leave old job....leave old home...enter new home...engage new life...maintain what matters

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A (Minimalist) Alternative Home Builder's Week

1 day.  1 picture.  1 paragraph.


My mind is out to kill me.  Having finally figured this out, nearly all my success now comes from teamwork.  So I’m proud to announce a new House the Land Built team member:  Kathy, plumbing fixtures sales rep for Goodin Co in Rochester MN.  Before meeting Kathy, my mind had already decided on a tub and sink made of cast iron.  So recyclable!  But Kathy---who actually made the fixture selection process quite fun---is the kind of team member that listens.   Really listens, not only to what I say (often the output of my murderous mind), but drills down to find out who we are and what we really want.  After uncovering our rainwater harvest-composting toilet- solar powered leanings, she suggested an acrylic tub and e-granite kitchen sink. “Unlike cast iron, these materials keep the water hot”.   Genius!  Now our solar panels might actually generate enough hot water for Linda to soak in, even after I wash dishes.  And then, when Kathy saw how important it is that our home welcomes you, she made sure we select an easy to use shower fixture.  Now, unlike our Minneapolis home, you needn't worry about sloshing out of the shower, towel-wrapped, to ask a red-faced me how to turn on the shower.   

We knew we’d picked the right architect when Paul asked us what kind of house we wanted and he actually listened to our quircky response, a Mary Oliver poem which ends, “And still I believe you will come, Lord,  you will, when I speak to the fox, the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know that really I am speaking to you whenever I say, as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.”  Though the physical foundation of our home is sand and cement, Paul designed us a home that rests upon our most precious values:  (1)  connect us to the Land and (2) welcome friends, family and community.  Above is our entry, where our home will try and welcome you when, at long last, you arrive.  I’m hoping you’ll feel as invited as I did today when Tom the Builder and his crew finished the cedar siding.  For now you’ll just have to imagine the smell, so intoxicatingly resinous.  Even if you’re not quite wanting a hello hug from me, perhaps, as you enter the porch, you’ll feel nestled by the Land;  the hillside seems to pour over the rim of the retaining will.    But we're excited to see you and don’t want you to linger on the porch forever.  So Paul entices you---by the white flow of the long ceiling---forward toward the far door, which I can’t wait to open and say, “Come in, Come in.”

Gutters, not just for getting rid of water anymore.  Tthese gutters will turn what I previously perceivd as waste (excess water) into value.  I just love using what the Land already provides.  Why drill a well when the Land provides so much clean water as rain?  Beautiful, drumming rain.  Our gutters will play two roles:  catching the rainwater dripping off our steel roof then transporting it---like a little river---to downspouts.  The first 50 gallons---the dirtiest water---will be diverted to rain barrels while the remaining, much cleaner water, will course through underground pipes until gushing into our 5400 gallon underground cistern.   With some additional filtering as its pumped from the cistern into the house, the water is now ready for use.  The gutters will harvest rainwater from 2000 of our roofs 2400 square feet, thus providing us with 1100 gallons of water each time it rains one inch.  While I love a sunny day, I wonder what rain will mean to my new life.  How will I feel when I hear rain drumming on our roof and sloshing down our gutters?  I can’t wait to find out.

Yes, this is exactly what it looks like:  a gut pile, what remains of the deer shot near the campsite by Matt, our neighbor, who we’d given permission to hunt the Land.    A disturbing, if not disgusting, image here on Thanksgiving Day.   I was walking from the cabin to the homesite---an engaging half-mile of wood, pond, pasture and prairie---when suddenly, just ahead, rose feathers.  Startled, I thought they’d never quit rising out of the grass.   Finally, the feathers took form:  red-tail hawk, so magnificent as he climbed over the pond and up the draw.  Then I discovered what I ‘d disturbed him from.  What Matt hadn’t wanted, hawk certainly did.  As red-tail disappeared behind the naked, ridge top oaks, I wondered how he felt.  Was he angry at me?  Did he feel grateful for what he’d just received?  I know I did.  All I could do was bow my head.  To the glory and wonder--and sadness.  Especially the sadness.  I won’t see the deer again, her white flag flashing good-bye as she bounds away.  When we asked Architect Paul to design us a home that connects us to the Land, we set no limits on that connection.  We didn’t say, “Show us only the Disney version.”  I want to feel connected to life, engaged with life, life as I’m coming to know it, the divine circle, light to night to light reborn.    Thank you, deer.  Thank you, Matt.  Thank you, hawk; may you flash out the white as you soar, now deer-hearted, over the Land. 

As their leaves power the grass around us,  solar panels---finally mounted today---will soon power our home.  Each of these 12 photovoltaic panels will convert direct sunlight into 250 watts, for a total of 3000 watts whenever the sun shines.  This sun-made power will speed down buried cables into the cellar, where our invertor smartly feeds the batteries, storing the electricity until needed.   Before designing our home, what I appreciated about solar panels is what they DON’T DO compared to other sources (coal, gas, nuclear):  pollute, alter our climate, melt-down Japan and Russia.  But when we asked Architect Paul to design us a home which connects us the Land, a new and more personal value of solar power emerged.  Though it is yet a dream, I like to imagine feeling the sun on my face and switching on a fan. Will I appreciate the flow of power from the sun through the solar panels to the fan-driven breeze now cooling my face?  Now that’s connecting us the Land.  That’s what solar panels DO.  Last week, a lighting store sales-rep asked me a now familiar question:  how long will it take before your solar panels pay themselves back?   This time I just stared dumbly---his question feeling so irrelevant---as if he’d asked how long it will take for our beloved Jim Brandenburg loon photo to pay itself back.  What is the value of my values? 

Driving home from Rochester this afternoon, I told Linda how excited I was about what we’d just purchased:  our new stove.  I know, it’s just a stove for goodness sake.  But unlike floors and walls and roofs and pretty much everything we’ve built so far---except the pictured masonry heater---the stove is dynamic, not static.  We’re going to do something with it:  make real the dream of our new, land- engaged life around it.  Cook for you upon it.  “So far,” I said to Linda, “the only other engaging thing is the masonry heater.”  Beautiful cedar siding is great, but I could have had that in Minneapolis---in fact our garage did.  I came here to engage the Land.  And so, right now, I’m loving the masonry heater.   Even though the masonry is not yet dry enough to stuff the fire box full of wood and ignite a blazing, house-warming fire, I’m enjoying the small fires I light several times a day to dry it out.  I’m trying top-down fires:  big wood on the bottom, newspaper and kindling on top.    Like so much of my new life, it’s an upside-down experiment.  Each day, just before bed, I light one last fire.  So I wonder if even my sleep is turning upside-down:  making real my dreams.
Just so you know,  I’m not intentionally trying to disgust you by bringing up our composting toilet all the time.  This (not always popular) topic arises frequently because we ourselves have much to prepare.  It’s not like we can click Amazon’s composting toilet button.  (Actually, you can buy one online, just not a sawdust toilet system).  Though the most visible, and sometimes disagreeable, component is the toilet itself, the largest and most land-connecting component is the compost bin, or Humanure Hacienda as Joseph Jenkins calls the two-year self-processing center.  And today, I finally finished its foundation:  a deep layer of straw (covered by boards in the picture).  I’d fetched two old straw bales from the tractor shed, loaded them in the trailer, hauled them, bouncing all way, to the homesite.  When I dropped the second bale in the hole, out pops a vole.  As he dove safely under the hedgerow grass, I marveled at the vole’s ability, desire even, to remain in that bale through all the bumping and jostling.  And I wondered what role he (and his myriad cousins) will play in the life of our compost.  There’s so much I don’t know about the world’s built-in recycling system.  And maybe that’s what I like most about our new home:   engaging the mystery, and in so doing, becoming a member of the Land itself, vole be willing.

Thank you for joining my journey this week.Rah-dur!


  1. I have loved the daily paragraphs and 1 photo. Thank you for writing each day and giving us a glimpse of the daily life at The house the Land built! It's fantastic! :) Heather

  2. This is very engaging stuff. I dig it.

  3. Thanks Van. And I can't wait until you can engage it for real, down here on the Land. In the meantime, feel free to pass it on to anyone who might like to engage. Mike