A dock is basically a deck in water. I’d never built a deck, or anything on the water. But we decided to do it. A bridge is like a deck, right? Just with a big hole underneath. And a deck, well that’s just a bunch of boards, if you think about it right. Right?
I first met Mackenzie at a retreat at her house in the winter, where we talked about art and politics and the world and where we were in it and what we could be or do or couldn’t. It was quite nice and dinner was lovely. In the afternoon Saturday, she led us for a walk around the endless woodland property, and I was moved. This place isn’t just a strange abandoned fishing spot or logging camp; it’s a clearing carved into nature where we humans can flourish and play. It’s private land, not far from my homeland Oakland, that welcomes variety, reverie, and fantasy. It’s the big chunk of country where we should be building weird wooden dragons over a beer, where we should be idling in the shade while a warm breeze passes by, and where we should be taking a break on a bench.
More commonly, the spaces I have access to are usually overrun with human negligence and litter, dominated by unrelenting profit-driven forces of investor confidence, policed to allow only the most idiot-proof varieties of fun, or all three. Where there have been exceptions, life has been interesting! And Mendocino Magic is one of those spaces.
It was late May, when we came to build the dock. And mid August when we came back to build the bridge. We had plans to rent the whole property out for Labor Day weekend and throw a campout party to help ease us away from our very deep, but decreasingly rewarding, relationships with Burning Man. Mackenzie has a deal she offers some people where you can put in work to reduce your fees, and it turns out we kinda love working. Well, when it’s the right kind of work, it’s really just so much fun.
The key to building a dock was doing our homework and relying on our own indomitable genius. Mackenzie lined up materials for a dock (initially planning on four in one day!), and delivered almost everything we needed. We showed up Friday night, saw our pile, chatted with her, and started the next morning.
It turns out that the decking on top — almost the only thing you can see from the water — was trivial and applied in about 20 minutes at the end. All the hard stuff is squaring the frame, sealing both sides of each board, planning how to attach the buoyant drums beneath, carrying the damn thing around, and determining suitable struts and cross-beams. None of us had built a deck before, actually, but we had built lots of things before that we had not built before that, so we were not worried.
Do to some poor counting around the length of these ratchet straps (the orange lines above), we ended up with some extra time by the lake and decided to seal and reinforce the campsite’s picnic table as well as put more sealant on all the dock’s darn decking.
We finally flipped it over with the help of a small party who happened to be passing by whooping and surreal. At this point we finished, had some whisky, and turned the makeshift supply table into a darling bench that still stands.
The rest of the evening was spent wandering about, chatting with others who were also there to build. This was delightful and the people we met were of the highest caliber.
Our ultimate goal was to throw an event, so when Mackenzie invited us to come watch someone else throw one, we were totally committed. What could be more helpful? When the two of us on this adventure showed up and looked around, it turned out the whole thing was fairly simple. This crowd was not our sort of folks, so we didn’t mingle much with the party, and spent all day Saturday fixing up the front steps and deck of the gate house. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about details like why we did that, but I suspect we walked up the stairs and knocked on the door, then immediately started talking about how the stairs and deck could use some help. When we started to realize how much rotted wood there was, we couldn’t help ourselves and went on for hours using the tools right there fixing things up. When dinner was almost ready we pulled what was becoming a signature move: we made a bench. This was our biggest, strongest bench and has surely gotten the most use. By the next morning, someone had already sat for hours on the bench over breakfast and hadn’t even realized it was new and we had built it!
Word is, Mackenzie’s parents are happy with us for fixing up the deck. So that’s good.
When we came back to build the bridge, it wasn’t clear that we were getting any further discount on the property for our own rental at summer’s end. I’m not actually sure why we all signed up for it, but we ultimately headed out with six people this time, and did something much harder, possibly with less benefit, than ever before! In this case, hard work really is its own reward I guess.
Heading in, we thought Mackenzie had lined up all the lumber we needed. But we chose a tricky weekend: the Perseid’s meteor shower. Mendocino Magic’s one public event of the year! Never discouraged, Mackenzie showed us all the relevant lumber on the property and headed out with one of our team to buy what was still missing. It turned out the scrap wood supply on the site is epic, and we were able to cut everything from this except the stringers (long supports under bridge). Two us spent most of the day hauling wood around in trucks, pulling out screws and nails, and cutting any pieces we could use. At some points we got a bit slap happy and ended up building two bonus benches. Why not?
Just like the dock, getting the frame together was the hardest work. In this case, we had to carry everything about 500 feet from the road, down a path trucks could not cross, clear the land on both sides, even out the anchors, join the stringers, place them, then reinforce them before we could deck it.
We spent Sunday morning decking and left without completing the handrails.
We like to say it was a locally sourced, organic, artisanally-crafted, shade-grown bridge. It sure is cute though.
We’re throwing the event in a couple of weeks and feeling great about it. We know the property very well, are happy to help it grow, and are going to make one more improvement during the party. We have a design for a new street sign, that calls for participants at our event to paint and position wood behind computer cut wood letters. We’ll stand it up, light it, and eventually drive away knowing that 2019 Mendocino Magic will be even better than 2018 was. Which is pretty cool, but the 2018 version was pretty freaking nice.