Some days I dream of a house. It’s not that I don’t love the yurt–I do. This round womb of a home has kept us warm and dry for over three years, its simplicity let us move to our land quickly, and it held us inside the circle of its arms as Waylon was born into the world. For all of that, I love the yurt. But there are reasons I dream of a house…insulation, for one. Windows, for another. To have morning light stream into the kitchen–to have a proper kitchen. I won’t get into too many “to haves,” though. Those kinds of statements always end up sounding whiny, impatient. Instead, I will share my actions.
I just started reading A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams by Michael Pollan, a book about his journey to build a writing cabin behind his house. At the end of the first chapter, when he shares the idea with his Architect friend, Charlie, Charlie asks:
“So where do you want to put this building?”
Aside from someplace in the landscape framed by that window, I had no idea. Much as I’d been daydreaming about the buildng, I’d neglected to settle on a spot for it. I hadn’t even ventured out those three hundred feet to walk the land yet, at least not on foot. I realized I’d flunked my first test in Concrete Reality.
“Look, there’s no point talking about this or any other building in the abstract,” Charlie explained, “because the site is going to dictate so much about it. This thing is one kind of guy if we perch him on the edge of the meadow looking back toward the house, and something completely different if he’s sitting off in the woods all by himself. So that’s the first thing you need to do…”
Charlie was trying, gently, to bring me and my daydreamy notion down to the ground.
First this, then that.
The time had come for me to site my building, to fix this dream of mine to the earth.
I myself have spent countless hours dreaming of a house, searching the internet for timber frame house plans, sketching out the open floor plan and bedrooms and attached glass greenhouse. Edge and I do have a general idea of where we want to put the house: just past the Northern edge of the pasture, where a red pine plantation had been harvested before we bought the land. We’ve paid attention to how long it takes the winter sun to spread up each inch of the slope. We’ve visited the area on snowshoes, in the afternoon, in the spring, slightly less in the summer (all that farm work, and my pregnancy last year). But for me, this house has remained mostly in the wispy dream world of my mind.
So yesterday, with Waylon on my back, I walked to the Northern corridor, stepped over the threshold where pasture turns to brush, and began moving debris. Layers of branches is all that’s left of the pine plantation, and who knows just how thick they lay. Wild brambles have begun to poke through in some places, and hardwoods–birch and maple–create a dotted border line between the debris and the pasture. There is a sizable break in this border line, a window into the cleared strip, where you can stand and look into the pasture, and out beyond it to the southwest, into the valley and the soft hills that rise to the Worcester range. The slope here almost levels out before heading down again to the northwestern corner of the field. To the north, hemlocks anchor in a steep hill leading down to the brook, and beyond that is forest. This is the spot.
View from the Northern border in winter
I started with an armful, taking the dry pine to the edge of the field. And I continued like that, carrying a load of smaller branches, dragging larger ones along the ground, piling them higher and higher for a future bonfire or the creation of wood chips. It didn’t take long to see a site begin to appear, and as I worked I envisioned different layouts: the entrance into a mudroom, the south-west windows into the living room, the porch off the down-hill and western end of the house.
There are faster ways of clearing land, I know. But there was nothing else I needed to do. And how else am I to ground my dreams to the earth? I must start somewhere, and this clearing, armful by armful, is a means of discovery.
How long until a house is built? Who knows. A year? Two, three? I hope not four. But I am beginning, in the way I know how, in the way I can with Waylon on my back: with my own two hands.