The Lone Woman Builder
“You can’t get those roof joists in alone. I mean how will you line them up properly?” Farmer Quilo was studying the vacant space in front of my ‘bedroom’ hut, where I was planning to put my bathroom. His cows were chewing nonchalantly below us in my field, oblivious to the plans of builders and mud witches. They had verdure to process after all, and it’s a full-time bovine occupation.
“I think I can,” I replied with none of my old cantankerous I’ll-show-you, because Quilo isn’t a macho moron, and is capable enough that he doesn’t need to put me down to make himself feel better. He wasn’t doubting me because of my gender or my size. He honestly couldn’t see how the job could be done single-handed.
“But how will you hold the joists and bang them straight? I mean they all have to be lined up. And the ones poking out of your hut are all crooked.”
“Aha...Estoy preparada,” I answered with glee. Bending down, I picked up one of the small joists and showed him where I’d bored three holes. “Now it’s easy to bang the nail in one-handed,” I said. “I’ll bang the middle nail in first, then I can move the joist up and down and adjust it. I’ll do that with all three joists, lay a beam on top of all three, line them up, then whack the other nails in.”
Farmer Quilo’s features expanded like the face of the moon, one of those big rosy pumpkins that rise just before sunset, (because he likes a splash of vino tinto, does our Quilo). I think he’s an Asturian fusion of Celal and Dudu, with his dogs and cats and cows and beans. Yes I am lucky he’s my neighbour. But hey, I conversed plenty with the Earth before I found this spot, remember?
“Whoa!” Quilo eyed the planks and then me. “I suppose necessity is the mother of all creation,” he said – or something along those lines. Then he stepped along the path, flicking his garden gnome face briefly back. “Well, as I said, if you need help, just ring me.”
“I will, I promise,” I said. This time I meant it. I’m tired. It’s cold. I need a frigging bathroom.
The next day, for what it was worth, I looked at the weather forecast. It wasn’t inspiring. Rain was coming in shedloads, it said, not to mention the cold. I stared at the empty space where my bathroom should have been. I thought about extending that roof and those awful curvy tiles. Then I trotted down to talk to the ash tree.
“See it finished. Feel it finished. It is done,” Ash Tree said. Which is basically what he always says. And I sighed. Thus, with the sunlight dancing over his remaining leaves, I meditated and envisioned the roof extension finished. I felt the relief of it. I saw the beauty of it. After that, I climbed back up to my stone huts and banged in those three joists. They went in fast. They lined up properly. Then the pitter patter of precipitation filled my world.
Two days later my land was a cold boggy mess. It was so dreary that world politics almost glimmered in comparison. Even the cows looked disgusted, and stared at me in grumpy expectation, as if I had some control over the elements. Only the bull remained stalwart, but he is a remarkably easy-going chap. I decided to call Farmer Quilo the next day, and take a chance on the weather.
It was unbelievable really. In a week of solid rain, rising rivers, and floods, we had a single dry afternoon, and it happened to be the one that Quilo turned up on. He arrived at midday with a bag-full of tools and a stepladder, puffing a little as he pushed up the hill. But my ruddy-cheeked neighbour set to work like no tradesman I’ve ever hired. That roof was banged together, complete with tejas curvas by five pm. Totalmente. All right, I helped a bit here and there flitting about as materials delivery, but honestly? I can’t take credit for that porch. Lord knows how long I’d have messed about with it. As I threw the last few tiles up to Farmer Quilo, a stubborn-looking drizzle set up camp on my land. It turned to rain, and then to downpour.
Over the coming days, the ground transformed from solid to liquid, the air from warm feather to cold slate. Rain gathered in sodden flocks and stampeded down the slopes until it was no longer clear where the sky ended and the earth began.
It’s at such times that a builder must stop and assess. Traditionally December would be the time for such a stock-take, but Gaia has decided to suspend action early. So it is now, with a roof over my head (albeit small) and a stove chugging in the corner (albeit still with wood to cut), that I have momentarily paused for breath. And it is for a moment only, because I’m still a bathroom short, not to mention hot water. Oh hot water, what I wouldn’t do!
Did I bite off more than I can chew?
Quilo’s porch has highlighted something. It’s the first thing this year that I haven’t built by myself (notwithstanding a little help with the tejas curvas from my friends in July). As I sit in my nobbled kitchen, coffee steam wafting out of the cup, the landscape of the recent past spreads before me. With its peaks and ridges, its declivities and chasms, 2019 has been an odyssey into exertion the likes of which I’ve never known. Bitten off more than I can chew? Hey, I’ve had more on my plate than a shoestring backpacker who suddenly finds himself at an all-inclusive buffet.
Roofs have been taken off and put back on, there were battles with tiles, water pipes to connect, skylights to make and install, walls to plaster, floors to lay, holes to bash, plaster to throw, cretes to mix and apply, insulation to insert, beds to build, tables, kitchen cabinets, everything including the kitchen sink. The only two power tools I possess are a jigsaw and a drill. I have almost no electricity. Everything you see was hand-sawed, hand-mixed, hand-hammered. By me. One woman lone builder. Not to mention The Mud Home website to run, articles to write, and emails to answer, all without a proper power system installed, which means I’m starting my car to charge my laptop at times, or I have to run to the nearest cafe. Somehow (I actually have no idea how) I put together a digital lime course over the summer, too. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard.
Sooo with this dramatic vista of endeavour at my back, should some slack-jawed fool dare to mumble that I’m so lucky, or they wish they could have what I have because blah de flipping moan whine blah, I fear they may find themselves swiftly buried under six feet of my hand-mixed limecrete.
Yet here’s the strangest part of all this. You see, I’ve loved every minute of my stone hut endurance caper, even washing in the freezing cow trough when it was ten degrees outside. You couldn’t drag me back to civilisation if you tried (well alright, perhaps for a hot shower now and again). Am I mad? A masochist? Or is this the sheer delight of stretching into wild new realities I had no idea I could reach. I’m astounded at how my body, psyche, and energy have adapted to birth these creations. I wonder where my limits are. Where our limits are. I understand now what I am. I’m a creator of worlds. It’s in my blood and my soul. I thrive on it.
Which brings me back. Lone builder I am, and I love it. But that is because, as I’m always saying, I’m not alone. This doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally feel alone. But whenever I do, I sit with the sensation and check exactly what that feeling is. What I discover when I look inside, is that loneliness has nothing to do with people, or being solitary. It’s about being disconnected. Disconnected from myself, my environment, the voices whispering all about me, the trees and birds, this incredible planet, the force of life in and beyond us all, and the beauty and wonder it opens for us.
It’s why I love to live by myself. It’s why I don’t envy couples or nuclear families. Because they are so often lonely, conflict-ridden old shacks. For me at least, enmeshed human relationships drag me away from the very place where I feel supported and connected. They pull me away from the unconditional tenderness and wonder and magic that I find in silence and nature.
Each morning in my spinster builder life, I walk along my ridge, and the sky tells me a different story. Through the sunrise and the dew, I sense Gaia’s power reaching into my muscle tissue. I hear the trees whisper in my mind, and feel the hands of the planet on my shoulders. I’m certainly not invincible, but I am part of something that is. When I become aware, minute to minute, that I’m not enclosed in a sack of skin, but emanating far beyond it, I finally understand I’m part of a living, breathing masterpiece that actually paints itself.
So thank you dear Earth for leading me here to this enchanting place with its bounteous wildlife and benevolent neighbours. Where will you lead me next, I wonder? And what will I create with you when I get there? Who knows? Who knows?
A massive hug and thank you to the crowd of people who’ve joined us on Patreon recently, as well as those loyal supporters who’ve been with us for so much longer. Thank you so much for chipping in to get me some decent batteries and a tougher inverter so that I can keep these posts coming. It would be impossible for me to maintain The Mud Home without your contributions.
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Atulya K Bingham
Author, Lone Off-Gridder, and Natural Builder.
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.