Cobbing my cottage

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Where did the years disappear? (I am still here.)

I can't quite believe it has been so long since I last updated this blog - it's not like I have been asleep for two years, far from that - I suppose the opposite is true; so much has happened that I haven't had the clarity of mind to collect, reflect and write down coherent thoughts....
Not sure how many of you still follow the blog but in some ways I owe it to those who do, to keep the story going, because the story is ongoing - like with any living craft, natural building is not something with a definite end, the building lives and breathes and changes along with Nature and its seasons, so there will always be something to make, mend or figure out.


 In Winter of 2014 it became quite clear that the green roof had a leak in the plastic membrane somewhere along the top. Parts of timber looked wet and had some rot in them. It sunk my heart to watch this rot creep further down the roof, whilst I knew I had to tackle it head on the following Summer, rather than dream about building that wonderfully whimsical composting toilet with the left-over strawbales.



I had spent what I thought was a lot of money (over £100) on the plastic liner on the roof, under the soil. But of course that wasn't a lot of money compared to the money I subsequently had to spend on replacing it with a much more substantial EPDM rubber liner (about £400). If you are about to build a green roof, please bear that in mind. Mistakes can and will be done but sometimes it is good to learn from other people's mistakes, not your own.... Mind you, I could never find a puncture in the original liner but take it from me, it doesn't need to be a big hole to ruin your beautiful roof.

Me removing the soil off the leaking liner.

My father taking the rotten timber off the roof.
So we set to work and I am grateful for my dad for tackling this job, having to re-do some of his initial work. But hey, it meant we could spend some more time working together! And reminiscing all the events during previous summers - and cursing quietly once in a while. It was a bit of a mess, and partly a very frustrating job, but at least we knew that this time the job would get done properly.

My father taking a moment to inspect the situation.

I went and picked up the EPDM liner with my dad from a warehouse close-by and feeling its weight (you needed few people to lift it), I asked for my brother and our neighbour to come and help to install it on the roof. Luckily we were blessed with good and dry weather whilst doing this.


Taking the old roof liner off

Putting the new EPDM liner on

It's amazing how much soil was on that roof. I tried to roll it off the roof in larger pieces around the cottage as if that would somehow help to put it back on, but of course life is not a big fluffy fairytale. Something that comes down easily doesn't tend to go back up as easy. I made a slight effort to at least start refilling the roof that same day when we laid the new roof liner on. Just for moral support for myself if nothing else...



The next days were involved just putting all the soil/turf back on the roof, and getting some more, as it seemed the Earth had strangely swallowed a lot of it on its way down to the ground. I shifted some of the forest bed onto the roof and planted few flowers, as well as some wild strawberry plants, which were so abundant around the cottage. You need proof?
But were they worth planting on my roof? My daughter thought so.


It would take over a week to fill it fully but in the mean time, we were enjoying a lovely weather and I could finally hook up the solar panels I had bought several Summers before.


But really now I had to focus on what I had originally intended to do, which was to lay and finish the earthen floor inside the cottage. At the moment it had a rough base layer, made with the gray clay from the clay pit round the cottage. Since my son's work efforts had so far been limited to taking a few photos, I cajoled him to work for twenty more minutes by the promise of some sweeties. He set to work, dusting the place down.



That eagerness to work didn't last very long because pretty soon Eemil and my daughter managed to find something a bit more pleasurable to do....


and who can blame them? :)

So you see the round wooden discs on the floor in the last photo - these were something I had been cutting and sanding the previous summer to go into my earthen floor. My father had cut them roughly with a chainsaw and then I had to try to get them thinned and smoothed out (it's no fun getting toes full of splinters when walking on one's floor). Right, so I better get off to work.

Oh yes, just before that, I would of course need to check whether my dragon still breathes fire. My children particularly insisted on checking out. And making a couple of stone baked pizzas in her belly. I am afraid you will just have to guess whether they tasted nice or not. :)
Fire in the belly



yum yum


It's safe to say, I didn't start working on the earthen floor that night. The next day however, I had no more excuses. Here is the way the floor looked at that point:


Whilst I set to work, mixing a earthen plaster with fine bagged (powdered) clay I had bought and fine particle sand from last year, my mother did the important job of entertaining my two year old, who otherwise would have wanted to come and lay the floor with me. Which would have meant wet clay plaster all over everything, not just the floor. So the consolation prize was to play with my mound of building sand - and she seemed to be happy with that. Well...mainly...




'Mummy, what are you doing?'

'Pinja want to mix it.'

 I don't blame her for wanting to mix it; the feeling of having one's arms and hands deep in mud slurry is just fantastic. No wonder people have meditative and health replenishing mud baths. You really don't know what you have missed until you try. And one can make it pretty much for free!


 Mud, nature, sun - what more can a lady need? ;)

Anyway, the plaster was mixed (no straw in this mix) and I needed to start pouring it in place. I had some fairly level pieces of wood as a thickness guide and a few different trowels, to even out the layer. I figured I would need to do a couple of layers, as the mixture was quite runny and the slices of wood I wanted to incorporate into the floor were at least 5cm thick, maybe more. Few photos of the progress here - notice different colours in different batches of plaster, this is because I added varied amounts of iron oxides into the plaster mix, without measuring them out fully - but hey, I am always experimenting, so it doesn't really matter that much. To me that is.



Here I am starting to incorporate the wooden discs onto the floor in their places.
On my very optimistic mood some years before I had thought about filling pretty much the whole floor with these wooden discs but when it actually came to making the floor, i started thinking less is more. Less was definitely more in terms of sanity. The way I had chosen or forced to go about making them meant that every single wooden disc was differing thickness, size, roughness, they had funny wonky edges etc. which meant it was a total pain to get them level - in regards to each other and the general floor level. I also had to make sure my final floor level would reach up to the front foor step - somehow it's hard to work backwards from the farthest corner of the cottage to the front of the cottage and think further ahead. My brain must be funny that way but it doesn't do topsy turvy kind of stuff very well.

ANYWAY, I kept at it, swearing a lot, basking in the sun, mixing the plaster, buying more clay, spreading the floor, sanding the discs, watering the floor, wondering about the meaning of life, getting sore knees, back, arms. Watching dragonflies, digging up ground, finding caterpillars. The stuff life is made of.
This biggie turned out to be a caterpillar of a beautiful elephant hawk-moth




Right, in the mean time, I had moved onto laying the second top layer of the floor. This time I tried to get the colour fairly similar throughout the entire floor. Fairly, being the key point here. The linseed oil I would eventually use to seal the floor would change the final colour anyway.



So I am working backwards, trying to get to the front-door, whilst laying the wooden discs down. It would have been very tempting to decide 'argh, forget it, I am not laying any more of these stinking discs down' - (I mean they were properly doing my head in!) - but whenever I thought about it, I could see my father in my mind's eye sawing these gazillion pieces of wood at the back of the house, with all the love he had for me... and I had asked him to make me lots....LOTS! Surely I couldn't turn around and tell him I wasn't at least attempting to use some of them. So, defeat is not an option, and we plod on.... frustrated or not.


In the mean time my father had completed a wooden ladder for me, made from some beautifully wonky pieces and branches of rowan tree. I had placed a few wooden discs in the floor, so that the ladder feet would sit on these discs rather than press/dig into the earthen floor itself. Now I had to try whether I had calculated their placement correctly...


Fits like a ladder should. :)


Hey, I got a visitor! :) Pinja was obsessed about coming to see me and checking out the progress of my work.
Finally, all that working and reversing meant that I was almost at the front door. End in sight - am I dreaming or is this really happening? Am I able to stand back and never having to lay another wooden disc into this floor ever ever again?



It was surely looking that way. And I said a few grateful prayers to the goddess of the universe and looked up - didn't look too bad there either. :)

My floor. My not even almost level, handmade, earthen floor. And a little squirrel who came to say hello.



I closed the front door to my cottage, prayed for a nice weather and left the floor to dry. It would mean not using the cottage yet again this year, and waiting for another time to finally finish it. So, I ended up looking through the window at the work I had just finished inside. I do love the colour of the floor, even though I wasn't initially sure about it.

I think my Mother Nature sculpture looks happy enough with it.

So afterwards, we invited my mother along, took a few photos and did a bit of happy dancing.









This image is what I leave you with, until next month, when I will yet again be returning to the cottage, to finish and seal the earthen floor for good. So that in August I can actually - and finally - be able to spend some proper time there, on my bare feet, doing more of those little happy dances, with my loved ones. Until then,

Keep dreaming xx


Friday, 22 August 2014

Dream a Little Dream

The rain has ceased for the moment, but it has been battering these grounds for days on end now. After weeks of intense heatwave, the Finnish skies are finally pouring down on these lands, properly, almost restlessly. What it means to me is that I have something to listen to when I press my head on my pillow, pillow which only yesterday found its way into my cottage. Two days ago I helped my father to build a sleeping platform inside my little house, so I could fulfil my wish, to spend a night in my heart space before I go.



The other night, I carried a mattress and a little blanket up the builder's ladders (the wooden one I am hoping to climb up with is still needing to be built...) and snuggled down, with some celtic music and flickering candlelight. While the rain drops were falling on the skylight above me, I lied down, cozy and warm against freshly sawn wood, looking and smelling and thinking and mainly wondering. How did I get to this amazing point of existence? To be lying here, surrounded by earth, trees, forest, sky, rain - and to know that where I lie has come from my heart; through the love I have for Mother Earth and this landscape I used to play in as a child. The love, which has been transformed, with the help of my family and friends, into this muddy cottage I so love.

The candles are lit for LuontoƤiti / Mother Nature

  
My view for the night.
I lied there, in the Earth's womb, feeling totally in awe of how all this came to be, feeling totally grateful for Mother Earth and Universe for letting me build this place; for the lessons, experiences, help, love, struggles, compassion, interest, hard work, motivation - and tears emerged for the sheer joy of being in this place in this moment. While the sound of rain drops mixed with the sound of some strangely random elven music, I looked to my left and saw a fox's eye looking at me. Fox is my totem animal and has had a strange way of appearing to me at times when I need wisdom, self-reliance and confidence. And there it was again, looking at me, slyly smiling. Never mind that the eye was a part of the wooden rail in front of me but the energy was very strongly there. I knew I was being watched over, and it made me feel safe and joyful.

When I returned to my parents house a few hours later for a night's sleep, I gave a hug and thank you to my father and in the morning, when my mother had woken up, to her also, thanking them for the possibility of being able to build my cottage on their land and for their help in building it. I know with great certainty that this is one of the biggest personal achievement in my life, and has a great symbolic meaning to me, in form of artistic identity, my roots, my relationship with my parents, my future, my beliefs, my loves, my children and the world I want to behold, appreciate and live in.

Before I got to this point however, I had been working on this cottage for weeks, on most days, apart from some family days off. I had been mixing, plastering, boiling, smearing, stamping, measuring, experimenting, pouring, plastering a bit more, painting, getting confused, wondering, realising, sawing, nailing, lifting, dragging, digging and yet again painting. Don't ask me how many hours, as I have no answer to your question. It is better not to know. And even if I knew, I would only know the answer to a question: how many hours have you loved?

Since some of you want some proof that I actually did do some or all of the beforementioned activities, I have added some photographs below. They may be in slight random order, because my head has been in random order and my days with the mud get very mixed up, as do the hours of the clock - usually my work is interrupted by baby duties (my daughter is 14mths) or my mother asking whether I still eat food these days.


Lime plastered (with pigment) cob dragon oven


My mother helping out

My father helping out





Making mix for the earthen floor (wet cob)




So, after all of this doing, I am left with a cottage which is not finished but it is not far off from that.
I need to patch up some walls, do more painting inside and out, add some details and finish to the earthen plaster - but the main thing missing is a proper floor. I have completed the first layer of earthen floor but there is still a lot to do. The drying process took much longer than I anticipated and very soon I realised that in rainy conditions, I could easily wait weeks for the floor to dry. I don't have weeks. But I do have a place, where I can sleep and be happy. Next Summer I know this place will have a floor and after that any remaining jobs will be mere details that I can attend to whenever.

This is how I am leaving the cottage for now.







With my heart filled with love, I know anything's possible when you have faith in your idea - and so much love to carry it through that nothing can stop you. The only thing that can make something happen is you. And the only thing that can stop you making something happen is you. Next time you tell yourself an excuse why something didn't happen, look deep inside yourself and ask some real questions.


And then - Dream a Little Dream. Just like children do. Until we meet again.

With Love,

Heidi,
the Forest Dreamer