A week on the road, or; Through the storm.

IMG_20200210_163023015For the benefit of the curious, I thought I’d share my field notes from the road. I set out northbound a week ago, after some consideration on going further south for winter or starting on the northbound journey for spring. Since winter has been cancelled due to unstable climate (or probably it’ll hit in July) I’m going north now. A storm, or several storms have been raging on the European continent lately, and here are my notes from the following, harrowing week:

Day 1

Started out. Sunny, but windy. After about 60-70km it became clear that some of the reconstructive work on the wagon were not suitable for heavier weather. Bits started to come loose. Stopped at a rest stop for the night to get my bearings.

Picked kindling from the forest by the rest stop, got bitten by something. Probably bird fleas.

Day 2

It’s dark and stormy and there are cops everywhere. Three patrol cars and about six motorbikes. I know they’re probably much more interested in the suspicious lorry drivers than little old me, but the presence of people who think themselves authorities makes me nervous. Much more nervous than any suspicious lorry driver ever did. After a few miles, more cops showed up along the road. Decided to stop at the next rest stop and see if they would go away. Needed lunch anyway. Managed to back my trailer into a road sign due to complete lack of sight in the heavy rain and smashed one tail light. Decided not to go out again with broken tail light on roads filled with cops.

Day 3

Headed out early, on the lookout for a garage or well-stocked gas station for light bulb. French roads are generally quite good, both the highway and the country roads. The downside of the highway, apart from being highways, is that there are a lot of toll booths and huge road taxes (which of course helps with keeping the roads in shape, but with a large trailer it can be very expensive). The smaller roads are also in good shape, and go through a lot of charming villages. The problem here is that the road really goes right through the charming old villages, often from the middle ages, and with a road system meant for horse drawn wagons and meant to confusing viking invaders, such as myself.

It was nearly dark as I weaved my way to the district of Chablis and found a motor home stop. There was nobody else in sight and I let myself in via the eerie automatic system thingy. No rain tonight, only wind.

Took an evening stroll to stretch my legs. There are three shops and a huge monastery, looming over the river and gleaming in white under the drifting clouds and fluttering glimpses of the full moon.

Day 4

Went out for fruit and cheese and came back with a case of Chablis. Not sure how this happened.

There is an old mill by the parking lot. There are geese and cats playing among the ponds and bamboo and tea rose bushes, and a portly man selling wine from a tiny shop. 

I think it’s ok to have a small drink before driving in France.

Set out northbound again. 

As i said, the smaller roads in France are pretty good. But another problem with taking these roads is that a lot of other people, and especially trailers do too, probably also to avoid road taxes. And the speed limit is not much slower, and nobody heeds it anyway. And having huge trailers zooming by on a highway is bad enough, but it’s much worse on the smaller roads where there are only two lanes, and only a few inches between you and the thundering trucks coming right at you. The air impact of one of these alone is equivalent to a full storm. And you’ll have dozens in a non stop streak. Nerves in shreds. Weather today calmer, though.

Arrived Chalons en Champagne in the afternoon and parked myself at a champagne house in one of the little surrounding villages. Went straight for the tasting room.  I now have a lot of champagne.

The district is paced with wine houses. In later years, a lot of the vineyards that used to deliver to the larger houses has gone indie, and now there are hundreds (it seems) smaller houses. The streets in every village here are lined with champagne houses. Not much else, though.

Spent a quiet night under the pine tree at the parking yards with an owl for a neighbour.

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A tiny owl and a larger home for an owl, also a champagne house

Day 5

As I got ready to go, my car informed me that I needed to check the cooler liquid level. Towing a house with insufficient cooler liquid is never a good idea, so I decided to let the house stay put while a found a gas station. I did not find a gas station. There is petrol available at a lot of the supermarkeds, but they didn’t have any other car products. Decided not to try to use champagne instead. Finally found a supermarked that stocked carstuff, but the clerk (who had the rubberball perkyness of a race car enthusiast himself) advised me to go to a garage in the next village to make sure I got the right type. Took his advice and had both cooler liquid added, motor oil filled up, and a touch up on the hydraulic liquid, plus a check on air pressure in the tires. 

As I got back, a new storm center swept by. Decided to have lunch and wait it out.

A few hours later, the weather cleared, the sun shone over the fields, and I drove the 20km or so to the next champagne house that allowed overnight parking. Only got a little bit lost in what must be the only steep hill and the smallest village in the area. Got help from a little old lady who also had a champagne house, and whose neighbours’ grandson was the guy I was heading for. After a little while, he came in his car to guide me the last bit to the vineyard. 

Drank quite a bit of champagne. Bought some more. Stormy night.

Day 6

One of the roof plates has been knocked out of position by either the storms or the oncoming trucks or the maneuvering around on hills or all of the above. Rain comes in through a gap. All of the rain. Fixed it as best as I could, but will need larger repair later. Unsure if I should continue, but decided to go as this is a nice spot to visit, but not to stay if you need to do anything else apart from drinking champagne. Sadly, sometimes you do.

Drove straight through Belgium. The roads were bumpy and there was mud everywhere. Strange, rusty piles of cliffs, like caked blood. There’s probably a beautiful country somewhere beyond the main roads, but I’m in no condition to explore. The radio had the insight to play ‘In the hall of the Mountain King’ as I crossed the border.

Stopped only for lunch at a gas station and crossed over to Germany in the late afternoon. Nearly dark as I ambled my way in to the nearest little village straight across the border and to the nearest stellplatz. No rain today, fortunately.

Day 7

Headed to a home depot to get things to fix my roof and trailer and such. On the way back there was an horrible sploshing sound from the passenger side. It turns out the water tank, that I keep in the car while driving, has sprung a leak and several liters of water has found it’s way under the seat. Checked to see if I could remove the seat to drain out the water, but the car is to new for that. All the garages are closed over the weekend, so I have to wait until Monday morning to get someone to look at it. Hopefully the electronics won’t be completely screwed, or the rust gotten too bad. 

There are about fifty thousand bath houses and spas in the area, so at least I’ll have something to do while I wait for my car to be fixed.

Huge bloody storm at night, luckily I has the foresight to put up an extra tarpaulin over the part of the roof where the damage was. 

Present day:

All of the storm. Rain is clearing up though.

Further updates to follow.

The land and the landscape

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I know, it looks great from up here.

It has been a quiet autumn, and a fairly quiet start of the year. Mostly because I have been parked in one spot, and spent my time on alterations and repairs, but also on trying to get to know the landscape I’m in. For me, this rolling farmland in the southern parts of France is quite different from where I grew up and also from most places that I lived for any longer periods of time. To get acquainted with a new type of land, the weather, soil, animals and plants has been an interesting time.

One thing that differs greatly from both colder climates and urban life, is how much faster the cycle of life and death is in the warmer and more humid climate. It’s good to see that so little goes to waste, that what dies gets picked up again in the cycle. It has had an impact on my understanding of ‘waste’ also. While I for some time had the notion that ‘waste’ is what the flora and fauna of a place can’t make use of to grow, I see it more clearly and on a day to day basis here.

On the downside, the maintenance of the house also requires more attention. Nothing can be left for very long before something else moves in, or before the mold starts to appear. It might seem like a placid sort of place, but in a way it’s even more hectic than any city I’ve lived in in terms of constant movement and the need to pay attention.

The difference between land and landscape is also increasingly clear. The landscape is farmland, the land, is a forest. I use, of course, the term land here to describe the formation of the rocks and earth and the general climate, and the term landscape to describe how humans use it. The formation of the land is soft, gently sloping acidic soil. It rains a great deal here, and there is a river running down in the valley that defines the area. Trees wants to grow here, particularly chestnut and oak. And it only takes a few weeks for the first saplings to start covering the ground if left alone.

It may seem obvious, the impact humans have had in forming their habitat for the last millenniums. But it’s always different to literary see things happening before your eyes than to read of them. And so many places have been altered to such a degree that you can’t even see what they were meant to be. It’s a pretty well known how humans alter their surroundings to suit them. Fortunately, the belief that this is both necessary and good is dwindling.

There is little doubt that the land would be healthier if left alone. Most of the farms have cows as their main operation. And while it should seem obvious that large amounts of huge, hoofed animals is not what you want on soft, wet land, it’s easy to think so if you only look at the surface, the open meadows, the apparently friendly surrounding. But the sheer amount of mud, the insects, the increasingly either scorched or drenched earth practically screams for more trees with deep roots, and less plondering flatfeet.

It was much more obvious, when I stayed in betonbois where the ground was all covered in giant hogweed, that the land pretty much said ‘sod off, I’m healing’. Here, it takes more time to discover that the kind looking land really isn’t very fond of visitors at all. The more ground I cover, the more I travel and the slower I move, the more explicit it becomes that humans really need to take several steps back and look at where they really are instead of striving so hard to push a fantasy onto their surroundings. And tomorrow, I’ll be on the road again.

 

The hours

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me, in my field studies (i.e reading while sitting in a field)

Or; The book of hours, or Whatever Happened to 2019?

Pretty much every conversation I’ve had over the holidays have at some point converged into the following question; What Happened to 2019? Now, one might argue that my friends and I are all getting older and this is something people are expected to ask, like a conversational ritual, from a certain age (ca 21 and up). None the less, there is a general feeling that time, hours, days, years, are slipping through our fingers. Part of it, I think, has to do with the artificial way the modern day is constructed, aiming to make as much time as possible into an identical, dull mass with such tools as clocks, electric lights and paid work.

After a year or so on the road I have made acquaintance with different paths, lines, rhythms, animals and seasons and this year I have decided to summarize them in a book of hours. I want a tool to slow down and structure the day and the year in an non invasive way, a way connected to nature. And I want it to be beautiful.

For those born in recent times, a book of hours was a popular item, first with the nobility and with the invention of the printed press a wider public, for centuries in Europe, mainly from ca 1400 to mid-1600. It is essentially an individualized pocket-tome of prayers, saints and meditations. The prayer part would be dedicated to the virgin Mary and follow the liturgy hours of monastery life. Often a calendar with feasts of saints would be included, as well as personal part with the owner’s favorite saints etc. Some versions would also have a memento mori part following the hours that Jesus spent on the cross. 

My version will be a small book meant to be carried like the books of hours were. The first part will be a calendar over festivals connected to nature and the turn of seasons. Then, a part with the hours of the day inspired by the Chinese animal clock. After that, a section honoring the different life forms that will reintroduce your body to nature after you’re done in this life. I will also have a personal section dedicated to my central deities.

The Black Hours
This is a page from the famous ‘Black book of hours’ made in Bruges ca 1470 

I have found the Pagan book of hours from the Breviary of the Asphodel tradition online, and while it seems an impressive collection of festivals, rites and prayers, I need something more connected to nature itself. Also, the portable format is something that speaks to me in a time that everyone has their altar with them in the form of their phones.

Now, I just need to find a good place to work in peace and quiet…

A few words on Hope.

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A rare, clear morning in the drenched landscape.

From a tiny house on wheels, you notice a lot about the world. You get close to its current state. And there is little doubt that there is a crisis going on. It’s noticed in the condition of the roads, the cost of moving, the sheer amount of people you compete with for a place to park or to fill your water tank. The lack of places to go and of nature that isn’t poisoned or fenced off. And on the changes in the climate.

The choices of climate this autumn has been one of drowning or burning. Half the world is literally on fire and the other is drenched. I’m in the part with the water.

And I have also been, as some of you might remember, making quite a few shifts and changes to my house. This means new vulnerable places while it settles and of course, leaks. And of course, with every new attempt of fixing the problem, I hope that this time it will work.

There is a lot of talk of hope these days. Most of the focus of environmental groups in the media seems to be on presenting solutions to give people hope. But hope is nothing in itself and to keep holding it up like a holy grail is downright dangerous.

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Also, strange women lying around in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!

In my case, it took me weeks of patching a part of the roof before I took down the wall close to it and discovered that the water that I thought was coming from one place, was in fact being led in via a knot hole in one of the beams that I had not thought about at the time of construction.

I this situation, hope made matters worse by letting me cling to a structure that clearly wasn’t working instead of carefully deconstructing  it and make something else. Hope is not what gets you out of a difficult situation, it’s more often what keeps you in it.

For my generation, we’ve been brought up on talk of hope as some sort of magic. In songs, films, books, media, we have been fed with hope as all you need to get you through and that you have nothing without hope. And yet, if you read accounts of people who have been in truly dire situations, clear thinking and quick reflexes has been far more helpful than hope. Also, carrying a grudge can get you really far.

Hope, of course, costs nothing and is absolutely no threat to any form of authorities. A person who is hoping, is a quiet one, and has something to lose. Only when you really have nothing, will you risk everything.

To keep ranting on about ‘not giving up hope’ and ‘not letting hopelessness win’ is really keeping people from accepting and analyzing the situation. Even then, to come back to the climate-issue, people will still not agree on the course of action. But at least we have a chance to know what we’re disagreeing on.

Hope is not without importance. It’s the icing on the cake. The light glimmer of the possibility of better times. But it’s not something to base your actions or decisions on. Accepting the situation, analyzing the facts and possibilities in that situation, and forming a plan from that analysis, are. It is important to point out though, that accept is not giving in. It merely means seeing things for what they are at the moment, the better to change what’s really there.

The way things are now, ‘hope’ in climate issues is rapidly becoming synonymous with rash, superficial or short-term solutions. Many of there presented in the ‘new green deal’ and many with far more potential for irreparable damage than the situation we’re in.

If you get bitten by a snake and ask your companion if it’s a poisonous one, ‘I hope not’ is a lot less reassuring of an answer than ‘I don’t know’ or even; ‘yes’. And you certainly wouldn’t want to hear ‘I hope so’.

La Chouette Revisited, or; Et in Archadia ego.

Things have been quiet on the owlfront for the last weeks. Or, things have seemed quiet. Under the surface, there has been great shifts.

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notice anything new?

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.

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The hippy, hippy shakes

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.IMG_20191003_144756052

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…

Anniversary. Or: The hunt for nightmares begins.

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there’s a hint here to my upcoming plans

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.

How to be vulnerable, part 2. Loneliness

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this is the strangest life I remember

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.