I’m sitting on my front porch watching the rain gun shoot free water across the field so that our neighbors’ horses can graze the rest of the summer away. It’s a calm, still evening. I’ll sleep well tonight in our loft and be ready to hit the deck again in the morning, do my yoga routine, make my coffee on the propane stove and sip it slowly while I browse a magazine.
It’s been quiet here on the blog because the house has been such a success we barely notice her. We keep her clean, we get rid of stuff now and then, we make small adjustments. But mostly, we focus our energy elsewhere — which was the exact plan all along.
A story in the Oregonian this week gave us pause. A young couple in Portland built their own tiny house. They parked it on their parents’ property and lived happily there. They even noted to the reporter that covered their story that they liked living close to the alley at the back of the property. It got them closer to the neighbors, made them feel more like they had a community.
It made it all the more sad that the reason they got into the paper was that one of those neighbors decided they didn’t like the arrangement. They called the city, and the city said they have to move out.
Here’s the spooky part: I googled the name of the woman in the article. Turns out she used to work with Hannah. Four years ago, they were pulling espresso shots side by side at the same Eugene coffee shop. In fact, this woman, Claire, was one of many inspirational people who got us off our own butts and out into the scary DIY world. She quit the job first, moving to Portland on a whim to launch her own coffee shop.
We didn’t keep up with her or have any idea she and her partner were building their own tiny house. Small – er, tiny – world.
Or maybe this tiny house movement is bigger than we ever could have imagined.
A few weeks ago, another couple moved to “our” property (we have ownership only in the sense that this place owns us, that we love and care for it and it cares for us). They are a few decades older than us but share similar tiny house dreams: To have freedom of movement, to have a space that they designed and built around themselves, their lives. They don’t live around here, but came because they knew the land owners and it was a place they could build. Where will they go when they’re done? No one knows.
Today a co-worker also asked me if I know of any places a person could park a tiny house. I had to shake my head, no. The truth is, we don’t know where we’ll park our tiny house — sure, it’s here now, but things could change at any time. A neighbor could complain. A change in life circumstances for our elderly benefactors could tip the apple cart. Then what?
That’s the question that’s been haunting us all week. For the past several months, we’ve been dreaming of and envisioning a more permanent home for us, our little party of four — two women, one home, one cat. Because of course it’s not just land that we need. We need a place that can grow with us, one where we can put down roots safely, or with whatever safety is offered in this temporary world.
We went for a hike on Wednesday and came home to find that one of our horsey land-mates had laid down in the sun, on a patch of grass not 25 feet from our house, and died.
She was an old horse, and we knew that her days were numbered, but we usually didn’t think about that. Who reminds themselves that death is near if they can avoid it?
That morning, I’d given old Blaze a bit of a hard time. She was napping in the sun, lying on her side, on the very patch of grass that I was trying to irrigate. I moved around her saying, “Come on, I’m thirty too, cricking and cracking when I get up, but you can do it if I can.” She followed instructions. What good is it to fight, I suppose, when you know your day has come to leave this world anyhow? Anyway, I don’t think she wanted to make her transition while getting doused with pond water every thirty seconds.
So she waited until I’d turned the water off and left for the day. When we got home, we were happy to believe that she was still napping, still in the sun, although the temperature was above 90.
When we got close enough to see the flies around her eyes I dropped my bag right there among the uneaten weeds. Hannah and I both sat for a long time, sweating in the afternoon sun. We observed her gnarled old knees, her youthful mane. Her teeth were yellowed and jutting but her jaw was muscled, the namesake streak of white on her forehead perfectly whorled. When we looked away and looked back again at her generous belly, it seemed to move, but this was just an optical illusion. Our eyes were so accustomed to watching her breathe that they couldn’t not see it happening.
I considered her body’s final resting place a final blessing to us. I always feel like the horses are guarding our house in a way, their territory is the long walk from the driveway to our door, and few take that path unless we encourage them to. It is treacherous with horse manure, but we like it that way. It keeps the riffraff out.
Of all the places Old Blaze could have picked to lie down — by the pond with the willow trees, in the shade of the chestnut tree, in her favorite dirt-bath spot, why this one? Maybe she likes what we’re doing. Or maybe she was waiting for one last apple.
I had a dream a while back that we had moved Jeannie to some vacant industrial lot on the outskirts of Eugene. It was dusty and unsecured. There were no horses. I wondered, in the dream, why were we living there? Our house was as magnificent as she’d ever been. But we weren’t happy. We didn’t feel safe.
Claire and her partner, according to the news story, are currently drifting around Portland, staying on friends’ couches. They don’t know if they’ll ever get approval from the city to move back home. Tiny houses are, after all, illegal to live in.
These days, if anyone asks me about building a tiny house, I say find a piece of land first. Make sure you can stay there for a few years. Then we’ll talk. The tiny house movement is gaining traction, and that’s great. It’s proving to people that we don’t need McMansions to be happy, that less stuff is better than more. But maybe there’s more work we need to do building the laws and the social acceptability around these small, mobile villas before we build our floors, frames and roofs.
Meanwhile, Hannah understand that our situation is impermanent, and we’re okay with that. Nothing lasts forever, not a sturdy and sweet horse, not understanding neighbors, not generous landowners. Or who knows, a forest fire might take us all out next week. In the meantime, we are incredibly grateful for what we have. I don’t know how to thank the universe for this perfect evening, for the flies tickling my arms as I write, for the water spraying into the cooling air, for the beings seen and unseen that protect us and guide us. All I know is that if I had to choose, I’d rather be safe than live in my dream house, rather have a community that I trust than a parking-space-sized footprint. All movements, whether political, artistic, or architectural, have a next phase. What’s ours? Only tomorrow’s sunrise will tell.