One of the advantages of fall is that you get to see the structure of trees. In summer the branches are hidden by the luscious green foliage. But as autumn brings the brilliant colors out of the leaves, one by one they fall and the branches become visible again. We are exposed to this part of the tree through winter and watch hopefully and longingly as the buds thicken and give way to new leaves in spring. That’s part of why I like living in the Appalachian mountains. The view of trees and their ever changing status keeps reminding us of the cycle of life.
That I was interested in architecture as a young boy could probably be explained by the season of autumn. That was when my sisters would be given rakes to rake the leaves under our Silver Maple trees in the front yard. Being little girls at the time, they raked into patterns and made “rooms” with “doorways” out of their raking, and then played “house.” It was my job to walk across the “walls” and declare their house no longer whole.
In addition to this, there was a half-finished building that resided along Lynn Garden Drive, just across the Tennessee border south of where we lived. It stood there, non-conformist, being what it was, and never being finished. You could see part of the framing of the building. I remember several times during church drawing half-finished buildings, trying to erase lines and imagine what it might look like if the building was changed one way or another. I would draw the framing, then I would erase it and draw the finished walls.
After the leaves were down for the season, we could still make out the “Cat-eyes” on top of Clinch Mountain. Two trees stood there, probably Hemlocks, evergreens. Between their lowest branches and the top of the mountain, or the ground beneath them, you could see the sky peaking through. We were told from an early age that this scene was a big cat staring down at us. I’d wave at it every day or two. I lived my childhood with the feeling of being watched by the mountain. It was nice to have an audience, especially when I played outside alone. In the shadow of this mountain I would dream of buildings in the yard, and ride my tricycle around them like I was delivering goods to each one.
Later I watched with interest as my grandfather built a storage building on the back pasture land. He took four larger timbers and laid them down on rocks, leveling them and squaring them before nailing them together. He then took two long, flat boards and nailed them together at a 90 degree angle, forming the first corner, and nailed them to the foundation pieces. One by one he added boards beside boards until a wall was formed. he then put a piece to the top and nailed it for support. Later he would go back and put “batten” boards over the cracks between boards, creating “board and batten” construction. He said he once lived in a house made like that, and I noticed how the building looked like the old smoke house at the home place. The walls would be as thick or thin as the boards, and no more. After completing the four walls, he added rafters and tin, and went inside and laid boards down on the original foundation timbers for a floor. A door on one end and windows from the old house on the other and the building was completed.
My parents built a house in 1977. It, too was in the back pasture land, high on a sandy green hill. The builders were Caudill Construction. It was to be 40′ wide by something like 28′. I enjoyed watching the bulldozers doing site prep and making room for the foundation, but was surprised by how small it all looked when the footers were poured. Then cinder block walls (probably concrete blocks, but in my area all such things are called “cinder blocks”) were put up, and then floor joists. Afterwards walls were framed and roof trusses added. I loved watching the framing and seeing wiring and plumbing added, all the things that are hidden behind the walls, the mysteries of the house. My dad added a central vacuum cleaning system, as he sold them at Sears. It was fun to watch that go in and think about all the dirt being sucked into this one place in the basement.
Well, I’ve watched multiple buildings be built since those early days. I was called into ministry instead of engineering. But I still like to watch the structure of things go up and observe the structure of trees as leaves come down. It is a testimony to the Supreme Architect of the Universe that there is design in all things living.