Cobbing my cottage

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Life in the Trees

Time to think. There is much of that in the Winter time, when the days are short and the darkness is such a frequent visitor. It is easy to lose hope of ever seeing the sun again, when the clouds have gathered and rain is pouring down outside and filling the London street gutters with brown water. But in my heart there is love for my little place called Finland and even a littler place called 'Elaman Puu' :).

When I started building my little dwelling, I always wanted it to be a homage to the nature and trees that saw me grew up and of which some are now standing inside my cottage. Even though they lost their precious lives, from now on they will always be greeted by smiles and most likely even warm hugs when entering this sweet little space. But even in the midst of cold and snow, my cottage looks like it belongs to the earth and to its surroundings, it is a building of nature, from nature, in nature, regardless of the season.

My Elaman Puu in a snowy, Finnish landscape.

It has been snowing a lot in Finland, there is about 50cm snow on the ground by now. This is what my mother tells me, and what I can see from the photos my brother sent me just before Christmas. My tiny cottage has a thick snow hat on and the forest floor is covered in pure white. Everything seems frozen still. Yet, when I look at the photo, I feel such warmth inside. Almost like one of the Moomins, hibernating over the Winter, my cottage is waiting for me, yet it lives in nature's time, as part of nature, patiently watching life and seasons, day by day. I so miss that place, even though there is nothing as in way of work I could be currently doing there, it is far too cold for that. But of course I would love nothing better than sit inside, to listen to the sounds of the cottage and nature outside, feel how different it all is from when I last set my foot inside.

Apart from few vertical cracks that have appeared in the cob walls, I hear the cottage is doing well. Although that is just judging the exterior, as no one has been inside for several weeks, as the front door has swollen shut. We'll see what happens when I go to Finland in about six weeks and try to get in - will the cottage grant me entry? Or will I only be able to peep through the door hole to my elven nest?

What a difference three months makes in this climate.

Candles on the window sill.

I must be patient, just like nature is. It knows no constraints of time, it hurries nowhere. The only existence it has is the existence of now, and in that now everything is perfect. My 10-year old son sometimes asks me: 'Mum, why is life so hard?' And I say to him, life is not hard, but we make it seem that way. We worry, get anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, angry - mostly unnecessarily. And when I say we, I mean me as well. The past year has been such an incredible journey in my life, and it seems it will continue as an incredible journey still. There are moments when I think I have just grasped it, seen the meaning and felt the purpose why I am on this planet. Then, life gently kicks you in the backside and makes you return to a state of not knowing, uncertainty and confusion. I know I have the best advice for any situation within me - so close, yet at times it seems so far away from reach. I keep saying: Trust life to carry you Heidi. Trust life. It has gotten you this far, and as long as you live by your heart, it will keep on carrying you. Yet, in my weak moments I sometimes  falter....

A new calendar year is just around the corner. Of course it is only a concept that we have given our human existence, to somehow be able to deal with it better, in more understandable chunks. I am thinking of all the things that will take place this year that we are about to enter. Wow they are big things, much bigger than I could have ever imagined. In fact if I could have ever imagined all that has happened in the last twelve months, I think I would have curled up in my bed, pulled the blanket over my head and stayed in, abandoning all hope. One needs courage to embrace the unknown, despite of all the fear, but finding that courage makes life worth living, and the experiences that follow cannot be found under the cover of one's cozy blanket. So I tell myself......

In the meantime I will let you in a secret, just like I sometimes do with my precious trees...

The Tree of Life, the spirit of love and nature, has started a life of its own within me. In February when I return to cottage, I will be carrying a precious nature spirit inside of me - and in the Summer she will see the cottage with her own baby eyes. It will be a while longer until she can take part in the building work - but I know that from the very first moments of her life, this cottage will be a part of her, just as it is part of me. X

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Autumn Winds

Whilst November rain is licking the windowpanes of my chilly London flat, I think about my little cottage by the edge of woods, wondering how the Autumn winds and freezing Finnish nights are treating my earthen baby. Even though the Fall in UK has been busy for me, making all kinds of crafts to stock up my Etsy shop TaikaEarth, my curiosity and longing to see a glimpse of 'Elaman Puu' has grown each and every day. Last week while I was talking to my mother I couldn't wait any longer, so I asked her to take a few pictures and send them to me. Here is what I received...

My cottage in the beginning of November. The seasons have changed but it's still as beautiful as ever.

Sleeping Baby Dragon - she is hibernating over the Winter to be re-awakened next Summer.

The last weeks and months of my life have been quite tough and emotionally draining, but when I saw the photos of my cottage, the biggest pixie smile imaginable on this side of our galaxy appeared on my face. Ah! I LOVE this place with all my heart ❤  I wish I could have teleported myself next to it and given it a big squeeze. And after that pursue to squeeze all the trees in the forest. And the mosses. And the rocks. And you get the point.

The next time I see my cottage in person will be in the middle of snowy, freezing Winter. I can already picture the view in my head, the green roof covered by a thick snow hat and the baby dragon patiently waiting. I am hoping I can spend some time inside of my tiny house regardless of the cold, and recharge my emotional and physical batteries. As I will be needing them later on in the year. Not only because of my plans to finish the cottage but also because of... something else that will require a lot of focus, love and courage. But I can't tell you yet, I promised the tree I will keep it as a secret.

When I reflect back on the past Summer, in many ways I feel it was a dream. Not a dream I slept through but which I actively participated in. However, the end result is the same; an enchanting, personal story that is somewhat surreal but totally magical. And of course like the best of stories and life itself, it is not finished yet. The trees of my life have many more stories to tell.... maybe even some secrets... ❤

Monday, 3 September 2012

A Labour of Love

Approaching the last few days of my stay in Finland, a loud, annoying clock started ticking in my head, making me realise just how surreal this build and in fact the whole Summer had been. When I started, I had NO idea how long it would take to build a cottage like this. When I started, I had NO idea how to build a cottage like this... So, realising I had gotten to the point of: two more days and 'almost finished', I started to get a little bit nervous amidst gentle exhilaration.

It somehow felt worse to have almost completely finished the cottage, rather than almost completely not finished it... And SO little to do... ahem... that was the loud mental mutter to myself, although of course, in reality there was still so much to do. Then again, I had often said to people asking that I would have been mad to count the hours that have gone into this build. Not only because it would be insane - but also because it wasn't a job I needed to force myself to do - it was a labour of love. Who counts the hours one is in love?

When I say love, I mean it. I have had less than five days in total during whole summer, when I haven't 'felt like' doing it. And those five days have been mostly affected by illness and physical exhaustion. And even those days, it hasn't been days, but hours - maybe 30 minutes when I have thought about giving up. I scream a little, cry a little, throw a short childish tantrum - and continue. And the smile returns. Every time.

There is magic in the earth, of the Earth. :)

Me with the almost finished Elaman Puu cottage before my return to London on Sunday.

 On Friday night, we had few celebratory drinks inside the cottage with my parents and our neighbour Jani (and his wife and daughter), who has been so wonderfully helpful throughout this build. After midnight, when everyone else had gone to bed, I went back to the cottage and sat down on one of the chairs, in this dim, candle-lit space. I realised it was the first time I was seeing and particulary, feeling, this space properly. And what an amazing feeling, to run my eyes along the rough, organic forms of the cob, smooth textures of the wood, rough spiky straw protruding out of the plaster on the strawbale wall. I could smell the earth, straw, wood and tar.

I felt completely covered by Mother Earth, like sitting inside a soft, natural womb of a kind. And there I had thought, that I had given birth to this cottage. Whereas in reality, it had probably just as much given birth to me...

Soft whisperings of nature. Raindrops on the roof window. Wind blowing through some gaps in the still unfinished top of the cob wall. And the warmth of the night inside this wee house of mine. There aren't many words to describe that feeling - that suddenly everything I had worked on for over 2 months, on almost every day, was there, around me, to be experienced. I had dreamed this cottage into reality, just like I had thought would happen. And why? And how? With a lot of help from one's friends, and more particularly, my tirelessly loving parents and our neighbour, who selflessly worked on my cottage, when we needed it most. Plus all the other friends and people, who found it worthwhile and interesting to come and lend a hand. I am grateful and moved beyond mere words. You know you are in my heart (I hope) - and in my cottage. :)

Previously happened:

My friend, Michelle, arrived from London to rescue me from a total forest lunacy after a day alone working on the cottage. Which was as well, because I realised that a joint energy is a good energy, as long as the joint energy is good energy haha. There were some sillyness, some drunkenness, some sogginess - but also steady progress every day, probably much more than I could have mustered on my own alone. Once in a while, Jani, our neighbour, popped round to fit the door he was working on and help me to get some more sand and rocks from the nearby sandpit. Forever grateful to him, I don't think Jani realised quite how much he helped by 'not having a clue about what he was doing', as he himself put it. :)

Jani fitting door he was building into my very asymmetrical doorway.
Michelle plastering the strawbale wall with earthen (cob) plaster.
Bored of stacking up the last remaining cob wall, I also continued some cob sculpture over the doorway and over to the 'dragon wall'
Michelle in the clay pond, scraping the bottom of the near bottomless pit... :)

Jani balancing on the roof top with the skylight.
Many muddy days later, I had built up a fair amount of the last remaining cob wall, Michelle had finished plastering the exterior strawbale wall with the first coat and moved indoors to continue work there. My parents eventually returned from their summer house and my father started to install pieces of windboard and insect netting in the gap between the strawbale wall and the roof. My mum was mixing cob, I started lime/clay plastering the exterior wall and just in time, Jani arrived to help to fit the skylight window on the roof. As luck would have it, Jani happened to have an experience of installing similar roof domes as a job at some point in his life, so we were in for a chance...! On one Wednesday evening we started work on it after a lot of wandering and wondering by myself, my father and our neighbour. First we stripped off the tarp off the roof, laid some old rugs, cardboard and underlay down, to cover the wooden, at times sharp, planks from piercing the waterproof layer (pond liner) that would go on next.

Me, my father and Jani wondering what to do and how to do it.
Me and Jani spreading out the huge (8x8m) pond liner onto the roof, over a underlay. What a job!
After what ended up being hours, during which the sun set and mosquitos woke up, we struggled to spread out the liner and danced on a very slippy surface, trying not to damage the expensive piece of plastic. Then Jani set out to install the roof window onto a wooden frame he had previously made, to fit the skylight. With sharp pair of scissors in my hand, I cut a hole into the middle of the plastic, for where the window would go. No turning back now...

Jani installing the skylight.
While I kept looking away while Jani was balancing barefeet on the windowframe with a gaping hole underneath him, he kept on steadily working, swinging an electric screwdriver in his hand. A beautiful sunset by the way.... eventually it was all done, we retreated off the roof and went to check the results of the work inside - amazing - even though the sun had set, the remains of the light entered the cottage through this wonderful dome - making it into a very different, more open space - a success!

In the next few days I was lime-plastering the walls, the front-door was finalised and fitted, gaps filled and finally, also the last cob wall reached the ceiling height. Not perfect, not even fully level or built, it was good enough - I could now even light my cob dragon oven, without having to worry about the smoke coming indoors over that gap in the wall. And that I did...

The last thing I wanted to start before going home, was the green roof. I wanted it to be as natural and forest-like as the rest of the cottage. I bought some blocks of turf from the shop and went scavenging for moss and berry plants (including bilberry and lingonberry) in the woods near-by. Slowly, lifting the pieces of forest floor onto the roof, it started taking shape. Would need an awful lot more trips to the woods to fill the almost 50m2 of roof space, much more than I had time left to do. But luckily, my parents, my brother and even Jani said they could do that in my absence. Which is really wonderful, and necessary, for the protection of the tarp (from UV rays) as well as the integrity of the roof itself.

The beginnings of a green roof
I am not at all sure if the forest, the way I would like it, wants to live on top of my roof. I love the plants that are there, because they remind me of my childhood and trips to the forest. How I used to lie on the mossy bed and watch the ants trail. Eat and pick bilberries and grin at the taste of sour lingonberries. But, we will see, only time will tell - such is the story of this cottage it seems...

So, I am back in London, with a slightly heavy heart, knowing there are still cracks in the walls, gaps in the cob, unplastered strawbales, final lime plaster missing, internal floor undone, green roof unfinished etc etc. Yet, at the same time, my heart is also heavy with love, because I feel immensely happy that I managed the build even to this point, fumbling in the dark, in the unknown, in the mystery of leap of faith.

To inspire and to be inspired, one of the fundamental riches of being a human. I am so very inspired by nature, in everything I do I try to bring out and express that love. I am moved by people's comments when they say they are inspired by my story and my cottage - because in a way, that creates a full circle. From nature back to nature. The same loves resonates through people; the smells, the shapes, the organic forms of nature. The joy. The beauty. The playfulness within. It gives me hope that people can learn to re-connect with the same nature in a way, which makes them think. How precious it is. How we need to preserve it, in order to enjoy it. We are all part of it regardless.

I may be lucky enough to return to Finland in a month to finish few more jobs before the harsh winter begins. It would make me feel more at ease. I worry about my baby, like any mother would. On the other hand, it is not my baby and it seems a bit preposterous to assume nature couldn't take care of its own better than I do. I know the cottage isn't going anywhere, but of course the winter winds may treat it unkindly and scar its pretty face. Perhaps I just need to accept this and continue where and how the nature leaves my cottage next Spring. All I know is that however it all goes, this is one of the best things I ever set out to make. And probably like all mothers, I will love this child as long as it lives....

Thank you for following my journey - I leave you with a dream... xxx

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A Dragon In The Belly

The rain is pouring down, then eases into drizzle, then picks up strength again - and I listen to the drops hitting the roof of my parents' house, making nature's music. There hasn't been many days this summer I have heard that song, fortunately, the clouds have often parted or disappeared altogether and the sun has said a friendly hello to me and the other people working on the cottage. In fact while everyone else in Finland has been complaining about the awful summer weather, for most days I have been basking in the sun in this forest corner of my childhood landscape. For that I am thankful.

My son flew back to London last Friday, along with few of my tears in his blonde hair. It was lovely to have him around while I was building, to share the experience with his child's eyes and heart. For him to see how much this place and this cottage I am building means to me. A seed of love planted in his heart, for trees, nature, Finland, Earth and universe itself. Next time we return, I am hoping we can already sleep inside the cottage and see the stars through the roof window. Or at least have a nice cup of hot chocolate in there, which is more likely if it's below -20C and Winter...

Before my son left for UK, I had also a class of local primary school (same where I used to go as a child) children visiting the site and cottage. Their teacher, Teija, had visited the place earlier and so I had planned and organised some natural building activities for the 11-12 year old children, including digging the clay pit, mixing cob and building with it. Those children not wanting to get muddy, I put out paints and brushes to paint some stones and pebbles, to integrate into my cottage, possibly as part of my dragon, inside the external wall surface. Even though the group of children were girls by majority (19/4), most of them were very keen to jump straight into whatever was offered to them, some spent most of their time in the very muddy pond, or excitedly jumping on the cob mix, after screaming: yuk, disgusting! :) Some of the children were so keen on the activities that they didn't want to leave, and a few asked if they could come back again. All in all a good day - and I hope that another couple of seeds of Earth love were planted inside small big hearts x

On Saturday my volunteer Beez (Carla) left also, so suddenly it was quiet again. My mother tried to fill Beez's boots by making some cob mixes for me and my father was working on the strawbale wall and the top plate, trying to get it ready for plastering, which should really be done as soon as possible. On top of all that, my parents were going away for their summer house, so it was going to be only me, myself and I working on this project for several days... But, just as the sun and luck has so often shone on this little cottage, on Sunday my lovely London friend, Michelle, asked if I needed any help with the building work. Did I? Well, just maybe perhaps. So, Michelle is arriving to Helsinki tonight... :)

Last week while Beez was working on the cob side of things, I was re-stringing bales and building the wall up with my father. Here are some photos of the progress.

My father made a square window frame for my round window frame (as it is easier to secure and install than a round frame.)

Internal view, with the top plate in place. However, since there was so much space at many places on top, we managed to put full or half bales on top of most of the plate. My father then secured them with long stakes from the very top (he had to temporarily remove some roof planks) to the rest of the wall.

As luck would have it, my father found a round, thick glass from his shed, which had been sitting there for ten years at least. Our neighbour Jani, cut the glass to size for my window and voila! My father then fixed the round window into the square frame and yesterday I filled the gaps up with bundles of straw and cob.

The cottage seen from NE with completed strawbale wall and the cob oven and gap in the wall above and around it, which still needs to cobbed to the ceiling height before I leave.
Once the balewall was standing, I needed to start cobbing the remaining wall next to it, including the cob oven; which I thought would become a dragon's head. My very first experience of cob - was building an oven in Kate Edward's workshop in Norfolk almost a year ago. Now armed with the snippets of information (oh how we forget!) remaining in my brain and Kiko Denzer's great book: Build Your Own Earth Oven, I set out to work, to finally wake up my dragon....

Sometimes, when I work with clay (or other natural materials), I have very little idea of what I am doing. I may have a seed of an idea, I may even know what I would like to do, but what the clay in fact becomes, is very much up to organic process, intuition, if you will. So, I started making the oven form with sand and strawless cob and realised that this form cannot make a head, because it just isn't meant to be a head. What could it be? And when I run my fingers on the shape, almost as if blind, I realise it is becoming a wing. Well, dragons do have wings, so...

The whole process of building the oven is too lengthy to describe in detail here, but I am happy to say the work was successful and I have since then lit few small fires inside the oven, to help it dry out. Since the oven is on the North-East side of the cottage and only gets limited sunlight, it is quite useful to speed up the drying in that way, before I leave for the Winter. I was even hoping to get a pizza fired in it before next weekend, but that may be wishful thinking, as I don't want a proper fire lit inside the oven, before the dry strawbale walls are plastered securely....

Yesterday, working alone on the cottage, with only music as company, I continued sculpting the rest of the dragon, including her head, to which I formed nostrils and to them, just as a curious test, pierced few narrow channels all the way through to the fire pit. I then lit up the oven and waited anxiously - and suddenly - and ever so gently, few swirls of smoke started flowing out of my baby - a dragon is born!

Sculpting the rest of the dragon is still under way but judging by size, it is a baby dragon. In a way this is quite apt; since this cottage IS my baby and I am a baby of this forest. I took my first steps within about 20m radius of this cottage and in many ways my own dragon came from this forest. In fact we all have baby dragons inside of us, just waiting to be born, awakened and breathe fire. The magic within... :)

I am here only for another 1.5 weeks and there is plenty to do. Strawbale walls need to be (lime) plastered, green roof set up (well, at least covered properly), cob walls built, front door finished and fitted (our neighbour Jani is working on that), wind boards installed and stone facade continued. This is only the exterior work and I am not even considering the interior work here, as I am assuming I have no time left to finish it this time around. But we'll see... now that the dragon has awakened, anything is possible!

Until next time -

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Time is speeding up

The more I do, the more there seems to be to do - but at the same time I can see real progress and bright light at the end of the tunnel. Luckily the tunnel I am walking in, is not dark itself but a happy natural alleyway (at most times) that is encapsulating me in its organic embrace...

Days turn into nights, nights into vivid dreams, Tuesdays into Fridays, everything gets mashed up in a strange, abstract way, which bends time and my understanding of it. Only particular appointments and pre-planned schedules root me back onto a 'normal' human time. Big events like the cordwood (or cobwood) reaching the ceiling height, windows going in, getting a front-door frame, installing a roof make me realise that real progress is taking place - a livable space is being built, which I will eventually inhabit. I have no silly dreams about the timescale of when that will happen; when will everything be finished - because I know slowly but surely that day will come. It will most likely not be this summer, unless a miracle takes place - not that I don't believe in miracles - but I am not pressured to fully finish this build in three weeks - the time it takes is the time it takes... the day I can step inside, close the front door and look around me and see a finished space, may, in fact, never happen. My cottage was always going to be a journey. Why should it have a particular end-point, a date of completion? Isn't life a flow, a wave, a spiral, a continuous shifting of energy?

Beez (Carla) making a cob mix.
My lovely new volunteer Carla, or Beez, as she likes to be called, came last week from Grimsby, England, to help me with my build. She learnt the ropes pretty quickly and the cobbing side of things has really progressed since, she has been working hard on digging clay, making mixes and cobbing walls. I have also been cobbing with her but because of the extra help, I have also had some time for designing, re-stringing bales, mortaring stones and acquiring the most annoying summer flu, which would have been a disaster if I had been here on my own. While writing this I am still ill and struggling to breathe and talk (I have asthma so flu makes it worse) but slowly starting to feel a bit better, which is good considering I have a full class of local primary school children coming over on Thursday to try out a hand in some very muddy natural building.

On Friday I will also be parting company with my sweet little son, who flies back to London to be with his father for the rest of the school holidays. I will miss him dearly but being on my own will give me time to fully focus on the build (read: most likely go insane) for the remainder of the time I am here, until early September. And for him to have fun with his father and friends that he has been missing while in Finland. But of course, he has had lots of fun, through his explorations in the nature and forest, finding toads, lizards, dragonflies, ants, butterflies, birds and other wonderful little things. Inspired by nature just as much as I am, he is one of my greatest inspiration - him and his wonderful child's way of being and seeing. When I look at him jumping around, trying to catch grasshoppers, I can feel my own inner child jumping around with him (when I am not physically joining him). To build this cottage is only possible through my connection to my inner child, cherishing little pleasures, living in the moment and having no fear. Or having the fear, but doing it anyway. :)
My son on the roof looking through the skylight.

Since photos are said to be worth more than thousands of words, and it will save me some time to keep writing them out, here is a sequence of things in pictures that have been going on at the site throughout the week. As usual, I find it hard to remember what happened in the week, so I refresh my memory by looking through the pictures, and sometimes even through my Facebook updates... as I said, time speeds up and blends into one and my flu filled head doesn't seem to retain a lot of coherent information. Not sure if things blending together is a good or a bad thing, but it often happens when I immerse in my art...

Friday's progress from outside.
Fridays progress from inside - I inserted four pieces of red sandblasted glass I made in the Spring.
Sandblasted (water) glass pieces inserted into the cob over the window.
A Detail of one sandblaster glass piece with a spiral shell form
We started piling up the strawbale wall in the weekend, which is taking time while I am restringing the too loose bales.
A cob (shoe and hat) shelf with a blue bottle at the entrance.

My son was getting restless, so I built him a quick teepee around one of the birch trees, with a view to the building site.
Jani planning the doorframe.
Our neighbour, Jani, came to the rescue once more, and swiftly built me a doorframe in few hours from bits and pieces we and he had. I am very grateful for his help, and it feels great to 'step inside' my cottage, even though like most men, he was struggling to make 'wonky' (but I think he's enjoying the process of allowing it to happen) :) My job is now to cob an arch over the doorway and attach some natural wood forms onto the uprights to make it all look more organic. Notable maybe is that the door height will be about 170cm, which is tall enough for me, children, childminded adults and hobbits. And that's about the only kinds of beings, who are allowed in this building. :)

Carla reached the ceiling height with 'cobwood' part of the wall on Sunday, so she is now cobbing other parts of the cottage. This is the internal view from the cottage this morning. At the background there is also a glimpse of my brand new doorframe.

Last progress photo from 'behind' the cottage, taken last night - my father was working on a wooden window frame for the strawbale wall as well as attaching wooden stakes into the rows of bales with me. I am struggling to get six rows of bales on top of each other, so may have to settle for five and figure out how to fill the top gap later - yes, the joys of making the eaves all wonky and different angles. I can only blame myself... but hey, I am not blaming!

This is the way the cottage looks at the moment. Carla started cob plastering the earthbags in the front and adding some more cob over the windows. On the other side of the cottage I have started building the base for an experimental cob/pizza oven which will sit inside the wall and have an opening only to the outside. Continuing with this, is my task for tomorrow, along with building up the strawbale wall, which needs to be finished for plastering, ideally as soon as possible. As usual, after a day off, I am itching to get my hands muddy again - I leave you with a photo from Monday that Beez took of me outside the cottage. Until next week. x

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Art - at last!

In the last week, I have been mainly building up the cob walls, both the cordwood cob part, as well as the cob entrance on both sides. Because of the wooden logs used, the progress with the cordwood cob wall has been quickest and is now missing only about 40cm at the top and the last few logs from the actual design. Somehow I just started to run out of steam and ladder height about a week ago while building it and was desperate to do something else. In fact that something else was why I fell in love with this project in the first place: art! That is not to say designing and building in itself isn't creative, because it is; imagination, intuition and planning is required with most tasks to do with this build - but - some sort of magical, childlike and immediate joy of creating shapes, forms, stories - with cob, the magical material - was still gravely missing from all the fun!

Cordwood cob wall, windows and the cob tree design.

Natural builder Paul Lynch from Inkoo came round last Thursday to bring me some heavy-duty baling twine in order for me to crack on with the re-baling. We also talked about the technical aspects of the build and I got a bunch of tips from him on how to proceed with the strawbalewall. Sometimes it actually helps to talk to a person, who has some real life building experience, although my experimental approach to this cottage is in many ways something Paul hasn't done in his own work before either. Which for me makes it a bit daunting but also a bit more interesting task - taking the risk of 'learning as I go along' seems to be the name of the game with my little earth dwelling. :)

On Friday a friend came to cob with me for few hours during the day and in the afternoon it started raining, after many days of dry and hot weather. My parents disappeared inside the comforts of their house and I stayed under the tarp with the cob mix next to me. Right, should I keep building the wall or maybe start sculpting? Didn't have to ponder on that question for too long...

Even though it was getting a bit dark, I set to work,grabbed some sticky cob and started forming shapes out of it with my eager fingers, that have been in love with clay for several years by now. Admittedly, cob is a bit different than pure pottery clay but it has a lot of similarities. With the mental image of my magical tree design I started working the now fairly dry surface of the cob wall, first scraping and roughing it, then re-wetting it, and then finally adding my spiral forms of fresh cob intuitively to it. Listening to music and raindrops on the tarp above me, I zoned in to what I love and know best; creating. Art. It was just what the doctor ordered - I felt so happy! :) After several hours, I finally tore myself away and stopped work for the night. But I had started something - even if some bits would fall out (while drying), I had the beginnings of the cob design there. One thought also came to my mind, that maybe this cottage will be called 'Elämän Puu' - Tree of Life. It sounds wonderful in both languages and has many layers of meaning to me. Trees give us life - they definitely have given me life. This cottage has the life of many trees within. The  tree I am sculpting is a metaphor for my appreciation for natural trees as well as the trees of my imagination that twist far and wide, creating new ideas, new pieces of art. Both kinds of trees (the real and the mental) are absolutely crucial for my creative work.

The initial cobbing I did under the tarp in the rain.

This is why I came here really :) - I know I needed the walls first but I suppose I didn't think that decorating and sculpting would come so far down in the list of things needing doing - otherwise I might have been put off... However, I have learnt so much about the structural and technical aspects of the build up to this point, which I didn't even consider to be learning, or, to be that interested in. But, my heart is creative, filled with fuel of imagination, so I am happy I get to do this finally - the decorating now feels like an icing on the cake, and a very tasty one too!

A Cobbed Tree of Life - work in progress from yesterday, with natural stone facade integrated into the design.

Yesterday I started organising the natural stones I had piled up for the stone facade, which I am making to hide the earthbags. Call it fake if you will, but I think it will look nice, and definitely nicer than just putting lime plaster over the earthbags. Although if I run out of stones, that is what I will have to do anyway. But as long as I have enough stones, I will use them to hide the bags and to integrate the stone covered stemwall into the design somehow. When I intially designed the Tree of Life on paper, I was thinking about the Ta Phrom temple in Angkor, Cambodia, which has been taken over by giant trees. There is something really wonderful about this contrast between man and nature, the differences and destruction but also the harmony and beauty of nature. In a way I want to achieve something similar with my cottage; to show my dependency on natural world and materials to make this dwelling but also to integrate those materials with my personal and unique artistic vision. Something that is of and from nature but filtered through my human hands into a unique form. I suppose that is consequently my overall artistic statement too... :)

Ta Phrom temple overtaken by trees  in Cambodia.

Meanwhile, elsewhere: My father had finished the decking on the roof, so he picked up some 150mm wide lumber for the fascia boards, sawed them to size and attached them into the eaves. It is all looking good now and apart from the skylight window, which I am still trying to find as cheaply as possible (but to fit my wonky roof surface), everything is pretty much ready for the installation of a green roof. I even had my large 8x7m plastic sheet with underlay delivered the other day.

I have also been re-stringing my bales, and consequently started the first layer of a strawbale wall, set on a layer of birch bark and a thin layer of cob. I dipped the bottoms of the bales into runny clay and stick them onto the wet cob, with some steel rebar ends buried within that were sticking out from the earthbags (I used rebar instead of barbed wire to attach the rows of bags together). Now, some days after the clay and cob has dried onto the bales, the first row of strawbalewall feels very solid indeed.

Birch-bark layer on the stemwall.
Cob layer on birch bark.
Bales dipped in runny clay and set on the cob.

I ended up using eight bales in the strawbale part of the wall, and after measuring, I may be able to squeeze six bale rows to make the height required. It will be a very tight fit and still be left with a gap at the top of the bales, as the wooden structure with the roof is angled so that it is impossible to fill the wall space snuggly with full bales alone. I also had to learn how to make a half bale with a long 30cm upholstery needle my mother had stacked away from her working days. I added some copper wire into one end of it to make a bigger loop and using the tips Paul gave me, managed to successfully create two halves of bales, which I will be needing on every other row in the wall. Small victories like this always seem like huge victories to me - just like managing to successfully insert the window panes into their frames, that had a week earlier been attached to the cob wall. Sounds pretty mundane to most people but it could have gone very wrong - if the frames had become twisted and distorted - however, I now have functional windows - with glass! :)

Here is how the cottage looks after yesterday.
A local reporter came to do a story about my build, which came out in the local paper in the weekend. The ex prime minister of Finland, Matti Vanhanen, who happens to live very close-by, had read the story and contacted me to say he was interested to come and see the build and volunteer on it (as I had advertised for volunteers). Despite of his busy schedule, he found some time to visit us on Monday evening and we had a nice chat and I could introduce him to my little house, while my loyal cameraman, Mikael, was filming our chat. It is great to see that there is a real interest to natural building projects as well as alternative art even on higher levels :)). I may still see Mr. Vanhanen helping out at my building site before the cottage is finished... until then, the work continues.... tomorrow with the help of an English woman, Carla, by my side. I am now starting to feel this cottage may actually get finished!! :)

The story about my build in the local paper.