instinctively human – desire to tame a small patch of ‘wild’ space and live harmoniously within the natural world. Perhaps he was influenced by the likes of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote his great work ‘Walden’ while living in a remote hut, inspiring a generation of transcendentalists to 'get back to nature'.
While woodland areas in which to construct your own cabin are somewhat limited in the UK and, alas, most of us can’t up sticks and move to a tiny bothy forever, the next best thing is to turn your phone off, pull on your walking boots and spend a weekend in the ‘wilderness’ instead. There are comfortable, stylish cabins and geo-desic domes at the fabulous Fforest camp in Cardigan, Wales, while the website Canopy and Stars lists all manner of cosy retreats nationwide, from eco tree houses to gypsy caravans. If you’re a creative, have a peep at the network of small-scale, off-grid art residency spaces in distinct and diverse locations around Scotland and beyond via The Bothy Project.
‘I have found throughout these years a "re-charging" when I return to the woods and an ever-present urge to be a part of the outdoors whenever the occasion permits. I learned, too, that nature is rich in abundance and will supply our daily needs. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" has its roots deep down in the soil…’ Conrad E. Meinecke, Your Cabin In The Woods
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