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The first phase of our tiny house

A clearing where we'll build the house

The first phase of building a tiny house is actually designing it, which we did back in San Francisco late at night when the kids were asleep. We went through multiple iterations and settled on a rectangular design with a living area, a master bedroom, and two tiny sleeping nooks for the kids. Isaac even made a virtual tour of it, and a framing plan and window schedule so we could order materials as soon as we arrived.

But there was one big thing we didn't know yet: where on the land would we put the house? The spot up the hill from my in-laws where we planned to build is thickly forested. Despite scrambling around it on previous visits to the island, we didn't really know exactly where we would place our imaginary rectangle.

We fired up the chainsaw our second day here, felling trees on an old trail to our imagined house site. Most of the forest is manuka (tea tree), which is spindly and sapless and comes down easily. Within a few hours we had a path up the hill. I spent a morning walking through the area with a ball of string, tying bows around trees I thought might mark the edges of our house site so Isaac could chop them down.

I have always hated cutting down a tree, even for Christmas like we always did as kids in Oregon. I'd sort the tree trunks into stacks and drag branches into brush piles along the edge of the site, all the while feeling a little bad we were taking down so much.

For the past three weeks, this has been the work we've done – chop, drag, clear. It's slow and tough, but I know the site inside and out now. I know where the water runs down the hillside in a heavy rain, and where shade falls in the late afternoon. After changing our minds three times about where to put the house, we finally decided to excavate into the hillside above the trail. We hammered posts of fallen manuka into the ground to outline the 3x10 meter space where our house will go, with strips ripped from an old pillowcase tied to the tops as markers. When I hike up the future driveway and stand where our deck might be, I sit on the ground and can imagine sitting there with tea in the morning. It feels right.

Until New Zealand ends the level 4 lockdown we are in right now, we won't be able to move forward on the project. Our next phase requires earth-moving with heavy machinery and professional help we'll have to hire, something we just can't do until business resumes here.

But there is plenty to do in the meantime. I bottled (and already drank) my first batch of kombucha and have a second one brewing. After three attempts I finally made a delicious loaf of perfect whole wheat bread last night. And Jude wants a treehouse. So, plenty to keep us busy!

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