It all began with a drumming of rain on my skylight, a skylight I’m rather proud of because I made it all by myself to watch the stars and moon out of. My bedroom may be a two-by-two hutch, but it’s amazing what you can do with four square metres if you try. When darkness steals the horizon, and the great undulate vale I belong to vanishes into the pitchy mouth of night, my stone hut begins to pulse. It beats like a rocky heart. What used to be an abandoned, poop-filled chicken coop is now a warm, vibrant world with earth-plastered walls, wooden floor, clay paint and mirrors.
My hut is not entirely finished though. Why? Because back in October, the more sensible half of me bossed the dreamer into line (when you go it alone, these internal wrangles become a way of life). And, it is true I can get rather distracted by whimsical aesthetic details like mud trees. With winter approaching, the bathroom looked more of a priority.
“You’re not allowed to do any more useless pretty things until that bathroom is finished!” My inner disciplinarian tongue-lashed me, so sure she knew what she was talking about. So there are still mosaics, shelves, a window, and a chair to make. Looking back on it, I could have done with that window. I could have done with that chair.
Yes...I said it all began with a drumming of rain on my skylight. Too bad it didn’t end there. Because November decided to throw convention to the wind and become mid-January instead. Day after day the clouds ganged up. They swelled into battalions of sodden desolation, upon which they hurled their cold wet misery at the earth. The temperature plunged into single figures, and low ones at that.
For days on end I peered out of my stone hut aghast. My kitchen now lay in a bog at the end of a slippery ridge, and reaching it was an expedition involving wellies, raincoat, hat, and umbrella. I could see my breath every time I cooked a meal. My toes were forever frozen. And I still didn’t have a bathroom, nor could I make an inch of progress on it.
Eventually conditions became so hideous, I threw a few clothes in a bag and made a run for my car. I drove to Sophie and Hakan’s place in Cantabria, enjoyed good food, good conversation, and my first hot shower in weeks, in a bathroom fit for a mud queen.
Soon I was on the road back though, because my land was calling. I also wanted to finish that wretched bathroom. Arriving back in the dead of night, I trudged up my hill, amazed to note that the rain had paused. The clouds were parted like smoky stage curtains, and through them the silky eye of a full moon gazed upon my world. The stillness was palpable. My land seemed to be holding her breath. If ever I had doubted her magic, those strokes of moonlight rekindled it.
Reaching the rocky brow of my world, I pushed open the ancient door to my stone hut. Then I pulled off my boots. I was home.
My stove came to life. Flames danced and chattered in that primal language that only our bodies understand. Sitting on my bed, I gazed up at the skylight. Indeed it was now truly a light of the sky, the glass rectangle frosted by the milk of the moon. But within hours that skylight was rattling again, as the rain thundered on it once more. It turned colder. It turned wetter. It hailed. And then it peaked with an onslaught of slushy sleet.
Finally it dawned on me. The bathroom wasn’t going to happen right now, was it? So I might as well turn my attention to the inside of my hut. Grabbing some of the mud plaster that was supposed to become wattle-and-daub, I found a large mirror and plastered it onto the wall. Then I banged the window frame into shape. I nailed in the shelf supports, and sawed the driftwood for the chair legs. The Disciplinarian was awfully quiet throughout.
I’ve had four square metres to live in. From six at night until nine in the morning, it has been my world. And when it hasn’t, I’ve been miserable and cold. Yet how grateful I am to that little hut. How happy I am that I insulated it to the hilt. How glad I am that it’s beautiful and cute and warm. This hut has sheltered me through the icy wet caprice of the worst November I’ve known.
I’m still a bathroom short of course, and the irony hasn’t been lost on my inner Dreamer, who has been throwing frequent smirks at her disciplinarian antagonist. Somewhere, for some reason, the land decided to push me inwards, and in retrospect, that was long overdue. Foregoing the inner for the outer is the biggest mistake the modern world has made. It is still making it, obsessed as it is with action and busyness, instead of introspection and meditation.
We all sit in the stone huts of ourselves, and from there we gaze through the skylights of our senses onto our worlds. We are still so sure it is something out there that will cure us of our ills. A friend. A lover. A political ideal. Money. Privilege. Status. Or even perhaps just a bathroom. And so off we go trying to right the exterior wrongs, throwing our entire weight and effort into moving mountains outside of us, many of which aren’t even ours to move.
But in truth, without inner warmth, beauty, and inspiration, the outer will continue to disappoint, and we will lose the drive to change it anyway.
So, when we close the door, light the fire, and spend some decent time inside the cabaña of our minds and hearts, what do we find there? Is it warm inside, or chilly and mean? Every soul shelter needs maintenance, care and love. Some have structural issues; many were abandoned, undervalued, or misused in the past. But to say that any of these things is a fait accompli is to thwart the magical and healing power of life. Psyches may be damaged. Souls never can be. The question is, are we prepared to put in the effort to do the renovation?
But what is renovation exactly? It's love. It's the realm of the Dreamer, not the Disciplinarian. And it only happens to spaces we care about enough to nurture and enhance. If we never want to stop and spend time inside ourselves, it says a lot about our self value.
And so today, bathroom or not, I will finally fix my window. I may, if I have time, put up the bookshelf too. Who knows, perhaps even the sculpture on the mirror will happen. Because it looks like it could be a long, dark winter out there. In here? Ah well, that’s another story.
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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.