Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Winter House

It's been almost two weeks now since I moved into my "Winter House."

Life has shifted dramatically, and I'm still trying to get used to things like having running water, working at home again, and cooking in a "real" kitchen.  I'm definitely not complaining; it's just very different.

One of the first things I did after getting settled in was bake pumpkin bread in the oven, using organic spelt flour and a pumpkin I got from the Morning Star Farm CSA.  Yum.

I also have been taking baths, staying up late (because I have electric lights!), and buying more food than I need immediately because I can store it in an actual refrigerator, with a FREEZER.

The house I'm renting belongs to a woman named Karen who lives in it half the year and in New York the other half. So I will be here until she comes back in May, which is great timing to move back out to the bus again.

One of the contrasts to living in the bus is having excellent insulation and passive solar gain.   Karen had this house built out of pumicecrete, with lots of south-facing windows, and radiant floor heating.  The result is that it's almost always warm in here, and the heat only comes on late at night, if at all.  I actually lived in this house when I first moved to Taos, and even in the winter, you could sometimes leave the front door open during the day because it got so hot in the house.  It's really amazing how well this place holds heat, which reinforces my decision to build my house with scoria, which is basically red pumice.

Now that I'm building my own house, I'm noticing things about this place that I didn't the first time I lived here.  Like the layout - it's not an ideal use of the square footage, in my opinion.  There are little areas that are not very useful.  This makes me even gladder that I'm building domes, where every "square" inch of space will be used efficiently.

I also feel that the passive solar design is a bit overkill, that there are actually too many big south-facing windows.  It's extremely bright in the living room and one of the bedrooms during the day.  And, as I mentioned, it gets too hot, even in the dead of winter.  Once again, this makes me appreciate Owen's design for the Enviro Dome I'm building, as it incorporates passive solar gain primarily through the French doors that provide the entrance to each of the main domes.

All in all it's nice to be back on the grid again for a while, but I do have to say that there's a certain level of unconsciousness that seems to go along with it.  I can distract myself on the computer or watching movies whenever I want.  I can read until all hours and barely be aware that it's nighttime.  I can run any amount of water down the drain without having to think about how much it is or where it's going.  I can turn on the oven without having to worry about how much propane is left.

Having on-grid conveniences means that my time and mental energy are freed up to focus on other things, but the trick is deliberately choosing what those things will be rather than just falling unconsciously into life-sucking time-wasters, like playing hours of computer Solitaire.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Snow Changes Everything

So yeah.  In my last post, I waxed poetic on the joys of continuing to live in the Sky Bus in fall, and setting up my woodstove.

But then, it snowed.  Really snowed.  FOUR inches.

I was driving home after dark when it started.  It had already been raining for hours, and when I saw those first few flakes mixed in, I didn't think it would last.  We got back to the bus, and started working on getting a fire going.  When I went out for wood a few minutes later, the ground was already covered, and big fat flakes were coming down like the devil's dandruff.

Needless to say, it was extremely cold that night, but I didn't really mind, although Graeme did.  The snow was a beautiful novelty, and felt like an unexpected gift - I got to be present on my land for the first real snow of the season.  I drank hot tea, lit a candle, and sat by the woodstove and reveled.

However, the next morning, beautiful as it was outside, something in me just sort of snapped.  The digging party was supposed to be that day, but there was snow everywhere, and even though it was rapidly melting, it was still uncomfortably cold, and the fire, once I finally got it built, kept petering out, since I didn't have enough smaller pieces to feed it with.  I was using my mattock to attempt to split wood, which didn't work so well; a friend was supposed to bring out an ax to the party, but that was hours of freezing toes away.

I finally decided to cancel the digging party, because I knew that once the snow melted the roads were going to be terrible, and also, all I wanted to do was go into town and get warm.  My fingers and toes hadn't thawed all morning.

At that point, I also decided I was not going to stay another night in the bus.

So we packed up the Blazer with stuff like the plastic set of drawers I'd been using a dresser and the ice chest that had been sitting in the same spot in the kitchen for months, left a ton of food for the cats, and vacated.  It felt really weird, but was also a relief.

We stayed at Jeremy's last night (that's my friend who helped me move the bus to the land way back when), and this afternoon we'll go back out to feed the cats and pack up more stuff.  We'll take down the tent that's been up since June, and I imagine it will be strange to see that spot empty.  I'm also going to take out everything that's stored under the sleeping benches in the back of the bus and then load up that space with earthbags.  Then, we'll use the tarp that has been covering them outside to drape over the top of the bus to keep snow and rain from leaking in through the two busted skylights over the kitchen and "living room."

And once we're done with all that, we'll come in to town for the night again, because it's supposed to go down to 28 degrees.  Call me a wuss, but I just don't feel like dealing with that kind of cold in an uninsulated bus anymore.    

Friday, October 7, 2011

Like a Squirrel

Originally, the plan was to move into town on October 1st, but the place I thought we'd be moving to fell through, so we're still out at the Sky Bus until this Tuesday.  When I first realized we'd be out there an extra ten days, I have to admit I was really dreading it, as cold as it's been getting.  I've been sleeping with a hat and two pairs of socks, inside a sleeping bag with a comforter and another blanket over it.

But today I am feeling honestly grateful that we were "forced" to be out there a bit longer.  It's given me more time to get the bus and land ready for winter, and work on the trench.  Yesterday, Graeme and I set up the woodstove that came with the bus.  The day before, I had bought wood from a friend of mine, just enough to fill up the back of the Blazer.  I figured that would be enough to get us through the next few days and have a little left over for when I want to escape to Serendipity over the winter.

The timing couldn't have been better, because it's predicted to go down to about 30 degrees tonight.  And yesterday while we were setting up the stove, it actually started SNOWING.

The whole task was tedious, backbreaking, and took longer than I'd anticipated (of course! I should know better by now), but I had such a sense of accomplishment when it was done, and I built our first fire.  I used to have a woodstove at the house where I lived for several years in another part of New Mexico, and since we moved from there, I've really missed having one.  I love splitting wood and building a fire, then sitting in front of it, toasty and mesmerized.  I love the sound and the smell of a good fire.  I'd almost forgotten the satisfaction of all that.

This morning, it was cold and overcast, still wet from yesterday's rain and snow.  I got up and unloaded all the wood out of the Blazer, and stacked it next to the bus.  Then I disassembled the shower "stall," and used the tarp to cover the wood; I felt like a squirrel stashing acorns.  It felt bittersweet to take apart the shower - a true acknowledgement of the change of seasons.

And that's the biggest reason I'm grateful to still be out there.  I once had a boyfriend who believed you couldn't truly know someone until you'd gone through every season with them, and that applies completely to the relationship I'm developing with my land and bus.  And even though I won't be living out there over the winter, I look forward to visiting from time to time so I can at least have a taste of winter deliciousness on the mesa.

A last little view of summer.  These guys are gone now; I'll miss them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Changing Seasons

The Fall Harvest Festival has come and gone, and life is slowing down a bit now.  The earthbag workshop went well, and was fun to do.  We had eight attendees, and they were all very interested and asked a lot of questions.

Photos by Enrico Trujillo

The trench is coming along nicely, although slowly.  So far I've only been able to put in a total of about five hours on it, but have managed to do around twenty feet, which isn't bad.  And it's fun work.  One thing I've realized lately is that there are distinctly two kinds of people:  those who love digging and those who hate it. Turns out I'm one of those who love it.

This Saturday I'm having a digging party, as I've had several people offer to help.  I really want to get the whole trench dug before the ground freezes, and I figure if a few of us spend an afternoon on it, we can make some good progress.  If you're in the area and want to come, please do!  If you're a non-digger type, you could just hang out and be a cheerleader :)

Five more nights at the Sky Bus, and then I'll be living in town again for winter.  It's been getting quite cold at night, and both Graeme and I are really looking forward to being in a warm house.  I've really enjoyed living as we did over the summer, but I'm also ready for a break.  And in addition to simply enjoying things like a bathtub, an oven, a refrigerator, and stuff like that, I'm also looking forward to taking time this winter to refine my plans, so that when we move back out to the land next spring, life will be a little more organized, and I'll be able to put most of my energy into building, instead of feeling scattered and stretched thin as I did much of this summer.