Things have been quiet on the owlfront for the last weeks. Or, things have seemed quiet. Under the surface, there has been great shifts.
After a year of living in my tiny house, I have become more familiar with my daily needs and movements, and with the movements of the house. Things have settled. And, as soon as they settled, a revamping has begun.
At first, the idea was to alter one bit of the ceiling in my sleep alcove, but as I started dismantling the materials, I saw that I really wanted to redo the whole alcove.
Luckily, I’m absolute crap at seeing how much work something is, or I’d never get anything done at all.
My new roof is first of all partly shingles, or shakes, as wooden shingles are called. I’m new to this too, and it’s a quite sophisticated move, so I expect to have to make some repairs and alterations again soon.
I have also lowered the total height and made a flat top roof on the alcove, giving me more space to sit up in bed with my morning coffee. As I never really used the alcove window, I ditched it, but made a more elaborate window/ passage to my roof terrace (or, roof).
In addition, the living room windows have been lined better and given a double set of shutters, for better on-road protection.
What has taken so long with this has mostly been the careful dismantling, redefining, care, and brush-up of as many as possible of the former pieces. I didn’t want to simply throw bits of my beloved house away, not unless they were damaged beyond repair, and so this whole process has taken three times as long as it would have if I’d gone out and bought all new stuff (or, you know, used blueprints, or knew what I was doing, or if it hadn’t been a heatwave because somebody broke the climate).
Reusing my old materials both gives the house a sense of continuity and rebirth, and it gives me a better understanding of what I’m working with. I still don’t know if all my ideas have worked, for example if my net gasoline use will be reduced due to a more streamlined design, but we’ll find out in time.
For my next post, we’ll be taking a look at the newbies indoors. I have such sights to show you…
To create, one must destroy. This also is true for furniture.
I have, after a year of living in my house, found that I’m quite fond of having my afternoon nap on the sofa. While it’s a lovely sofa, it’s also just not quite long enough to sleep on comfortably. Originally, the length was determined by the proximity to the fireplace and a fear that a longer sofa would be a fire hazard. However, the heat from the fireplace is distributed differently than I expected, and I can safely move a step closer to the flames.
As I said, it’s a lovely sofa and I want to keep it, I only want to change it a bit. But I’ll need to take it apart first, and this is frightening. The good thing is that since I made the sofa myself, I know how it’s put together and I know that the different pieces are not merged so closely that they can’t be made into something new.
Taking something apart is just as much, if not more work than putting it together. At least if you want to be able to use the pieces again. It would have been much simpler just to tear the armrest off. Much, much simpler. Let me demonstrate with a series of pictures:
The rebuilding of one of my favorite parts of my house is only possible because the pieces are intact. I could, of course, have destroyed the former ones, gone out and bought new material and remade the whole thing but that would be just plain stupid. The point here is that destruction is not evil, it’s a needed part of life. Nothing static is alive.
From this perspective, it could be presumed that the current mass ecocide is not a great crisis in the greater picture, that perhaps this is just another turn of the wheel.
But there is a great difference between de-assembling and re-assembling building blocks and just trampling down everything like some great big hulking thing. Or worse, constructing things that are so melted down they cannot be taken apart and turned into something different.
And this is why the human destruction of the planet is a crisis. It’s not mere destruction, but a meltdown of the very building blocks. This is evidently clear in nuclear reactors or the invention of plastic, which I have ranted about before and which I elaborate on and link to ideas of immortality in modern interpretations of Norse religion in a closer look at Loke’s contribution to the death of Balder.
It can also be seen in the way they keep removing matter from the cycle of life, primarily their own bodies. When dead, humans destroy their bodies by pumping them full of poison or burning them and enclosing them in stone and in lead, or in more plastic. And then they poison everything that tries to make use of this much needed matter, the fungi and earthworm and scavenger. It may not seem as much, but is says a lot about how humans think of themselves, as the point and end of all things, as something on top of a pyramid, as the apex of creation. With this mindset, there will soon not be any more creation.
Humans aren’t just destroying, they’re depleting. And they’re doing it in the name of the good and just as well as greed. It is time to step into the circle once more and see the world around you not as something to conquer or consume, not even to protect, but as your next self.
Right, now I will go have a nap on my sofa. And then I will start to take apart my roof.
Yesterday marked one year since my first night in la Chouette, the first step towards making the house a home. Building a house by yourself from scratch, there are no indicators for at what point the heap of planks and nails and bits and pieces becomes a home. No one tells you this. No estate agent or landlord will stand by to convince you why this particular amount of enclosed air is a home.
Now it is a home and I have almost already forgotten how it was like to live enclosed in society. Looking back, it was hellish. That’s not to say my lifestyle is careless or easy.
Recently there was an article about tiny houses in a Norwegian paper. There was a feature of me, and an interview with an informal college where students could build a tiny house as one of the activities. The headline read ‘Tiny houses can make your life simpler’.
I have no idea what part of the interview they got that from. Certainly not from me.
While building and living in a house on wheels of a moderate size, popularly referred to as ‘tiny’ house, has turned out well for me, it’s not by any means a simple life. That was never the point.
To be clear, you don’t rid yourself of any problems this way, but you do get a whole set of interesting new ones. I think I have said that before. And often.
While building, I worried a lot about keeping the rain out, about how I would do my cooking, cleaning, where to get wood chips for my compost toilet, and about all the rules and regulations on the road. None of this has really been very important.
The house definitely has a better indoor climate than anywhere I’ve lived, and this has had a remarkably positive effect on my health.
The main part for me was to get away from noise. Not just from cars and neighbors with sick ideas of ‘fun’, such as actually listening to dubstep and tribal trance, but also from the drone of windmills, the angry hum of solar panels or electric car chargers and air conditions.
The downside to this is that you notice very clearly how few places of quiet are left. How the noise pollution is everywhere and increasing with every ‘green’ invention.
You become very aware of the difference it makes to be 8 rather than 4 billion people on the planet, as there was when I was little.
And this is the downside.
The roads are not places for travel, but for being chased from one place to another and there are few places to stop. Nearly all land is regulated, fenced off or built on. While the house has turned out like I wanted, the world has little place for freedom. The problems you face are mainly about how to maintain your balance. Not on the edge of society, because that no longer exists. There is no outside, it’s all been drained to feed the human fantasy of supremacy. The balance is on the edge of the existing and the not-yet real.
I have already made real a not-before existing type of house. In the time to come, I will continue to shift reality. I have plans to delve into the very place for the collective nightmares of western Europe and see what’s really there. And if it can be brought forward from the stories.
I’m often asked if I don’t get lonely on my travels. And then I answer ‘no’, and the person asking the question usually hears ‘yes’, because they think they would be and cannot imagine any other possibility. A lot of people dreaming of taking a step to the side of society fears loneliness, as in being outside the herd. I’m not lonely on my travels, but I do get lonely on those occasions when I visit society.
Loneliness is not something that happens when you’re alone. It’s contagious. It’s an open wound, a gaping, roaring chasm that, ironically connects all modern humans. Nothing brings us together more than our loneliness.
We think ourselves so alone that we look to other planets, even go as far as to communicating with or attempting to revive the dead for company.
We scrape together small groups of families and friends, and they might put a lid on the loneliness, but they can’t heal it. They might, if you’re very lucky, put such a lid on your loneliness that you can ignore it for as long as you live, apart from in those silent hours of dawn. And you will always be afraid that they will leave you or die. Which they will.
The usual way of dealing with this, when taking a step to the side, is to make yourself not want company. This is taught in several religious practices, such as Buddhism, and most western self-help pseudo religion. You learn a sort of smarmy detachment where you love and respect all as long as they don’t get too close. You either build a shield around you or you cut yourself off to such a degree that you think yourself beyond all emotional damage, eternal in your enlightened loneliness.
Western philosophy is infected with solipsism, the idea that we are all alone in our heads and that we can not know what other beings think or feel or if they even exist. This is shared by most of the people who have influenced our way of thinking and it’s utterly absurd. In some ways, they’re right of course. It’s difficult to put yourself into the mind of another, hence the confusion when people ask about my presumed loneliness. The flaw is to believe we exist in our minds and that it matters what or if anything else thinks.
In modern (by modern, I mean what has grown and gained traction for the past 5000 years or so) society there is loneliness embedded in the system. Civilization works by cutting people off from the world and from each other, teaching us to look to gods or leaders or rules for meaning and that if you simply exist, there’s something wrong with you, or you’re not living fully.
For a lot of people, the markers of loneliness are formed by opportunities. Not what they have, but what they are told they can have, conversation, sex etc. Often it surprises people that none of these things make the loneliness go away when achieved.
The loneliness we have is from being severed from life and death. From ‘nature’ if you will. The word ‘nature’ itself shows how far this has gone. That we even have a word to separate us, make us lonely. Our language, while usually seen as a mean of forming connections, is full of more or less subtle ways and words for cutting us off. It doesn’t need to be though, as this article on the Irish language explores.
Nature is not the trees, it’s not a bird or a beetle. It’s everything that lives with and feeds on everything else. And to be civilized is to have your whiskers plucked out, tendrils severed so we can’t feel, we can’t notice the life that surround us. Even outside the hermetic houses we only get the vaguest sense of what’s there. We are existential cripples.
Or in other words, we’re lonely.
Rewilding means healing this as far as possible. In this context, with this in mind, it’s not dangerous to love. Or, to attach yourself to what seems fleeting and unsure. And you’re never alone. I do love. I do miss people that live where I grew up. I miss people I meet on my travels. I grieve when someone dies, and I have losses I will never get over. I can start to care about someone really quick and think about them often. But not being with them doesn’t mean that I’m lonely. Not as long as I get to be outside civilized society. Not as long as I can hear birds. I’m not afraid to love. But it does scare me how fast my new found senses deteriorates as soon as I step back into a city, or even an agricultured landscape. So why do I go back? Oh, for the company of those I care about of course. I’m nothing if not the embodiment of ambiguity.
Today I spent the whole day sanding down, washing and waxing my kitchen.
After nearly a year of living and moving, the floor boards are stained, the racks for the pots are knocked out of whack, and there’s a general air of ingrown dinners over the kitchen area.
And as I’m sanding down the pine, first with a coarse grade, then a finer, I come to thinking that while there are plenty of tools and advice around on how to seal things off and close a structure, it’s surprisingly difficult to find tools and ways to keep and maintain an open structure, or, to maintain your vulnerability while not being permanently wounded.
My house is a vulnerable structure. It’s pretty open to the elements in its construction and the materials are not impregnated or heavily treated. This is a conscious choice, to live with something living instead of building a tomb. As I said before, I’m deeply uncomfortable in most modern houses for the reason that they feel like something meant to die in rather than something built for living things.
But a living thing needs care, it needs upkeep, and to find the balance of closing and opening is the hardest thing any living organism will face. Too open, and you’ll rot or be eaten alive, to closed and you’ll suffocate or starve.
I recall how, back when I was building, I went to get a piece of marine plywood for what was going to be the first attempt on a hatch to access my roof terrace. I went to the store, found the piece I wanted, checked the specifics, and then I asked the sales attendant if the material could handle the rain, meaning that it would not rot when wet in a hurry., as some materials do. He then regarded me with an expression as if I had made a lewd suggestion involving the two of us and a diseased aardvark. When he regained his composure, he carefully explained how I needed to buy a special kind of lacquer and a thinner, sand down the wood, lacquer it with a quite thinned mixture, wait for about two days, repeat, and repeat again at least five times with thicker mixtures of lacquer and thinner. I took a look at what the lacquer and thinner contained, panicked, thanked him for his time and left.
There are oils, tar solutions, techniques and mixtures you can use to keep wood longer while not building a bio hazard. But a lot of this knowledge is lost and what is left is heavily guarded and not easily accessible to the common crowd or amateur builder, such as me. And most of the building industry is based on the idea that everything has to last forever, or you’ve failed.
Of course I spin this thought further as dinner dust is clogging up my throat and dulling down my clothes. And I think about how we’re taught to do this with our bodies and our minds, making them rain proof, death proof, indestructible and by this, becoming already dead and a walking bio hazard, as most houses are.
And we have very few tools to really maintain our minds and bodies. A lot to close them off and fixing them, few on how to care for on a daily, living basis as something living and interacting. This idea I will explore in part two, coming up.
I said I would write about human habitat and I will. In building a house and in placing it in different types of settings, a static room in a changing environment, I have gone further than before in exploring the relationship between human and habitat.
I could rant about this endlessly, about how we still see nature as something outside our bodies, something put here for our sake, and not as what we are.
About how we think we can build ourselves away from the water we drink and the air that we breathe.
About how we want to save trees, but not the earthworm, fungi, bacteria, and beetle that make it possible for trees to exist.
About how we ruin the places we could have lived with little effort in order to make habitable the places of the planet less suited for our hairless, soft bodies, even willing to wipe out everything in order to find a new planet to ruin, thinking that space travel is a magical thing that doesn’t use earth’s resources instead of the ultimate consumerist fantasy.
But I’m tired of the sound of words, so I’ll condense it all in a jolly little poem. I call it:
De Naturae (from nature)
I thought that we made this abundantly clear
your new promised land doesn’t want you here
If the ground is covered with nettles that stings
it’s because it was made for the things that have wings
For the fur and the claw and the shimmering scale
the long curving tooth and the short stubby tail
If the sun is too sharp and the insects all bite
it’s a place for the things that will come out at night
If the rain is too cold and the wind blows right through
it was meant for the ones with skin tougher than you
If you need to make houses of concrete and steel
come here fiddlemonkey, I’ll make you a deal
Human, go back to your Eden and rest
leave the bear to her den and the bird to his nest
We interrupt the usual philosophical ramblings for a cooking class. This is; Cooking with the old gods, or; tiny house cooking 101.
Today: How to cook Rosemary chicken with port-braised potatoes, red cabbage and hazelnuts. Yum.
step 1: Risk your immortal soul by heading out into morning traffic to get to the nearest shop that sells wine and whole chickens. Get stuck in all the diverted traffic to London as the road to the very nearest shop is closed for road work. Curse the self-important gits who push past you as you try to keep within the speed limit because you don’t want to attract too much attention.
step 2: Get lost in a roundabout, see Woodhenge, go back to the roundabout, head the right way to the shop, very slowly this time as there has been an accident on the road involving one of the Very Busy and Important People who pushed past you on your way to the shop.
step 3: Shop tings. Get asked for two different types of ID to buy the alcohol because while you don’t look twenty, you look less human with age and difficult to place.
step 4: Find your way back to where you have parked your house. Scream a lot while doing this.
step 5: Have a very large coffee and possibly a drink.
step 6: (some time later) Make the actual food. This is done by carefully carving the chicken in four while preforming a small rite of memento mori for its short and brutal life, as all lives in essence are, and cursing the industrialization of everything. Brown the precious thing in olive oil with a bit of salt and a large spring of what is hopefully rosemary that you pinched from a near by bush. Let it all simmer on your alcohol stove under a lid for about 20 minutes, also remembering the hell of a time you had getting the burning alcohol for the stove as no shops apparently sell it anymore because some idiot found out it was dangerous.
When the chicken is done, let it rest on a plate under the lid while you fry the peeled and cut potatoes and the shredded red cabbage in the chicken fat along with some extra butter from the local farm. Add a handful of hazelnuts. When the potatoes are almost done, slosh over what’s let of the port you had. Or about half a cup.
If you’re not a carnivore, you can just drop the chicken from the recipe. Double or triple then the amount of hazelnuts and simmer the meal in the fat of your enemies choice.
Eat outside because the rain stopped for ten minutes. Hurry back inside when the thunder clouds gather.
step 8: Find a way to keep the rest of the chicken cool. And rest.
I’m following a few groups online dedicated to various ways of forming a life beyond the ready-made one. It’s hardly a single thread that doesn’t in some way post the question ‘yes, but is it authentic?’
For everyone taking a step to the side of society, you’ll come across the question of authenticity. An expectation that your goal is and should be to be completely self-reliant and exist in a sort of feral snow globe.
For me, reducing the presence of modern housing facilities, like washing machines, coffee machines and basically most types of machines, is a choice of comfort and beauty, not driven primarily by a desire for a life seen as authentic or free.
The western idea of ‘free’ has come to mean detached and closed off, yet few people really feel at great liberty when they’re all alone and isolated. Quite the contrary.
It’s easy when lifting your gaze from the treadmill to get the idea that you should go off into the wild, that is, go outside our house, and aim to become one with whatever ecosystem you find yourself in. But the wild can be further away than you’d think. Not everything green is living, functioning nature.
As I drive and live and form different patterns of everyday life, sometimes completely outside modern facilities, sometimes on the outskirts of them, the borders of human habitation come into view. And the idea of the authentic emerges as something a part of, not apart from, modern society.
In groups of people longing away from cities, away from an oppressive society, there is a story, one of many, but a prominent one, about the free individual as someone who sleeps under the stars and own nothing, no possessions, no obligations, no attachments. But this form of living requires a large habitat where you have the means to find what you need, and this kind of nature is inaccessible to most as it’s regulated or built on, overpopulated, poisoned or eradicated by industry. Most people who are homeless are far from free, and have no access to alternative ecosystems beyond the urban one, that relies greatly on houses to shelter humans from the ugliness, dangers and diseases caused by urbanization.
While I do wish for a greater insight into what I actually need and how to find it, it’s interaction I seek, not the idea of independence. Dependence is to me a reduced means of interaction, and freedom an expanded interaction with your surroundings. But to urbanized humans, they link interaction to communication with what they see as sentient, not co-existing with physical, living creatures.
I think for a lot of people it’s this interaction with a world beyond the one defined and fenced off that is meant by ‘real’. There is very little language to explain why, very few stories. But it’s the amount of possibilities, the greater network of creatures interacting, that increases freedom and approximates the idea of ‘real’.
Also, most animals will have some form of nest, den, sett, or form of living quarters. They don’t just sleep where they stand. If healthy, they will spend great parts of the day keeping themselves and their dwelling clean, beautiful and comfortable. If ill, they will ignore their grooming or in some cases, overdo it, washing away all their fur if stressed.
A house need not be any more unnatural than an ant hill, but the lengths humans have gone to in order to simultaneously expand and remove themselves from their habitat is absurd. And disruptive to anything living, including humans themselves.
In western society the house has become something like a religious matter. It is seen as a micro cosmos in itself. In many cases, as a reflection or expression of the dweller, their innermost self, their soul.
I like having beautiful and meaningful things to look at. I want my house to be a wunderkammer, a place for magic and dreams. It’s also a physical place to sleep warm and soft, to read without having the wind carry my books away, to cook without being invaded by over eager insects. I don’t however, want to be trapped, or have other things trapped in it.
The house, the dwelling, is only one small part of the whole habitat. The whole habitat of any creature will include the space to find food, find company, having an array of plants, predators, bacteria, the ecosystem, if you will. All the things the body interacts with.
I will explore the vast, strange world of the habitat in my next post.
ps. I made it beyond the London vortex, with help from my counter part, which is the only way to cross a maelstrom.
Another road of story that is emerging as I travel is the vision of the end of the world.
Any vision, by oracle or poet, of the end of the world shows fire, smoke, hungry masses, broken things, desolate places where nothing lives, nothing grows, bleak, grey skies, everything worn out, dilapidated, void of meaning, color or joy.
Moving through the world, around its edges, it’s obvious that it’s not the end of civilization they describe, but its presence. I travel in this landscape now, it’s everywhere. And the only reason I don’t put more pictures of it here or on social media, is that I’m usually too busy getting to some small pocket of rest from it to get my phone out. Also, most people are so used to it, they no longer see it anyway. They think an IKEA car park at 10am on a Saturday is the most natural thing in the world when really Dante would have a hard time describing it.
This is the world humans have created. We’re stuck in an image of the departure of civilization taken from Hobbes’ gloomy philosophy, but his war of all against all is what happens when civilization is forced upon us, not when it diminishes, as he insisted.
Any image given of the world after civilization ends, is exactly what civilization looks like when it is imposed. All the devastation, the dead land, the lack of light is what humans are building and have been building for the past handful of millennia.
Humans tend to confuse the End of the world with the End of humanity, thinking they are one and the same. Even in the latest pop-capitalist installation of the four thousandth or so Avengers movie, optimistically titled ‘Endgame‘, life on earth is taken to mean human life, and a world not completely overrun by humans is somehow portrayed as a bad thing. I think the Dodo bird might differ. Among others. Sorry, I mean, among most.
The end of the human world will not be the end of the world, quite the contrary, but as long as any movie, picture, and book that deals with the subject show only horrors, humans will do anything to avoid the inevitable and continue to wipe out everything else in their desperate climb to the top of the sinking ship.
While there are ideas, buried behind the rubble of imagery, about the world as cyclic, ideas about a beginning after the end, few or no stories tell us about this as a process, they only hint at the possibility. And the part where things dissolve is always so terrifyingly portrayed no-one is willing to risk moving past that.
The problem of course is that no one knows what a world released from humans and their gods will look like anymore, so we take images that we have of things falling apart and magnify them to try to grasp how it will be, but in doing so missing what comes next. Missing what the pieces of what falls apart, fractured, re imagined by chance might become. As slowly we need to imagine something different, something new. Or something quite old.
I said that I would return to matters of life and death, and now I am. I have reached the place of dead roads. The map, inner or outer, no longer works. I’m still hovering on the outskirts of the London cancer, wondering how to cross.
Not only are the roads physically broken by potholes and cracked concrete, blocked by constant accidents and aimless digging, but the very network of roads in this place is broken, or never worked. It is increasingly clear that the roads here were all forced upon the land and the land and rivers and lines themselves tampered with to fit human needs.
Also, the inner map and navigation system is out of function. The goals and destinations I had in mind either don’t exist or has ceased to carry meaning. The reason for this is to be found in stories.
The more I travel, and the more I move to the outskirts of mind, body and civilization, there are two narratives, two mental threads, or roads, that emerge.
One is the story of the individual immortality. Unlike Burroughs, I can’t accept the way gods and the soul is presented to us. In all the stories we know, the individual has a body that perishes and a soul that is, or has the capacity to move on to, something everlasting. Often there are gods involved. Either to hinder the process, to further it, or as something to merge with at the end of the journey.
In some narratives, the body, or a representation of it, follows the soul, recreating an image of the person. In some, the soul is moved on to another being, but usually as a whole, self-contained set of memories and ideas.
What is however becoming increasingly clear in the world, is that in the attempt to reach longevity or individual immortality, humans have ruined their hope to survive, in any form. They have eaten up the earth and taken away the matter of their bodies, removed it from the cycle to be re-used. They have killed almost all other beings to make room for their offspring, their self-images. In their ideas of gods, human shaped or abstracted, they have removed themselves from the cycle of life and death.
There are, of course, images, ideas and stories about the circle, but always tainted with the implication that the human spirit is different, better in a way. And while people can read and understand words about becoming one with nature, we have no real stories for it, and therefor we can’t understand what it means. The closest I can think of are Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and they don’t really cover it.
Also, those that denounce the spirit, do so in everything, because to them, if humans can’t have a soul, nothing can.
I like living as much as the next squirrel, eel or badger, I enjoy having a body. I’m rather attached to it. But the body is made of matter, of cells. They come from something, from somewhere. From what you eat and drink and breathe. All human practice surrounding life and death has been an attempt of closing these cells off, hindering them to go back to the earth. To encapsulate them in stone, to freeze them in space and time, to burn them before the fungi and earthworm get to take back what we have borrowed. Because we do borrow all our matter from the earth. Not from your parents or children, not other humans, not some god. From nature. From everything that we construct ourselves of.
We are told that the pyramids are great achievements, that human immortality is a good and great goal and it isn’t. It’s a horror. It has always been and can only be a horror.
And all the things we are told to want are somehow linked up to this. Every item, every garden, everything constructed or spun as a story. Everything we think we know and think we want. The whole idea of self fulfillment, contrasted to being ruled over by gods or humans and given as the only option to this, gives rise to dreams and images that can only be sterile still life. We think of the scavenger and of rot as something vile, but it’s our only way to reach anything close to immortality. To be part of life and death once more. Your roads are broken because your stories are broken.
Human civilization holds nothing for me and the wild, the real, the world that balances itself, is temporarily ruined. And human tampering with it only makes matters worse, because it is done with the same, broken stories as guidelines.
To possibly slightly twist the meaning of the words of Poe; The play is the tragedy man and the hero the conqueror worm.