Henry David Thoreau has at times been upbraided by critics for “everyone’s favorite incriminating biographical factoid,” writes Donovan Hohn at The New Republic: “During the two years he spent at Walden Pond, his mother sometimes did his laundry.” The author who became “America’s original nature boy “played at rugged self-sufficiency,” it is said, “while squatting on borrowed land, in a house built with a borrowed axe”; he played at rugged individualism while relying on friends and family to support him.
Who did Erik Grankvist’s laundry, we might wonder, while he built a log cabin alone during the year he recorded in the edited video above? Grankvist shows how, at 18, he “ventured out alone with only a backpack full of simple hand tools to actualize my dream… [to] build my own traditional off grid log cabin by hand from the materials of the Swedish wilderness. Just like our Forefathers did.” You may notice, or not, the cleanliness of Grankvist’s clothing. You may wonder, “who washed his forefathers’ clothes?”…
Or, you might say, “this isn’t a video about laundry but about building a log cabin!” And you would be correct. As an experiment in building a log cabin from scratch with (mostly) just a few hand tools, it is an extraordinary document: “I had no previous experience in building, gathering materials or filming,” Grankvist writes. “So I started studying myself the old arts and learning from my grandfather and mentor Åke Nilsson. I began to cut down trees and film with my phone, learning as I go.”
The project really picked up steam once Grankvist graduated high school, he writes, suggesting he did not actually live full time in the woods but that someone fed, housed, and clothed him while he worked. We see none of this in the video. We do see a tractor at one point, and Grankvist admits he’d rather the modern extravagance have been a horse.
Does it ruin the magic a little to wonder about the mundane details of the builder’s life — food, clothing, healthcare, etc. — while watching him cut his own timber, clear the land, build a stone foundation and, on top of it, a rustic little cabin? Maybe a little. But as extraordinary as it is to watch an 18-year-old Swede build a log cabin by himself, one also can’t help but remember it takes a village worth of forefathers, and mothers, to make an 18-year-old Swede. But Grankvist does not present his visual Walden as a how-to guide (any more than Thoreau did), but as his own statement of independence, one worth making even if it doesn’t tell the full truth about self-sufficiency.