Richard Aiken is a 65-year-old former mathematician with two Ph.D.’s. He also has a medical degree, sang opera, and authored a nutrition book. He’s quite an impressive man, but he lives his life simply. In fact, he refers to himself as the “hillbilly vegan.” All Aiken wanted to do was live in a log cabin out in the middle of nowhere, and then that’s when a great offer came his way.
Billy Howell, a man who owned this dilapidated cabin, offered Aiken it for free. But Aiken instead on paying him $100.
Aiken did some research into the cabin and told the San Francisco Globe that the land was given as a grant back in 1833, so the log cabin was probably built somewhere around then. Clearly, the cabin has a lot of wear and tear and you can see that the roof totally caved in. But where most see an unfixable mess, Aiken saw an opportunity.
"This cabin was a real find. It was two stories, with a very large 'pen' of about 21-22 feet square. The material was massive white oak beams, hand hewn and squared with half dovetail notches. Most logs were in excellent condition,” Aiken told the SF Globe. He cleared out the entire cabin and catalogued all the usable beams. He then took apart the entire thing and transported it to some land he and his wife purchased in the Ozarks.
Aiken told the SF Globe that he had to veer off from the original construction plans a little bit. "We wanted a basement for food and wine storage so began digging. About six feet down we hit bedrock. The cabin therefore needed to be built a few feet above ground," Aiken said.
The basement was made with concrete, Aiken lamented, but said all other materials were “hand-hewn and natural.” The new floor was made of white oak, “The roof and porch purlins were made from hickory and ash found on the property; more unfortunate but necessary sacrifices. The ridgepole is white oak — a critical and challenging installation. Shingles are split cedar shakes," Aiken said.
Aiken used chicken wire to fill in the gaps between the logs. “This was particularly nice because it could conform to the space and left an air gap for insulation. Daubing was performed with an old recipe: one quarter part cement, one part lime, and four parts sand,” he said.
They even built their own lake by the cabin after they were fortunate enough to discover a natural spring on the land. They called it the “Lake of Joyful Tears.” They brought in bulldozers to dig up the lake and they even built a dock.
Not any fireplace would work for Aiken. He wanted a Rumford fireplace. These types of fireplaces were common between 1796 and 1850. “This is a brilliant design widely adopted to optimize heat transfer within a room. The design is tall and shallow with angled sides to radiate better into the room. Also the throat is narrow and streamlined so as to quickly remove smoke but not hot air. The hearth is even with the flooring so that moving a chair or stool close to the fire is facilitated. The hearth is wide and deep for cooking," Aiken explained.
The cabin has gotten a lot of use since it’s been finished, but Aiken told the SF Globe that one of his favorite uses for it is for Thanksgiving. Aiken may be a hillbilly, but he’s also a hippy at heart. His Thanksgiving incorporates a “Sacred Four-Directions Harvest Table” which is an element of Native American culture. Four cardinal directions must be identified and objects are placed on a table to honor the sun, nature, moon and sky.
"Most importantly, these objects, mostly edible and if so consumed during the feast, are basic to the earth and no creature was disturbed because of these Thanksgivings — a whole food plant-based 'vegan' Thanksgiving," Aiken explained.
An Amish family constructed the harvest table for him out of white oak and a fallen walnut tree.
Now Aiken (pictured) can just kick back, relax and enjoy the beautiful and rustic cabin he’s put a decade of work into. But he hopes that there is plenty more work to come on this cabin. “Simple tasks became noble with rhythm to it. The wood in the logs came to life with my heartbeat, sweat, speaking truths in the silence,” Aiken said. “I hope I shall never finish working with this log cabin; never stop the silence.”