When we bought this magic little chunk of land, our Sadie was a newborn. I wore her wrapped against my body as we tramped through drifting snow to site the place where we could build our cabin. We walked out all the corners and gushed over the view. Our dream home was modest but no less thrilling for that: an 800 square foot timber frame off grid cabin, built right out of the tall trees growing on the land.
Sadie grew into a toddler in that first year. And as she grew her dad worked on his dream. There were trees felled, timbers milled, plans drawn. But also there were obstacles. And as our family of five settled deeper and deeper into life in our one room yurt, the cabin work slowed down, first to a crawl, and then a stop.
But this year is our year. We felt it all the way back in January, as we looked at wide open calendar pages and wondered if we had made more compromises than we intended. Since just after that I have been struggling with asthma, which is triggered by all outdoor things, and triggered more often by living in a house (yurt) without hard walls. And that little Sadie baby is now almost three; my kids are starting to struggle in truth for space in our 314 square foot home. I see them jostling for position, marking territory, learning a certain kind of scarcity.
It’s time. It’s past time. It’s time for us to build.
I’m terrified, of course. Can’t you imagine? Besides that any huge undertaking is well…huge, I prefer the yurt, for how little it marks the land. It isn’t a commitment. It’s a moveable thing. It’s round and collapsible and temporary. It’s sort of like marking in pencil, erasable.
I don’t know how much I should give myself credit for having put the brakes on last year. Timbers needed to dry. Life was happening all around. Nick’s attention was split in a hundred directions. But also I wasn’t pulling on that rope.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to make a permanent mark with my life. I wasn’t sure I wanted anything at all in concrete, in this place, or this situation, or in the off grid lifestyle at all.
Somewhere down there in my insides, I might have wanted this whole thing to have been a passing dream, a temporary adventure, like the plays I used to put on in my theatre days. Can’t you all imagine me, telling these stories to my friends at backyard parties in the suburbs?
I mean, can’t you? I’m adorable.
It was nearly the first thing Nick ever did here, on this land — as soon as the deep snow had melted down, and before he even set up the tent he would sleep in while putting up a shed on concrete blocks — nearly the first thing he ever did was cut down 23 of our tall, tall trees.
I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the damage done by the falling trees. I didn’t like the deep slashes made by the dragging logs. I didn’t like the places where lilacs and choke cherries were split and splintered, like broken bones.
I didn’t like the way I couldn’t hide, either myself or the true cost of my survival.
The thing is, that exact thing kept on happening to me, that I couldn’t hide the cost of my survival. It kept on happening to me, a hundred times and a hundred ways over the next two and a half years of pursuing self-sufficiency and the DIY lifestyle. I cut down trees to keep myself warm, I killed animals to feed myself, I cleared the “wild” landscape to put in the trees and plants I wanted to cultivate.
The thing is, this is the greatest gift I’ve received from the DIY life — and something that I theoretically wanted — to be able to see my footprints in the world. My own real footprints, in dirt; and now, this week, in concrete.
We broke ground this morning.
Nick is as stressed as I have ever seen him, taking on such an undertaking, building a home basically by himself and on a shoestring. And countercultural at that, with a modest, open floor plan, a composting toilet, solar-powered (limited) lighting and radiant heat flooring.
On top of that, it has to be dried in by winter. He has basically four months. If he weren’t feeling any stress, we would be worried.
I’m going to do my best to document it all, on the YouTube channel and on this blog: 1. because I love documenting things (being, as I am, nearly a millennial); 2. because I want to make it possible for others to see Nick in action, doing what he does best, which is making amazing things on a shoestring and mostly by himself. (It’s beautiful!!!!!); and 3. because I document things so I can process them. That’s just the way I am.
And when others show up here to process with me, it makes me feel like I’m carrying way, way less weight. It makes impossible things possible.
Thank you all, so much. Thank you for being our people. As we have entered the off grid life and mucked around in it, and changed our minds about everything ten times and then ended up right on the plan we first began with. HA. Thanks for being our support and our accountability. We couldn’t have gotten this far without you.
(So it’s YOUR fault.)
Esther and family