Up on the roof

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I am mostly involved with communications and writing these days and that means a lot of office work and time on the computer. Yet, from time to time I take on a construction project around the house and that works out as sort of a holiday for me.

I enjoy working with wood and building or repairing things. When I was a kid I spent so much time helping my dad and brothers with all of the various construction projects we took on around my home community of Attawapiskat. By the time I was 12, I was working with our work gang and driving the various vehicles that we owned.

In remote First Nation communities most people pick up all types of construction and mechanical skills at an early age due to the fact that we just don’t have service centres, hardware stores or contractors to turn to. We have to order any materials we need from southern communities and have them transported by air or by barge. This makes any project much more expensive so it is necessary to conserve as much as possible when doing construction. Finished wood, house construction products and hardware supplies are considered precious. All my friends know me as the king of recycling as I don’t throw anything away.

Recently I took some time to re-shingle the house. Sometimes I take on a big job eagerly but when I get into it I realize just how much work there is to do. However, I take great joy in fixing an old roof and replacing wood and shingles to make a place look new again. It is more like a meditation for me and I am reminded of how much I am out of shape after a hard day of labour.

On this particular project I had to really spend a lot of time in preparation so that I knew my safety was not in question as I worked on the high peak of the house. I was happily surprised when Darren Madden, a local roofer and friend, stopped by to lend me all of his tools and give me a hand to get started. Roofers are a special breed as they are dedicated to hard work in perilous situations and out in the weather. I do not have a lot of experience in roofing so all the tips Darren gave me paid off. My friend Mike was a big help and the neighbours were there at the critical times when I needed them.

Roofing is strategic. You have to prepare to be ready for any change in weather and to put together scaffolding and safety harnesses and measures to make sure things go smoothly. I would guess that I spent 40% of my time preparing to roof and the remainder was devoted to tearing off old shingles and wood and replacing it all. There are so many little tips you need to know to make sure that the roof is properly shingled and looks good.

The roof was very steep so it was a challenge to work efficiently while watching my step. I am not afraid of heights so that helped and I have quite a bit of experience working on projects high off the ground. It was very interesting to me to take a break here and there to survey the town from my perch high above the street. This bird’s eye view made me appreciate the scene below of housetops, trees and the treeline at the river far below.

Many times I stopped to gaze into the blue sky and watch the honking Niska or Canada Geese flying south. It almost seemed that they were gliding down to say hello on their way to warmer lands. It made me realize that I had chosen wisely to start this roofing project earlier in September rather than later. When the Niska fly this early in the fall you can be sure that winter is closer than we might think. Then again, with the way things are changing these days with global warming, they may be simply confused. I guess we will find out in the coming months if the Niska still have it right when it comes to figuring out our weather. I will be happily sipping a coffee and watching the snow fly under a brand new roof.

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