Boston prof goes off-grid crazy

Ureneck: On Walden Pond
Lou Ureneck has decided he is the next Thoreau, author of Walden, Life in the Woods.

Henry Thoreau’s nineteenth century cabin was 10 feet by 15 feet. Lou Ureneck’s in Western Maine will be 30 by 16. And The New York Times has given it the star treatment.

Ureneck is professor of journalism at Boston University, and  he is building the cabin “himself”, together with help from friends and family, not to mention a few local contractors.

The cabin is to be a vacation getaway and “will be simple, even primitive, maintaining contact with a tradition of frugality that reaches back to Walden Pond,” says Ureneck.  He bought the land this February for $32,000 to have somewhere to go fishing.

It will be “a far cry from the big, fancy cabins that have become popular in recent years, with French doors, commercial-grade kitchens and wide decks for entertaining at the lake. With the extravagant vacation-home market in collapse, I’m happy to offer my simple and inexpensive cabin as a manifesto for the times.”

Solar panels in the roof will him a trickle of electricity to power a laptop; lights and stove will run off bottled gas; a generator will power a pump to lift water from the well.51h9gcxjc-l-_sl160_-1006813

Ureneck was the deputy managing editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, in charge of the Inquirer’s front page and nightly news operation.  Reassuringly, that does not seem to have given him the magic touch with his contractors:

“I dithered through the summer with a contractor who kept delaying the excavation of my driveway, then I found another, who came in promptly with a bulldozer and about a hundred yards of gravel,” he told The Times.

Before joining the Inquirer, Ureneck was editor and vice president of The Portland (Maine) Press Herald, which introduced him to the area where he bought his cabin.  He developed the Herald into one of the best medium-size newspapers in the country. He was also editor-in residence at the Neiman Foundation at Harvard University.

2 Responses

  1. I’ll second that, Mainah. I’m one of those local kids that moved away. My family used to camp all summer by a lake in the mid-coast region. Winter’s we’d retreat to a roadside cabin that My father built with his own two hands. Around the time I was in high-school, property values in the area sky-rocketd as more and more houses were built around the lake.

    Now somehow, I’ve found myself thousands of miles away in an apartment in Los Angeles. I feel so disconnected from nature sometimes that it hurts. I am a great fan of Thoreau. I have visited Walden pond several times on my return visits to Maine. I often think that all I really need is a small plot of land in the right place. If only I had Ralph Waldo Emerson to lend me a spot by a lake like he did for Thoreau.

    I wonder if professor Ureneck commutes to work the same way Thoreau did: by walking. I wonder if he cares that he has taken a spot away from someone who is truly thrifty, by out-competing them with his city-earned cash.

    Cash from away.

  2. I like the Western Mountains of Maine. Don’t drink the water unless you know it’s safe due to high levels of Arsenic in many areas.
    There are probably tens of thousands of ‘camps’ all across Maine, so the ‘prof’ isn’t exactly a pioneer. My family has been ‘camping’ in this neck of the woods since the 17th. Century. We laugh at people like him. Unfortunately, sometimes we cry as well when the favorite pond where we have fished since children is no longer accessible due to the fact that people from away, pockets, bulging with cash have bought up all of the land around the shores.
    The last time the New York Times wrote an article about my neighborhood, there were hundreds of vehicles with New York plates cruising the back roads by the next Weekend. Within a few months, the price of land had doubled. Now the local kids, unless their parents have property to sell or give to them, have to move away because they can’t afford to live here.

    I have little nice to say about these people.

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