Rural Manitoba

A Carpenter’s Life: As Told By Houses

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I was encouraged by my elders to “follow my heart.”…Would not our world be a better place if we all followed what our hearts tell us to do?  People with heart won’t fight senseless wars, they won’t strip-mine a beautiful mountain, commit genocide, pollute our land with toxic waste and chemical fertilizers, foul the air we breathe, poison all our water and then charge us more for bottled water than they do for gasoline, dump 4.9 million barrels of oil in our sensitive Gulf, pay their workers poor wages, destroy Native cultures, keep slaves, spend $35,000 per second on war (Google “cost of war”), rape other countries of their resources leaving people to survive on $1 a day or less, let the riches of our country benefit a chosen few, let our children wander our streets homeless, and believe this is what life is all about.

I’ve never been one for hero-worship, but, jeepers, it’s refreshing to find a decent, substantial, informed, authentic human being every so often.

My first exposure to Larry Haun came in a darkened classroom, in my first year of construction carpentry at trades school.  We were all visibly impressed by the lanky middle-aged guy in the videos who banged nails in two “licks” and tread the unsheathed floor joists with the grace of a ballet dancer on a high wire.  We knew the video was slightly dated and that Larry was well into his 70’s and still framing up a storm with his brother Joe, an impressive tribute to his skills and approach to life. The magic starts at about 2:01.

Larry, with his modest and kind demeanour, gave me hope.  I was awkward with my framing hammer (and inexperienced with most of the other carpentry tools and equipment), twice the age of the majority of my classmates, and the only woman. Thank goodness I was also Type A, a voracious reader, and highly inquisitive, or I’m not sure I would have made it through.  In my worst moments of self-doubt and panic I could count on Larry.

I have said that our houses form the backdrop of our lives, from birth through death and all stages in between.  A Carpenter’s Life: As Told By Houses employs the conceit of housing form to reflect not only the chronology of Larry’s life, but his philosophical underpinnings, layered against the undercurrents of broad societal change.  His story is told in twelve chapters and twelve historical forms of housing, beginning with the Nebraska Soddy of his childhood, through the California tract housing of his young adulthood, and ending with his work with Habitat for Humanity in Oregon.  It marries excellent personal storytelling with active doing, a form that I particularly favour.

Although Larry was a carpenter by trade, he defied the limits of a singular description.  He was at once a father, husband and grandfather, a world traveller, a polyglot, an artist, a philosopher, an historian, an environmental steward, a community builder, activist and leader, a grower of food, an extoller of small homes, simple living, reuse and reclamation, a learner, a Buddhist and a fully-formed lover of life.  A simple and modest man, I imagine he would have held his own with anyone, anywhere.  And chances are, he would have been the most interesting, engaging and wise person in the room.

This book requires no previous knowledge of the building trades; it tells a story of a life well- and thoughtfully-lived and authentically recounted.  It is a generous, perfect fit of a book considering the global challenges we face housing and feeding our expanding population, and the environmental degradation that threatens to pull us all asunder.

Sadly, Larry Haun passed away on October 24th, 2011 at the age of 80 just as this book was being published.  He died from lymphoma, which he believed he “caught” as a result of long-term exposure to toxic wood treatments and asbestos through his beloved work.

I live with some regret that I didn’t make the pilgrimage to meet him.

4 thoughts on “A Carpenter’s Life: As Told By Houses”

  1. I have recently been exploring the videos online of Larry and his brother Joe. I am not a carpenter nor in the building trades at all, but I find these videos oddly centering and calming. I am not sure what it is about these two men that intrigues me and causes this feeling. I find myself thinking about these videos and these men at the oddest times. I was saddened to learn of Larry’s departure from this world but I am curious to know if Joe is still with us. I am not sure if you are still maintaining this page or if you even know but I have have been searching for any information about the (mostly) silent member of this construction duo. Thanks in earnest…John

    1. Hi John –
      Thank you for your comment. Haven’t seen anything about Joe, so it would seem that he is still alive but out of the spotlight. I agree – the videos are incredibly calming and centering, arguably for two reasons: the first is due to the brothers’ absolute mastery of their craft and the second, they radiate their human decency. If you haven’t read Larry’s book, I highly recommend you do. Kindest, Andrea

  2. His wisdom and sense of humor will stay with me for a lifetime. We were neighbors in Echo Park through the seventies. His voice comes to me quite often without prompting.
    Be at peace, Larry.

    1. Asher – thank you for the lovely, personal comment. His voice is memorable and his manner even more so. I can see why it would stay with you all these years.

      How remarkable that you lived next door to Larry…

      Kindest, Andrea

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