Well, it’s really winter now. We crank up the wood stove almost every day, so we’ve burned the woodpile outside down to nearly nothing and are chopping up the trees we cleared for our building site. The ground is saturated, and our driveway floods with each heavy downpour much like it did when we first arrived last winter. I sleep in socks and dream about when we’ll get the roof on our tiny house.
The past few weeks have been a flurry of framing work on my part as we finished the last few little pieces of the lofts. These frames were small, being only a meter or so high, and I was able to build and raise most of them on my own. Isaac came up for the final piece of the puzzle (video below). It was a small piece of the loft above the boys’ room, which we’ll use as a play space. When we’d raised and secured the frame, we sat looking out the imaginary windows at the valley below and the wilderness beyond. “I think we are going to love this house so much,” I said.
Later we unrolled our 30 meter tape measure and climbed to opposing corners of the structure for a moment of truth: we wanted to know if the frame of our building was square. If our diagonals didn’t match, we’d have a serious task ahead of ourselves to detach some frames and wrench the thing into as close to a rectangle as we could get it. I read off the measurement from one side and we climbed to the other corners. The two diagonals of our rectangular house were exactly the same. Somehow, with no building experience and YouTube as our primary teacher, we had managed to build a structure that was square to the millimetre. I couldn’t believe it. I whooped and jumped in the air like an excited kid.
We had plenty of timber and a little time, so I got excited about turning the wall going up to the play loft into a climbing wall. The kids can either choose to climb the ladder up to the loft, or climb the wall itself. How fun, right?! I cut a ton more studs and put them up and down the wall. We'll do plywood on this section of the wall instead of drywall, and can screw T-nuts into it for climbing holds.
The next day it rained buckets. Since we hadn’t cut the bottoms of the doors out of any of our frames, the whole thing filled up like a shallow swimming pool. I carefully sawed through the bottom plate of each door to let water flow out, and them squeegeed the rest off. The plywood floor hasn’t dried out for a week now nonetheless. We gotta get that roof on. Unfortunately we need some dry weather to do that, and this time of year that’s tricky to come upon. It’s a good reminder that we’re at the mercy of the elements out here.
This past weekend was the Queen’s birthday, which is a national holiday in all the commonwealth countries. There was a market day at the local community club, with stalls selling baked goods and artwork, kids selling their old toys, and adults selling secondhand clothes and housewares. The sun stayed out long enough for us to have a birthday party later in the day for our youngest, who’s now two years old. I officially have a two-year-old and a three-year-old right now – we’re really in the thick of it as parents.
I’m not sure at this point if the decision to come here and live this way was one made for myself or for my kids. I often tell people we moved here to give our boys a taste of “Barrier life” – a barefoot, free spirited existence at the beach and in the woods. But sometimes I think it was more of my own dream – to move off-grid and build a house. The longer we live here, the more I fall in love with it for myself. And, sadly, the less I love it for our kids. Living rurally is lonely, especially in winter when people tend to stick to home. There are very few kids on the island – we are almost always the only ones at the beach or the playground, which I’m not used to. The three primary schools on the island each have 30 or so students, split into a lower and an upper class. Seven-year-olds sometimes learn alongside 10-year-olds, and the 12-year-olds are faced with a decision to homeschool or move off-island. This works for a lot of families, but it won’t for ours.
All this is to say that I already know deep down that this island can’t be our forever home. It weighs on me as I continue to build our little house, which we designed as a tiny vacation home but which has become something of a real home for me in these 10 months we have lived here building it. We’ve gotten this land’s dirt under our fingernails, befriended the bugs and birds, memorised the twists in the roads. I don’t want to leave.
Thankfully we won’t for a while. A few years perhaps. We can’t go anywhere until we know where that next place is, after all, and right now we don’t. But we do know we need to put rafters on, then attach sheets of roofing, wrap the building, put in our doors and windows, and cover it with siding. One step at a time, each phase of our project reveals itself, and I learn what I need to in order to get it done. That’s how we’ve gotten this far building our first house, and I guess that’s how we’re living life too, making decisions as the answer is clear. If I’ve learned anything so far it’s that everything seems difficult until you learn how to do it, then it’s easy.