When I was a kid I enjoyed going out to our yard and building forts using a large piece of army canvas my father had around the garage. I would tie it off to a tree, stretch out the corners, and stake them down. When it was finished it was oddly shaped but served its purpose. Sure, it didn’t look like one of those pristine shelters you see on the many bushcraft IG accounts these days, but as a kid, it was my fortress of solitude.
By the time I was teenager my brother and neighbor friend Paul, from across the street had built a treehouse. Long before Tree Masters became popular and every nomad wanted one, our treehouse was fully insulated, had electricity, a wrap around deck, a man door (not a hatch), a refrigerator, murphy bunks, paneling, carpet and a TV. Trust me, it was real and I have the hard copy photos to prove it. We spent many nights camping out in the treehouse. Even during the winter. One Christmas season we decorated the inside and outside with lights and even put up a small Christmas tree. As a young teenage boy, that treehouse was a luxury penthouse.
It’s been many years since that young man had built himself a fortress of solitude and now at the age of forty-seven, I find myself sitting in the woods on a log staring at an open piece of ground plotting and planning out what will once again be my fortress of solitude.
Here in the Pennsylvania state forests, parks, and game lands, it’s illegal to build a shelter of any sort for recreational use. So you either have to own or know someone with private land. I am fortunate to have friends with a farm and a large piece of wooded land on the mountain for which they have graciously allowed me to use for my camp project and practice my outdoor wilderness skills. One thing you need to understand, people don’t easily allow others to simply use their land. Around here farmers are picky about who tromps through their property especially if they are hunters. So when our friends gave me permission I was more than grateful.
Day one at camp started off slow. I was eager to get started on building a shelter but I knew I had to find the right spot. Part of my day was taken up hiking through the woods scouting out the right area. Even though I was eager to get started I didn’t mind hiking through the woods. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny and I could smell a fire burning in the distance. I followed a two-track trail up the mountain that eventually curved to the right looping me back to where I started. I passed a patch of bright green ferns and an old tree stand now falling apart from age. I found my mind wandering over the history of that stand and imagined deer grazing on the ferns. It was a great day to be outside and go for a walk in the woods.
By noon I had scoped out my spot for what will eventually become Camp HBF, my fortress of solitude. I immediately got to work on building out the framework for the shelter by cutting wood for cross beams and lashing them to two trees that were perfectly spaced apart. The trees would also provide a canopy for the shelter thereby protecting it from the elements even more. I chose to build the shelter so it faced west with a view looking out across the valley. This would provide me with a view of the sunset in the evening as I sat in my shelter with a warm fire, a hot meal, and a cup of coffee.
Once the framework was securely in place and I accessed my next step. It was time to put on a cover, but that would wait until another day. By the time I had scouted my location, cut and gathered wood for the frame of the shelter, I was hungry. I built a small fire, boiled some water and sat in the shelter eating a meal of rice and beans and a cup of coffee. While it was only a frame I sat there and enjoyed the meal as if I was sitting in my completed shelter. My mind raced with ideas of what to do once it was complete to bring in some simple comforts. A bench, a bench would be nice, and maybe a small table, and a large fire ring. There I sat a grown man sitting in the woods eating like a king even though it was a simple meal. And sipping coffee like a rugged cowboy while dreams of what the shelter would look like raced through my head.
But now it was time to go home. The work will continue the next time I come out, and as I hiked out of the woods to my car I was already plotting in my head when that next time would be. I had found the perfect location for camp. It’s a location that immediately gave me a sense of solitude and peace. A location to disconnect from daily routines, technology, politics and the opinions that come with it, and from the news that seems to share nothing new or encouraging. Yep, this is the right location for my fortress of solitude. I felt like that kid again who played in the woods without a care in the world and it’s because the location is perfect.