Just Another Chapter. They End. They Begin.


Living in the elements out of doors a lot can wear on you.

Last May, I went to the very Land’s End tip of Baja and lived there until August, outside almost 24/7, even for sleeping (bugs an issue, too). Hot and humid. 90/90.

Came back to San Jose, immediately adopted another off-grid living situation, and had regular heat waves into the 100s through September.

October brought cold and by November, some of the coldest Bay-Area CA has seen in a while. Outside all day long in the 30s and 40s.

Then the El Niño rain. And rain, soggy ground, and trench foot if you’re outside all the time (got some rubberized shoes with thin soles). Being outside and adapted is essential; otherwise, you’ll just hunker up in a small RV space and be annoyed by four dogs wanting in and out a million times per day.

You confront trade-offs you never considered before. You calculate based on levels of relative misery.

This is not a cuddly safe space. Those are for top universities rich parents pay for coddled children to attend, in hopes they won’t embarrass them.

Columbia University will thus maintain its position as the most expensive Ivy League college for undergraduate students. Dartmouth tuition stands at $55,365 for next year, Cornell at $54,645, Penn at $53,976, Brown at $53,136, Yale at $52,700, Harvard at $52,650, and Princeton at $49,069.

Hey, if you had the money, is upwards of a half million over four years—including room, board, suitably appropriate labeled clothing, ski trips, spring trips, bail, payoffs, etc.—too much to pay in hopes of not being embarrassed too badly? Although, there is still that “safe space” deal. Of course, the real reason rich people shell out that kind of money for college is way more complicated. It’s in part buying them a ticket to loot, another part placing them in a situation of unearned status, and another part making them beholden to entrenched status quo privilege. I could go on.

There, I’ve gone and digressed.

…Living at the extremes of what’s doable with a few thousand dollars worth of things I bought—including all the solar off-grid stuff—and then toughing it out is an experience I just wouldn’t trade for anything. Bonus that it was serendipitous. One thing just led to another and I never over-thought, analyzed, or calculated any option, any move. This is important. Most people I know are completely paralyzed as human beings. They are so afraid something won’t work out (so what?) that they never make a single big move in their entire lives.

A human life ought to be dominated by big moves. Those moves should be well spiced with uncertainty and risk.

Soon, we’ll be in the immaculate cabin in the Sierras, at least through August. As far as the plan goes. There may be a Europe trip for a week or so in July.




Summers are crazy fine there, and I have improvement plans. Half of the basement is still unfinished dirt, and on a slope. I’ll have to dig out under and shore the foundation a section at a time so that I can lay down level flooring.

arnold_cabin 022

I’m going to build me a workshop. Wood; maybe even metal and glass.

Just another barefoot step in my own jungle of self-direction. I’m unsure as to whether it won’t make a difference, be a bust, or a bounty. There is no way to know. Those who eschew new things over uncertainty are simply hiding from fear, faking thoughtfulness.

There is no thoughtfulness in acting on the fear of uncertainty in ordinary life. Security is an illusion attributable more to luck and status than to anyone’s calculations.

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Richard Nikoley

I started writing Free The Animal in late 2003 as just a little thing to try. 20 years later, turns out I've written over 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from diet, health, lifestyle...to philosophy, politics, social antagonism, adventure travel, expat living, location and time independent—while you sleep— income by geoarbitrage, and food pics. I intended to travel the world "homeless," but the Covidiocy Panicdemic squashed that. I became an American expat living in Thailand. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. ... I leave the toilet seat up. Read More


  1. Alex on April 12, 2016 at 16:41

    Trying to learn how to recognize serendipitous situations when then occur….they typically pass me by while I am trying to overplan my next twenty moves in life.
    How did the potato experiment end for you? That is my next project.

  2. wallycat on April 12, 2016 at 19:17

    Looks lovely. That “wood work” space screams wine cellar to me 🙂

  3. BabyGirl on April 12, 2016 at 22:29

    I see myself in this post, but I don’t like the reflection staring back at me. I’m one of those who is usually always afraid.

    Don’t always comment but try and make it over 2 or 3 times a month to see what’s new in Richard’s world and I’m never disappointed.

    My kind regards to beautiful Beatrice and the pups as well.

    Some day I hope you’ll host a midnight ramble type event like Levon Helm did and we could sit around for a few hours over a cyber campfire and discuss The Bands first two albums.

  4. wallycat on April 13, 2016 at 08:28

    If you have something against grapes, there’s always a scotch, armagnac and aged rum “library” you could develop, LOL. 🙂 (skulking away quietly)

  5. thhq1 on April 13, 2016 at 13:35

    The sublime life of wandering. Go to Bordeaux and Biarritz sometime for a few months. Watch a bullfight, ride a Harley, go to some small town summer festivals and French rugby matches. Create a duck hack…one of the keys to the French Paradox…

    I found out over several years that woodworking isn’t satisfactory unless you fix your attention on it. After I built the same chest of drawers and beds six or seven times I was pleased with the results. But then I got sloppy and cut a finger off. After that I lost interest. Interest might return someday, but all the heavy equipment is now gone, so it would be smalls like jewelry boxes. I still have some good rosewood, tambootie and burled redwood around. But then there’s all that confounded sander dust….

    • Richard Nikoley on April 13, 2016 at 13:53

      Ah, so thhq1, time to advise me or give input.

      I have thought about making boxes, all sorts of stuff where I could be patient, and demand a high price. I know what I’m doing, both woodshop and construction carpentry. I can go slow and deliberate.

      So, I have an endless supply of fallen cedar and pine branches on the property. The idea is to do custom door and window frames. The joints aren’t mitered. The verticals are blunt, and the horizontal(s) are 1″ or whatever overlap, rounded, or whatever. But along all the assembly are inlaid fallen branches, each piece uniqure.

      So you trace, route out, glue in, rough sand, and just enough of a finish.

      What do you think?

    • thhq1 on April 13, 2016 at 14:32

      I’ve made a lot of picture frames using the woods I listed and more, but always starting with stock that was true and square. This required my trusty Ryobi 10″ portable thickness planer and my finger-butchering nemesis, the Unisaw. I spent years struggling with an old rickety Craftsman, which never cut things exactly square, and which didn’t have the power to rip without stalling out or scorching the wood.

      You’re talking about starting with pieces of tree, not rough lumber. I’ve worked with waney-edged yew slabs (backer boards from a sliced veneer plant), which is similar. I would chalk-line the center and rip with a Skilsaw, and then I had a straight line that I could start working with on the tablesaw and planer to make cabinet boards. Sometimes they got glued up for tabletops. If they were wide enough they made drawer fronts.
      I still have a bachelor chest in the garage with a California Torreya case and yew drawer fronts from that batch of wood. Jeez I used to be good at cutting hand dovetails…

      I’m cautious about bugs, due to problems with some green myrtlewood I got a deal on. I made some cabinet pieces which sprouted powder post beetle holes after they came inside. Pine and cedar aren’t as bad as hardwoods, but I’d be hesitant using dead limbs off the ground for making indoor sash. I’d be more inclined to sacrifice a tree and have someone cut it up into lumber with an Alaska mill.

      I’ve worked with a lot of western woods. Where you’re at I’d be looking for sugar pine to make frames. It’s not as resinous as the yellow pines, so you don’t plug up uour sandpaper as fast.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 14, 2016 at 07:12

      Just to clarify, the idea is to use finish quality lumber from the lumber yard and inlay the fallen twigs.

      Anyway, when we remodeled that house after a major fire about a dozen years ago, I did the kitchen counters in all 2″ thick butcher block. No cutting boards required. For the bathroom vanity tops, I had them use solid core exterior wood doors cut to fit and trimmed. Few weeks later, they both sprouted powder-post beetles. Would have been ok, but there was a ton. They had to come back and redo both of them.

  6. thhq1 on April 14, 2016 at 08:38

    I think that you’ll need to experiment on some scrap lumber. I would give the twigs a roast in the oven – 250F for an hour – to kill any bug eggs and stabilize them so they don’t shrink once they’re inlaid. I’d recommend taking the bark off, but it might not be necessary. If you want to add some gnarliness try using some manzanita, juniper or mountain mahogany.

    I haven’t done any marquetry other than using cherry or walnut pegs. Part of what looks good about dovetails and butcher block is the color contrast from the end grain. On that torreya chest the overall color is like butter, with the protruding dovetails darker. After working them with the pad sander they look like melting caramels.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 14, 2016 at 09:59

      Yep, and thanks for the suggestion of manzanita. My brother’s place an hour and a half up the road has manzanita that grows like weeds.

      Rough, 3″ rotary sander is what I had in mind for the bark. Balance between the look, smooth, and esthetic value.

      It’ll be months before I get to prototype, but I’ll be sure to blog about it.

  7. William on April 17, 2016 at 20:53

    Damn! I haven’t heard anyone chew the fat about planers, table saws, or wood shops since I was a kid during the 60’s. Back then, this was everyday talk among the men in my life; Dad, uncle, and all their Olympia drinking buddies. Now days, it’s easy to see the results of woodworking at Dwell magazine, or other such places, but most people have no idea how houses, and furniture got that way. Sort of like kids these days who have no idea where their milk comes from. Can you imagine the horrified looks on their little finicky faces after taking a wiff of cowshit from the dairies over in the Turlock area?

    • thhq1 on April 18, 2016 at 11:46

      For my adult woodworking manual, I used Thomas Moser’s “How to Build Shaker Furniture”. I’d always liked the Shaker chairs, and for the dimension lumber I was stacking up the Shaker minimalist designs were sturdy and good for showing off the wood. I used his basic designs for beds, 3 drawer chests, benches and tables. Moser also gives a good outline on what tools you need.

      This is Moser’s stepstool right out of the book. Simple cutouts for the base and through dovetailing for the treads. It really shows off the wood, especially if you have wide boards. I was always looking for the widest I could find. This piece needs 12″, the chests need 18-20″, headboards 18-24″. Back in the 80’s they were out there if you knew where to look. They might still be out there for all I know.

      At the beginning I would belt sand the protruding dovetails flat, as you see in the picture. As I built more and more of these pieces I started leaving the dovetails to protrude, and block sanded them to a slightly rounded finish.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 18, 2016 at 07:01

      There’s lots of DIY woodworking stuff on YouTube and Pinterest. Lots of amazing stuff. You can get lots for hours.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 18, 2016 at 07:04

      I wonder if they even have woodshop in school anymore. Man, in 7th grade, at 13 years old we were operating table saws, band saws, lathes and other equipment all on our own, making bowls, stools, and other fun stuff.

    • thhq1 on April 18, 2016 at 09:43

      Funny story about school wood shop. I was doing one of the garage furniture projects when two special needs teachers we knew came over to visit. They had the budget to provide their kids with the best tools to learn manual skills. But they had never seen anyone do anything useful with them. It sounded like the tools were being used to cut boards in half and nail them together.

      A lot of the reason for developing woodworking as a hobby was abundant quality lumber I could get back in the 80’s and 90’s. I used to travel all over the northwestfor work, usually with a pickup truck. The clear spruce, redwood, Port Orford cedar and Doug fir bargains were piling up. I started making stuff to use it up…so I could get more…

    • Richard Nikoley on April 18, 2016 at 10:10

      My favorite woodshop story is when we were making step stools for mom.

      Instructor was this jive talking black guy who got our respect when he made a wood bowl with a machined wood lid that fit tighter than a virgin encounter.

      So near the end of the class project, he called forth the step stools of another guy, and mine. His was finished and looked like shit. Mine was unfinished and looked way better. I still can see the speech in my mind’s eye: “finished product….unfinished product.”

  8. Leah on April 18, 2016 at 08:17

    Check out Jimmy DiResta on youtube. His videos are full of detail, yet not time-consuming as they are shot with time-lapse and most of them have no annoying narration. A good variety of woodworking and metal working.

  9. […] Blogging a while back, things have changed big and we now find ourselves living in a vacation home we’ve owned for nearly 15 years that occupies a spot in Arnold, CA, at 4,000 feet elevation and just inside the western edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range that spans 400 miles north to south, and 70 miles west to east. If you want, you can find lots of things to do. So we are. For example: […]

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