The tiny house stood finished. Tula and Suzie were enjoying the barn and pasture. Clarence and the Silver Spangled Hamburgs carried on in their ample coop and fenced yard. Fred wandered off constantly, his fine-tuned nose offering temptations too great to ignore. Mercy, our only surviving kitty was good company. The solar panels dumped electricity into our enormous battery bank daily, the gauges and meters monitoring our usage. The Barbie-sized 12 volt television got fairly good reception from the loft and our telephone with answering machine worked great. Once the cookstove was hot, baking cookies or bread or lasagna was exponentially satisfying. Water from the well heated instantly with our Paloma, affording luxurious baths in the giant cast iron tub. We were playing house in the woods, backed up to an undeveloped 20 acres.
I had summers off. Alone for the day, I worked my garden, tending the roses and perennials, weeding and watering the vegetables. I planted new areas, developing a rock garden with drought tolerant plants just below the house. I did any baking first thing in the day, the afternoons warm from the sun didn’t need any assistance from a wood fire. When need be, I loaded the van with laundry and spent time at the small town laundry mat. Being so alone in what seemed such a remote location was creepy to me at first. I had never done much completely by myself. I hiked Hurricane Ridge with friends. I had camped directly on Second Beach with friends. I had spent summers away, but always with new friends to be made. Living in the woods, days with spouse at work, this was a first for me. There was a renewed sense that I could handle life.
Our driveway hugged the south line of the property and at about halfway, it rounded a curve, coming into view from the house. We could see approaching vehicles at quite a distance. We didn’t get many unannounced visitors. We hosted birthdays and dinners, our families crowding around the table, our entire house the size of an ordinary dining room. They were game and supportive. They laughed jovially at my storage system, assorted baskets loaded with kitchen towels or implements or magazines hanging from the loft support beams. To this day, they still talk of the gallon jars filled with dried beans, pasta, rice, flour, and sugar lining the shelves. They felt the cozy, the adventure, but always went home, happy for their easy electricity and conventional bathrooms.
One evening, our friend Ed and a very new female acquaintance came for dinner. The weather had been stormy, another Pineapple Express pouring rain, elevating the snow level, but we were cozy, warm, wined, dined, our electricity not flickering once. We said our goodbyes, watched their tail lights disappear, then found our way to the futon in the loft. We lived on a hill. The river valley below was a flood plain, home to cattle, crops, and farm houses with 6 foot high foundations. Just as we were dozing off, sated and sleepy, we saw lights approaching. It was well after midnight and we did that startled awake freak out thing. Who on earth would be coming to our house at this time? We readied ourselves for interception, but as the car moved closer, we recognized it as Ed’s. The valley was flooded. Our entire small town was an island, entirely lake front property. We had overnight guests. No sofa, no guest room, a
toutes les toilettes naturel
but they were game with the hardwood floor, throw pillows, and our sleeping bags. In the morning, we enjoyed a lake front breakfast in town, by the end of which the water had receded enough to allow escape via an alternate, longer route to civilization. Our house was clean, simple, and small. This experience, helped by Ed’s own congeniality, was my first true epiphany that it’s the people who make the home, the attitudes that form comfort, not the number of rooms, the square footage, nor any physical amenity that can create welcome or conviviality.
This life wasn’t always easy. Arriving home late, outside temperatures in the low 30s, inside temps close to the same, the small firebox of the cookstove inadequate to hold a fire unaided for more than an hour, I got tired of being cold, of climbing into a very cold bed. It would be wearying at times to maintain awareness of what light was left on, how much electricity I could use. I grew very tired of the unconventional personal facilities. There were people I wasn’t going to invite over, ever, as I knew they’d never understand. Being an oddity, a conversation piece had grown old. Avoidance became easier than hearing the same quips, answering the same questions, bristling from the ‘I could never do this’ as if we were asking them to. On stormy nights when others had lost power, during summer mornings while baking chocolate chip cookies, retrieving Freddie again from Jake’s house because Jake’s 10-times-the-size-of-Fred Newfoundland was in heat, enjoying clammy afternoons visiting with roving clouds, these were the priceless moments.
These treasures, though, weren’t enough to sustain. We wanted to make the house a little bigger. We wanted to think of adding a child. We wanted to go back through the correct channels, add an approved drain field. All this required, essentially, starting over. We were okay with that. At the last minute when the bank financing fell through, we felt devastated. Not crippling devastation, we were young and still flexible, but the end of any dream hurts. Our ability to flow with the change, our willingness to dream again after a short period of mourning, made us stronger. We had done it. At a time when you didn’t get tax credits for alternative energy additions to a home, when the nearest solar panel dealer was a state away, we had lived off the grid. At a young adult age we had known independence and self-reliance. We had done the research, learned the skills, picked up hammers and shovels, and carved out a niche. Our spot in the woods, the actual carving of earth is now gone, but the effect on ourselves, on both Spouse and me, will always be.