“This cabin has a name,” says Kent Sargent, standing on the back patio of his log cabin in Terra Nova. “It’s Simple Pleasures, because that’s what life’s about.”
Everything here has a story – a stick in the shape of a dog, a tuft of moose hair, dried flowers hanging from the ceiling, the furniture. But we’ll start with the story of the cabin itself, and how it came to be.
Back in the mid 1970s, Kent’s parents and some friends went on a trip to the mainland, during which they stayed at a log cabin. They liked it, and began talking about having one of their own. Around the same time, the land Kent’s father used as his hunting grounds was opened up for cabin lots.
A wistful idea became a real possibility, and the Sargents, along with two other families, built themselves a trio of log cabins on the shore of Terra Nova Lake. The process began in 1978, when Kent was about 12 or so, and lasted three years. He was old enough to work, and he was put to use as a labourer on the family’s cabin project. For years, he says with a laugh, he thought his name was “Get Wood.”
There’s an explanation that needs to be done here. When Kent says they built this cabin, he doesn’t mean they acted as the general contractor to supervise a build. Nor does he mean that they purchased a kit home and assembled it on site. He means what he says – they built it themselves.
They went into the forest, looking for tall, straight fir trees for the main walls. It’s easier to peel the bark from a fir tree than a spruce, and they wanted the look of debarked trees, not the semi-carved and cut look of using a drawknife on spruce, explains Kent. Those trees, which they harvested from the surrounding woods, were collected beside the building site. Holes were dug for supporting concrete pillars, serving as a foundation to keep the log cabin off the ground.
With all the logs collected – or at least enough to get started – they would pick through the pile, looking for the ideal tree. It was a slow process, as they had decided to notch the logs, says Kent, explaining how they would find the log to be placed on top of the one needing a notch, then trace its profile into the log to be cut using a compass, then finally making a series of cuts and removing the waste material. If it all went well, they had a snug fitting log.
It got to the point where Kent looked forward to the spaces between windows, where the logs were just placed on top of each other without the need for notching.
Those windows, painted white, are older than Kent by a good bit – you can see the imperfections of the old glass, and the wood frames are made using traditional joinery to keep them together. They were salvaged from a doomed building in St. John’s. Although chosen for more practical reasons, they add a real charm to the place, giving the impression the cabin is much older than it is.
As rustic as it looks, the cabin is remarkably high tech. It has full wifi and cell service, supplied through an antenna protruding from the roof, despite being several miles into a cellphone dead zone. Solar panels, a small windmill and a generator power batteries, giving the house full electrical service for microwaves, TVs, iPad charging, electric lights and even a few baseboard heaters.
The whole system is set up in a shed away from the cabin, with the wires run underground. A diesel generator provides an alternative to the solar and wind-charged batteries; the system is set up for near seamless switching between the generator and batteries.
Power lines now run down the road and past the cabin, but with the current off-grid system supplying all their power, they didn’t feel the need to hook up to the grid. Also, says Kent, they felt the necessary new wiring – which couldn’t be hidden inside the walls – would ruin the cabin’s rustic aesthetic.
To save on electric energy use, they heat the cabin primarily with the wood stove, using baseboard heaters to take the chill off the rooms farthest from the stove. Propane powers both the fridge and oven, which also helps conserve the electric power.
The water system is a bit of hybrid. A pump pushes water from the well into holding tanks mounted on the second floor. The hose from the well to the tanks is configured in a way that gravity completely drains it back to the well when the tanks are full. This self-draining results in an empty line, allowing them to use the water well year-round without worry of the pipe freezing.
Standing on the back patio of the cabin he helped build as a child, Kent talks about how special the place is to him. Pausing, he looks out past the sandy beach at the calm waters of Terra Nova Lake, then the trees surrounding the cabin, and sums up his feelings about the place.
“It’s home,” he says.