Saturday, February 25, 2006

Snow Shack description as in the book "Unboxed"

Snow Shack – Heat Mirror

I was riding freight trains all over the place and wanted a shack to go to in the winter. In the fall of 1996, I planned and built an experimental winter building near Cartier, Ontario. It was a good location because it’s a town where all freight trains stop to change crews. just far enough from southern Ontario to find loads of crown land. A small railway town of fifty houses with a hotel-bar and general store, Cartier is two crew changes north of Toronto (40 miles northeast of Sudbury) and about ten hours by freight.

There was a trick for catching freights in downtown Toronto. Trains would stop at a siding downtown, pick up a string of cars and carry on across the country. This “catch-out spot” made it easy for me to carry a heavy load because the ride always stopped. I tied my building materials around a bow saw. The saw doubled as a handle. Saw bundle in one hand, water in the other, a backpack full of tools and food, I caught out. All the trains on the CP line go through Cartier.

I arrived in the morning in Cartier, ditched my gear under a tree and went looking for a place to build. About two miles into the bush I came across a great horned owl and we looked at each other intently from a short 15-foot distance before I walked on. Based on this experience, I chose this spot as the location, which was near a kind of peninsula on a lake.

The building I call the Snow Shack was an experiment. It had two parabolic domes at each end of a short tunnel. Heat was reflected from one dome to another. When you bend a tree over from its top it takes on an exponential curve. I used this shape of a small bent tree to approximate the dish that would make the bowl-curve of the parabolic. Inside, the parabolic domes were lined with aluminized paper. The stove was at the focal point of one dome. Heat reflected off it, through the space and bounced off the opposite dome. A hot spot or “heat mirror” appeared in the opposite dome. Facing the stove, I sat in that spot with my back warmed by heat rays bouncing off the domes.

Overall, the space was about fifteen by seven feet and almost eight feet high, roughly the shape (and colour) of an elongated half egg. It used a lightweight wood stove made from locally trashed pipes. The structure was made from young birch trees, bowed and tightly bound with rope. The covering shell was a special UV-resistant vinyl fastened over the structure. If necessary, the shack could be picked up by cross pieces and easily moved by two people.

The Snow Shack was unlike any other place I’ve lived because it was peaceful. Never before had I known such silence.

Please see Unboxed: Engagements in social space, thanks to Adrian Blackwell and Jen Budney

Snow Shack -shot with one candle light source (cause thats all I had)

This is view of the inside of this small space from the "hot spot" opposite my stove pipe woodstove.