Richard Aiken is a man of many accomplishments. He begins his introduction to SF Globe simply enough: "Husband and father of two sons and a daughter." Then, he casually recounts obtaining two Ph.D.s (chemical engineering and mathematics), earning a medical degree, singing opera and authoring a book on nutrition. As a final note, he adds, "(I) returned to competitive sports at 65 years old, multisport including triathlon."
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Still, this Renaissance man is a self-proclaimed "hillbilly" who had a modest dream: own a quiet cabin in the woods. He sought out various log cabins for sale, but found that many were being offered at exorbitant prices. Then, he was contacted about an old log cabin being offered for free in response to an ad he posted. 

Billy Howell of Missouri contacted Aiken about an old log cabin left rotting on his property. He had lived in it with his wife during the 1950s and into the '90s, but it had fallen into disrepair since they moved out. Aiken did some digging into its history. "Research in the Hartville County courthouse (Wright county) revealed the land was originally given to a Mr. Hudson in 1833 as a land grant.  We speculate that the cabin was built soon thereafter, although there is no written record."

This is the cabin as Aiken found it. Most of the visible wood rotting, few would see its potential. Underneath the siding was indeed an antique log cabin. 

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Richard Aiken

Still, it was hard to see what was salvageable under the rubble of the collapsed roof. 

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Richard Aiken

Though Howell offered the cabin for free, Aiken paid him $100 and got to work sorting the trash from the treasure. A man who sees possibilities where others see obstacles, Aiken told us, "This cabin was a real find.  It was two stories, with a very large 'pen' of about 21-22 feet square.  The material was massive white oak beams, hand hewn and squared with half dovetail notches.  Most logs were in excellent condition."

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Richard Aiken

The debris removed, the wood was carefully cataloged and labeled for transport to the cabin's new home. 

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Richard Aiken

The site, "rolling green hills and 'hollers' in the Ozarks," was its own found treasure. "My wife Mary and I had been exploring the land with a real estate agent when she began to cry out of joy for the beauty of the location (reminded her of her farm growing up in North Dakota).  That spot was very close to the eventual cabin location; we later dug a lake there and named it Lake of Joyful Tears," recalled Aiken to SF Globe. 

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Richard Aiken

When Aiken discovered a natural spring, all the pieces came together. The spring was dug up by hand to the bedrock, bulldozers were brought in to dig out the lake itself, and a dock was built. "We are still in the process of lining the spring edges with stone — as well as constructing stone steps around the property."

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Richard Aiken

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Richard Aiken

The site selected, the long process of rebuilding began. 

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Richard Aiken

"We wanted a basement for food and wine storage so began digging.  About six feet down we hit bedrock.  The cabin therefore needed to be built a few feet above ground," Aiken explained to us. Though Aiken's goal was to build his log cabin "true to the spirit of the original construction," the basement floor was poured with concrete. "All (other) material is hand-hewn and natural materials," he clarified, and all of the new wood used for the log home restoration was taken from the property. 

Even as Aiken lamented cutting down living trees for the log cabin materials, he knew it would be worthwhile in the end. Luckily, the cabin is nestled within 100 acres of forest. 

The new floor joists were made of white oak, "the roof and porch purlins were made from hickory and ash found on the property; more unfortunate but necessary sacrifices. The ridgepole is white oak — a critical and challenging installation.  Shingles are split cedar shakes."

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Richard Aiken

A front porch was designed and built for the log cabin retreat. "We intend to use the front porch as a stage for musical performances ... Maybe next Spring the steps will be complete and the party begin," Aiken mused. In the meantime, he notes, "There are large bull-frogs, crickets, and song birds to listen to and watch from the front porch."

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Richard Aiken

Of course, no log cabin is complete without a hearth. But not any would do.

They were deliberate in selecting a Rumford fireplace. "This is a brilliant design widely adopted to optimize heat transfer within a room.  The design is tall and shallow with angled sides to radiate better into the room.  Also the throat is narrow and streamlined so as to quickly remove smoke but not hot air.  The hearth is even with the flooring so that moving a chair or stool close to the fire is facilitated.  The hearth is wide and deep for cooking," explained Aiken.

According to the Buckley Rumford Co., Rumford fireplaces were common from 1796 to 1850. A resurgence in the popularity of restorations and Early American architecture combined with the efficiency of the design has resulted in a "comeback" for the historic fireplace. 

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Richard Aiken

A fallen oak tree found new life as part of the stairs to the loft space. 

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Richard Aiken

"The doors and windows were made by a carpenter some distance away; we brought the materials and design. Hardware is all hand-wrought iron." 

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Richard Aiken

Aiken used chicken wire to fill in breaches in the log cabin. "This was particularly nice because it could conform to the space and left an air gap for insulation. Daubing was performed with an old recipe: one quarter part cement, one part lime, and four parts sand (the original calls for hog bristles as a binder)." 

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Richard Aiken

A decade after the restoration began, Aiken's new log cabin retreat was completed in 2013. The project involved the entire family, some professional help, and some assistance from a neighboring Amish family. The secluded log home was well worth the time. 

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Richard Aiken

A panoramic view shows off the cabin's interior. Spacious but cozy, it's perfect for family gatherings. 

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Richard Aiken

The Amish family constructed a harvest table from native white oak and a fallen walnut tree. The narrow design allows the table to be brought close to the fire for warmth, while the family sits opposite. 

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Richard Aiken

Windows under the peaked roof allow natural light to enter, and a candle chandelier offers an alternative to electricity when more illumination is needed. 

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Richard Aiken

The log home also has a loft with a large comfortable bed. 

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Richard Aiken

The finished hearth can be used to make stew, or keep your cup of cocoa warm. This is the new benchmark for the term "rustic charm." The fire gets so warm, vegetables can be roasted by simply placing them along the hearth, Aiken told us. 

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Richard Aiken

One of Aiken's sons was so proud of his father's log cabin restoration, he shared the images on Reddit. Along with a few obligatory math jokes (Integral of 1/cabin = natural log cabin), comments were overwhelmingly positive and impressed with the outcome. 

Side by side, the before and after is nothing short of amazing. 

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Richard Aiken

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Richard Aiken

Though Aiken is still working on some exterior finishings, the small log cabin home has gotten a lot of use. Whether cozying up by the fire, or sitting on the front porch listening to the bullfrogs and watching deer drink from the lake, Aiken's log cabin retreat is proving to be a rustic dream come true. 

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Richard Aiken

One favorite use of the cabin was a family Thanksgiving. Including elements of the Sacred Four-Directions Harvest Table of Native American culture, Aiken and his family gathered to celebrate and give thanks. After identifying the four cardinal directions, objects of representational significance are placed at the table to both honor and reflect the importance of the sun, nature, the moon, and the sky. 

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Richard Aiken

"Most importantly, these objects, mostly edible and if so consumed during the feast, are basic to the earth and no creature was disturbed because of these Thanksgivings — a whole food plant-based 'vegan' Thanksgiving," Aiken noted. 

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Richard Aiken

Aiken ended his email interview with these closing thoughts: 

"I cannot remember exactly when it was that working on the restoration was transformed from modest misery to mystical.  Certainly not in the beginning, when I was removing trash from the interior of the structure, practically indistinguishable from the trash itself.  Nor was this transformation present during its relocation as we dug the basement in the rocky Missouri soil, seemingly either powder dry or muddy at any given time, and then hitting bedrock at six feet deep.

"But it did happen that the restoration process became a kind of meditation. This cabin of the past would meet a new future through each moment I was fully present with it.

"Simple tasks became noble with rhythm to it.  The wood in the logs came to life with my heartbeat, sweat, speaking truths in the silence.

"I hope I shall never finish working with this log cabin; never stop the silence."

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Richard Aiken

Richard Aiken specializes in lifestyle medicine. His suggestions for a simple, balanced life for optimal health and happiness can be found on his website, moodforlife.com.

He recently published a book titled "The New Ancestral Diet" wherein he challenges the ideas presented in the modern diet, including the paleo diet. 

He can also be found via his Facebook page, Hillbilly Vegan