“When did we trade shelter for comfort? what was the cost of that trade?”-Martin Shaw
We’d planned a firefly-lit party to celebrate Beltane and then watched the first great storms of May fly towards the tiny patches of shadow under our meagerness of off-grid roofs. As the storms grew closer, we thought twice about inviting dozens of folks to crowd under the shoutfall of rain on our little octagon of acryllic canvas and our one-and-a-half small squares of aluminum roof and cancelled the gathering in hopes of better weather the next weekend.
But then in the usual dandelion-seeds-in-a-zephyr nature of off-grid communications, some beloved friends didn’t get the message calling the party off; and others adamantly volunteered to brave it anyway for a stormy abbreviated Beltane. And so that night four friends gathered together with us three living out there now in the half-built breezy rib cage of our newest grasp at Shelter.
We’ve been building a new shelter since January. Built from a kit from Jamaica Cottage Shop and costing less than $4,000 for what we sincerely hope will be a 4-season habitable climate appropriate off-grid home, the little home has been my prayer for a sense of missing peace, privacy, and harmony in my life on our land.
Two Februarys ago, we started life in our extra small yurt / yome. I now carry an imaginary library card to palatial dream libraries filled only with the books of what we didn’t know. We were and still are beginners.
The unknowings that were hardest on me and nearly tore my life apart a basketfull of times were two: first, that in a canvas structure only an acre away from a bunch of neighbors, that neighborhood dogs barking all night in Winter and neighbors partying frequently with amplified music in Spring through Fall would drive my silence-loving auditorily oriented self out of my heirloom gourd; and second, that living in a small crowded canvas circle under a lot of stress and emergency with someone you dearly love is like an echo chamber for every last shred of childhood and ancient “stuff” you’ve been porting around and had previously been using netflix as expertly as possible to avoid having to look at.
Beyond that, there were really health and life giving acts that I knew how to do but just couldn’t figure out how to access in that tent. I finally realized I’m a deeply introverted person who cherishes a kind of soul privacy that I can now see was a painfully unanswered need for some of my family going way back that decided to find me too. There are weird wiggles we just need to get out when we need to get them out and to do them we need to be blessedly alone. Not the least for me was the healing way I used to use making music to center myself and soothe my heart; but in that crowded canvas octagon, so close to my neighbors who are always outdoors and, at least in my mind, always listening to the new weird drama of their backyard, I was afraid to make the melodic sneezes my guitar patiently suffers or the long cuckoo succession of rhythms my drums taunt me into lest I reveal the naked cave dwelling spirit under my urge to make music and, worse, lose from my own loud drumming the ability to ask them to kindly turn down their noise when it’s pounding through our dinner at the end of a long day. More and more unusual binds like this gave me the feeling of being a trapped animal, watched, even somehow attacked. And when I barked in the way a trapped animal sometimes does, Pickle was the one there to hear it and be hurt by it. In the nature of all real dreams, our life shared a boundary with nightmare that I sometimes found my heart smuggled across.
So it was in this confusion and misery that we kept building and building this little prayer of a home deeper in the woods. It would be soundproofed and finished with earthen walls that would reverberate like time and maybe even make my disregulated crow voice and squash-fingered plucking sound OK. It would also be private and a holder of Rumi’s kind of solitude. It would be an invitation for loving silence and loving aloneness to nest; and if they did, it would be those most tender of twins, now being chased from every imagined corner of our round world, that could call my own frightened rescue dog heart home again. And maybe I could start, after 2 years, to live where I live.
On Beltane evening, when the seven of us gathered in the little half-completed shelter I hoped could become my home, I got to witness something as numinous and additive as the birth of a lamb in the field. I got to watch my shelter gain a soul.
I didn’t know this was a thing that happened. I didn’t know to look for it. I don’t know if all the boxes built as our attempts to enclose some promised portion of comfort had anyone trying to call in a soul. Probably most of them didn’t, and the corners and doorways and attics sat wanting, their soul vacancy signs muted in the formaldehyde and amnesia walls that is the architectural vernacular of building code and capitalism.
Now I know and won’t forget: a soul can be invited into a building just as surely as some cultures believe it is invited into a body (it even seemed to be about the same number of days after the building’s “conception” as some traditions believe about people that it happened!). What this soul’s invitation looked like was seven friends laughing, speaking, singing, drumming, remembering; and the lightning in the sky outside the door frame and the belting frogs and my first sacred peeing off my own porch, ever; and the bizarre ecological drawing game we play called ‘weirdo forest’ with a song devoted to each imaginal being we placed into our index card ecosystem on the unfinished floor; and the oak-in-the-acorn, ending-in-the-beginning moment of having, in those three-and-a-half walls and that flickering candlelight illuminating the wrens who moved into the corners of the beams of our home months before I’d be ready to, when all of our effort and longing had already created this one absolutely perfect moment of profound love and beauty in this dear small little ensouled Shelter. Before it, it was a construction site. After it and forever until its end, it glows and will glow, for me or for someone else or maybe only for the wrens, of a Home.
thank you to my family and family of friends who called in the household spirits and all for all those who will be there some day with me feeding them with laughter and gnarl. love you