Cobbing my cottage

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