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…
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.
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.
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.
Video might have killed the radio star, but living with close, warm walls have revived her in my world.
When I was little, I used to listen to the radio all the time. This was before cable TV, certainly before netflix and The Internet was still a wild idea somewhere at CERN.
Gradually, these new and noisy things took the place of the radio, filling the space between walls with more and more light and colour. Somehow, around the same time, the walls grew hard and glaring. The interior of the modern appartement became increasingly impossible to look at, harsh and vast like a blazing desert of chrome and white. In this new and hostile environment, filling the void with sound and colour from a screen became the go-to option. So much so that I didn’t even notice how the need for outside stimuli grew. Silence was simply not an option, then the walls would simply start screaming at you until you drowned out the noise with more noise.
When I built La Chouette, it was with hope for silence in mind. To be inside a space where the walls had an integrity and a beauty of their own, walls I did not need to hide from, and where the distractions of a single book or a small radio was more than sufficient company.
I’m happy to say it does. The soft wooden panels and leather tapestries echoes Bach, Mendelssohn or Modest Musorgskij, radio plays, the occasional mindless chatter of an early morning news programme, or weather forecast in a way that quite filles the space and from where there is no need to hide.