Berries and Birds
[This article originally appeared in the Bloomington Herald-Times. See http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/stories/2013/04/06/homes.berries-and-birds.sto)
Keith Uridel and his wife Aimee Dewar are farmers on Brown County land that has belonged to Aimee’s family for well over a hundred years. Her parents live within walking distance.
“This was the Kent farm,” Keith explained. (Kent Road is nearby). “And this is near Dewar Ridge, where T.C. Steele’s home is.”
The couple and their three children live in a timber-frame farmhouse that Keith built in 2003-2004 with the assistance of good friends Matt Ericson and Jason Hobson, and his father-in-law, Don Dewar. On all sides grow hundreds of young blueberry, raspberry and blackberry bushes, which Keith sells locally and nationally under the Backyard Berry Plants name.
“When we moved onto the land in 1996 it was just a grassy field,” Keith recalled. “I stopped mowing and planted trees, and it’s become a much more diverse habitat. My father-in-law told me that since we’ve been planting trees and blueberries, he’s seen birds he hasn’t seen in decades. This past year we’ve seen every single woodpecker species that can be found in Indiana. We once saw thirty male cardinals in the dawn redwood tree at the same time.”
Keith and Aimee’s two daughters are homeschooled; both are budding ornithologists. Hand-colored illustrations of different bird species are tacked to walls, and feeding stations surround the house. Eagles are often seen, and great blue herons have a rookery nearby.
The interior with its sun-filled windows is warm and inviting, with bookshelves reaching to the ceiling, and stair rails made from undulating peeled wood. It is a cozy, homey place. Keith’s banjo and a guitar hang on the wooden walls; toys and children’s projects are nearby. Aimee’s spinning wheels and yarn projects are within reach; the girls are adept at using drop spindles to make yarn. Their young brother plays in the middle of the floor with a dragon and two little Playmobil figurines.
The design for the house came from a book called “Build Your Own Timber Frame House.” Some of the wood in Keith and Aimee’s home came from trees on the family property.
“The author of the book talked about how to pick a tree and shape the timbers by hand, but the amount of time it would have taken to shape the beams myself was too much. I was married and had a family, and he didn’t,” laughed Keith.
Foundation work began in the fall of 2003. Keith recalls how he and his father-in-law Don Dewar stayed up late one night until 3:00 a.m. working on the new basement wall framing, and then had to get up and be on the site again by 6:00 a.m. for the concrete pour. When the frame went up in December, Don was Keith’s right-hand man.
“I’d call the cut measure-ments down to him, and he would cut and send the boards up to me on the scaf-folding,” Keith said. “He helped me immensely to get through the most tedious aspects of finishing, with never one word of discouragement, and always came over without being asked. He knew I needed help! Only family can be put through that kind of thing.”
During their house-raising, observing ancient tradition, a branch was nailed onto the ridge beam when it was lifted into place.
The family moved into their new lodgings in September of 2004, before the front door had yet been installed. After years of living in a trailer, a timber frame home was a dream come true.
Timber frame homes are built with green wood. Throughout the first winter there were recurring loud bangs as the wood “checked”, cracking as it dried. This is quite normal.
“Because the stress is relieved, it’s actually more stable than it would be otherwise,” Aimee pointed out. She added, “When we built this house, I wanted it to be a real and authentic home. I didn’t want any elements of a mobile home. There’s no drywall in the house, it’s all wood. I love it. It’s the pendulum swinging one direction and then the other way.”
Keith carefully insulated the walls and roof.
“The first winter it reached 20 below zero and I had to keep feeding the fire all night,” he remembered. But the house stayed snug with only the woodstove.
Part of the home’s warmth is due to its sense of belonging to the land.
“I enjoy being able to say ‘I’m Aimee Dewar and I live near Dewar Ridge,’” said Aimee. “I love the sense of place I have here.”
Keith shares that connection, after having filled the land with birds and berries. He even contemplates changing his last name to Dewar because he feels such a sense of rootedness there.
He stood on the hillside and gazed upon the house that he built.
“I didn’t have any gray hairs until I built it,” he said thoughtfully. “A builder never sees what other people see. I see the part that was difficult, or the part that had the faults. But when other people see it and they like it, it reminds me that, yes, it IS a beautiful house.”