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Friday, January 20, 2012

Alternative Home Builder: Week 24

Paint.  Paint.  Paint some more with Doug Weatherhead, painter extraordinaire who brought to life the ceiling, the horizontal plane welcoming the inside out and the outside in. 
Perhaps the best thing about working until I drop is its mind-clearing, trance-inducing, live-for-the-moment impact.    We do what we do and what gets done gets done.  And what we did is clean the concrete floor in preparation for yet another unpredictable experiment:  coloring the floor via acid-etching.  If there was a dominant feeling for the day it was humility and gratitude for Tom the Builder’s crew and their heroic cleaning effort.  That floor---spanning the entire first floor save the kitchen--- was filthy beyond compare.   Lawrence of Arabia would have complained about such dust, not to mention the adhered mud.  That floor had not been cleaned since it was poured in early September where it sat open to the elements until mid-December.   Tom’s crew scraped, broomed, scrubbed and mopped.  Then Brent (in the foreground) wiped his finger across the floor. “Hmmm…”  Not yet satisfied, they dropped  onto hands and knees---on concrete, mind you---and washed our floor clean with rags, one of them literally the shirt off Brent’s back. 
And if the debt I felt wasn’t big enough, Dave offers me a bottle of his own home-brewed elderberry wine, red and vibrant as a prairie rose.   All we could offer in return was some apple pie---a Christmas gift from our landlord, Kim---warmed in the masonry heater’s bake oven.   By noon, the white tornado had passed, and all I could do is gawk in amazement at the sheen. 
Team House the Land Built is second to none and captain Tom, well…I don’t know how we’d ever make it to the finish line without captain Tom and his boys.

If there’s some kind of legal limit to gratitude, then the emotions police will be looking for me.   On Monday, Doug, my dear friend and painter extraordinaire, rolled a ceiling to make Michelangelo weep.  Yesterday, well, you read all about Tom the Builder’s crew and their white tornado.  And today, well today was like nothing else in my life.  Architect Paul (he who translated our vague dreams into drawings) rolled up his sleeves and lead our effort to permanently color our concrete floors via acid etching.  While the process seemed simple enough, just spray it on and mop it off, the result is (and will be) a complete leap of faith, like planting a prairie.  There, you prepare the ground, select a mix of seeds, scatter them and then…then you wait and what happens, happens.   With acid etching you prepare the floor, select the colors, spray them and then…then you wait and what happens, happens.  Like a prairie, you get no immediate feedback.  Are we spraying enough Antique Amber?  Too much Padre Brown?  What will happen to those drips of Fern Green?  Also like planting a prairie, we used a process that the expert at the store did not recommend.  “I’d like to do whatever Paul says,” I told Linda.  And, with the same trust we’ve put in Paul all along, that’s just what we did.  “Spray more Padre Brown,” he’d tell Linda.  And she did. 
And in two quick hours, when all (living, dining, Corridor, guest bed, bathroom, master bed) was sprayed, we stepped onto the kitchen’s unfinished plywood and gazed at our work.  The floor was alive.  Colors swirled and pooled like low tide at the beach.  “You won’t know what it will look like until you mop it clean,” said Paul.  And I like that.  Rather than cutting it short, I like using time as a tool.  It feels more like working with the world than against it.  And that’s what we asked Paul to do: connect us the Land.  Though I have no idea what the floor will look like, not yet, I can already say I like it because of how it came to be.

All the while I mopped away the acid, unveiling the color of our concrete floor, I whispered a plea, a prayer almost.  “Please, please don’t be an Easter Egg.”  You see, my earliest memory of peer anger is coloring Easter Eggs.   That was Kindergarten (51 years ago and I can still feel the heat) and Mrs. Fabry must have thought it a good idea to let us color eggs in small groups.  And as the other kids in my group were selecting their dye colors (yellow, blue, green…), I thought it a was good idea to mix them all together.  And I must have thought it was such a good idea, that I poured together all the available dye at our table, perhaps my first all or nothing experiment.  Actually “nothing” would have been a great outcome compared to what happened:  puke brown.  My egg was puke brown.  And when, one by one, each kid at the table figured it out for themselves, that they’d dyed their egg puke brown, their burning eyes turned on me, until in unison it seemed, they all screamed.  “Mike!  You ruined my Easter Egg.”    So acid-etching a concrete floor is a five day dyeing process.  Day 1 clean.  Day 2 acid-etch.  Day 3 mop.  Day 4 mop some more and wait until it’s perfectly dry, and because it’s too damn cold.  Day 5 seal.   We won’t know the final color until Day 5.  Yesterday, day 3, we mopped and tossed dirty water on the hillside.  Now Architect Paul says the color we see after mopping, all shiny wet, is the final color. 
And as much as I love the color I saw all day, I don’t believe him.  For the first time, perhaps, I don’t completely believe Paul.  I mean, the floor is just one giant Easter Egg, for goodness sake, and what if I screwed it up and all the kids get mad at me???!!!  Like the egg, there’s no going back, no acid-etching again.  The color is the color.    Mind you, dear reader, these are the musings of a tired man, too exhausted to blog until the following morning.   Today, perhaps I’ll feel more confident.  But like my Kindergarten Easter Egg, my feelings won’t impact the final color.  And on Saturday, Day 5, sealing day, the final color will be unveiled.  As Doris Day sang in The Man Who Knew Too Much (the very year I was born):  “Que Sera, Sera!”
Every ceiling in the house is painted.  Every wall on the first floor is primed.  And tomorrow, when we apply the sealer, the concrete floors will be done.  Suddenly, I feel like I’m on the doorstep. 
I’m like Frodo when he felt that if he could ever just get into Mordor, somehow the deed would be done. Never mind that the far greater (and nearly impossible) part of his journey lie beyond the fence of Mordor.  And perhaps for me, it will be the same.  Perhaps my far greater journey is yet to come.  But right now, I feel that if Linda and I can complete our house task (finish every wall, floor and ceiling) then somehow, the deed will be done.   Truth is, I don’t know and I don’t want to know.  That’s the agonizing wonder and beauty of all this; I don’t get to know how it turns out.  Still, I’m in awe of the parallel between my house journey and my novel.  As I write this, my seventh and final revision, the seventeen year old hero, Amelan, suddenly landed on the doorstep of Dego’s Village.  Now I, who have written this thing six times before, happen to know that much is yet to come.  But Amelan doesn’t know this.  And I wonder, as I write this ending for the last time, just what will happen.  I think I know, but like Amelan, I’m probably wrong.  In this journey, I’ve come to expect the unexpected.  I’m excited to discover what happens to Amelan.  I’m excited to discover what happens to me.


  1. What a neat process to watch! :) Heather

  2. I would like to build a house with green features, like "living roofs." Does anyone know of a grand rapids home builder who designs green and innovative?