Week 26. Six months. Is House the Land Built now entering its third, and final, trimester? Perhaps we should call it House the Land Birthed. Then again, as my brother Ron pointed out (in an attempt to cheer me up) we’ve been at this for over 7 years. Procuring the Land. Obtaining site permits. That’s like asking when I began. Birth? Conception? When my parents first met? It’s all about beginnings, endings and the mile-markers along the journey. A shame really, that I obsess about it so. Whenever I walk the Land---the crunch of snow underfoot, the cold slap on the left side of my face, the sudden explosion of wings and feathers---I feel no beginning, no end. Only “is”. Barely even a journey, for that implies where I was and where I’m going, rather than where I am. Not that the deer don’t follow a trail (the highways criss-crossing the snow say otherwise) or lack a destination as they bound over the ridge. But the knowledge of how long they’ve been running---3 seconds, 6 seconds or 9 seconds---seems so out of place. A calendar belongs on the Land like the deer belongs in my house. All this is to say that perhaps on one glorious day, I’ll set aside my beloved calendar, turn off my Android clock, and just live. Not today. Today, as I lay more kitchen tile, I will try to not fall further behind on Tom the Builder’s schedule. I wish I could just be as I lay the Marmoleum tile, so beautiful, in hand and especially on the floor, the occasional blue and green tiles like flowers surprising me on the prairie.
In case your thinking that I’m thinking that our house is truly House the Land Built, then I apologize for leading you astray. Don’t get me wrong, the house does feel Land connecting. Here’s what manufacturer Forbo says about the Marmoleum kitchen tiles we’ve been laying for the last three days. “Marmoleum is made with linseed oil from specially cultivated Canadian flax, wood flour from European trees, rosin tapped from Portuguese pine trees, jute from India and Bangladesh and very finely ground limestone.” And it’s gorgeous to boot. But as my knees can attest to, each Marmoleum tile is laid atop a plywood sheet. And the plywood is laid atop manufactured trusses. And the trusses are laid atop poured concrete walls. And the poured concrete walls are laid atop poured concrete footings. And the concrete footings rest, finally, upon the Land, the Land 11 feet beneath the tiles. As my feet walk upon the Marmoleum, I experience six degrees of separation---an uninspiring, industrial, fossil-fuel separation---between myself and the Land below. I just wanted to be honest. So that one day, when you come and walk upon the Marmoleum kitchen tile and run your hand along the red elm Corridor walls and smell the white cedar siding, you won’t feel tricked, deceived even, by me, or the house. In truth I say all this more for my sake than yours. Though I’m thrilled and taken with much of what I’ve done, there’s also a grieving: the House the Land Built isn’t quite. But it is a start. The best start I could make. And House the Land Built is, and will always remain, a dream, like a star that guides my feet along Marmoleum tile, down the Corridor and out onto the Land.
With Marmoleum kitchen tile complete (at least until 5 more boxes arrive), today was a gloriously lazy day. Even Tom the Builder, normally the whip-cracker, couldn’t think of anything major I should be doing. We’re waiting. Waiting for the 5 boxes of Marmoleum tile. Waiting for the Yoga loft cork flooring. Waiting for sawdust to settle so we can finish painting. Oh, wonderful waiting. I got to split wood…
wonder at the dried butterfly (a Question Mark?) in our built-in wall display case…
admire the beauty, and rear-end comfort, of the red elm window seat...
and best of all, invite Tom the Builder and his boys to a well-earned after work beer.
As the firelight glowed on their faces---these three faces I’ve come to know so well and will soon miss---I listened. Trout grilled until their eyeballs pop out. Home brewed beer tasting of coffee and goat’s milk. Roasted raccoon, just the hind leg it seems. Images swirling, I imagined that one day, very soon now it seems, I’ll walk out the Corridor door onto the east porch and into my own tale.
Ever since last week, when an out-of-the-blue stranger called Linda and asked if they could come see our house, most especially the Serious windows and masonry heater, I’ve been excited. And today, by the end of our tour with Tom and Sue, fellow leave-the-city-and-build-your-dream folks, I understood what I was so excited about. Yes, I enjoyed asking them to touch the glass on the R-value 5 Serious windows.
“So warm!” And hearing about the beautiful tile-wrapped masonry heaters they’d seen in Poland---featuring a warm bed for grandma---also invigorated me. Red elm paneling, solar heated floors, off-grid electric, rainwater harvest, all great, if not a bit overwhelming for a whirlwind one hour tour. Still, as I was loving every minute and not sure why, Sue nailed it as we climbed the basement stairs. “It feels good not to be alone.” She pretty much summed it up. I don’t know what I could have done to prepare myself for the towering aloneness I sometimes feel on this journey. And I’m not talking about missing my Minneapolis friends, neighbors and workmates, which I most terribly do! I’m talking about the aloneness of the journey itself. “People probably think we’re crazy,” Sue continued. And whether folk do or don’t think me crazy, leaping this far down the road less travelled, well out of GPS or Google map range, can leave me feeling alone, if not lost. But after only those few minutes with Tom and Sue, I felt a special connection. They “got it”.
Soon they drove off into the fog and I sloshed back down the draw trail to split wood. Suddenly I stopped. A light drew me: fog freezing upon the Indian grass.
I veered off trail onto the road less traveled, the road way less traveled and that---when I’m feeling connected---makes all the difference.
On this, the third consecutive day of brooding fog, we all slowed to a crawl, like winter flies. Tom the Builder's boy Brent went home sick. Never happens, said Tom. For the first time in the 26 week project, I witnessed Tom make a mistake, cutting a window trim board an inch short. And I pretty much did nothing, unless you count deciding which washing machine to buy. Actually it’s a big decision. While the sexy (solar panels, invertors…) and the quirky (rainwater cisterns, sawdust toilets…) steal the alternative house show, the real game is determining how I can live more simply so I can afford and appreciate my new life. How can I use less electricity and less water? A washing machine uses plenty of both. An Energy Star sticker, stating the machine meets a minimum standard, isn’t all that helpful. Hundreds of models display the star. We want to know the best, not the minimum. After many a Google probe, turns out such a list exists. CEE, the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, ranks energy star rated washers, with tier 3 using the least electricity and water. So I found a reasonably priced Tier 3 Frigidaire. Then the fog wore me down too. I tire of how we Minnesotans take a beating for our winters. I always feel like shouting, “yeah but it’s a dry cold”. On a sunny 10F day, I’m soon splitting wood in only a sweatshirt. But in this 37F London soup the parka never comes off and, after two hours of swinging and stacking, I’m still chilled. Thank goodness for Linda and her orange-almond cookies. Hot out of the oven, their buttery crunch soothed my soul. While Tom clearly said he liked them, his boy Dave never did. Instead, he just lifted the wax paper and found another cookie, his fourth I think. Before they called it quits for the week, we celebrated with a Shell’s Snowstorm. They’d gotten down what had to get done: trimming the Yoga loft windows so Linda and I can lay cork floor tile this weekend.
And the house is looking so achingly beautiful. With Tom, Dave and Linda in a row upon the red elm window seat and I upon the heated limestone bench, the crackling fire and warm conversation drove out what chill remained.