On Building a Hermitage

5.10 Craigieburn3


Every hermit needs a hermitage.

Recently, my neighbour noticed that the lilacs in the back yard were pushing over his fence.  Turns out when a lilac lives to be a ripe old age, they lean (much like people) on things to support them.  So in a gust and burst of energy, Dave (the guy who’s flipping the house) cut down all the offending branches and put them into the back yard.  After getting the rest of the branches from next door, I realized that I had the coppice that I had wanted to build the fencing around the south side of the house.

Except that something moved in me and pushed me towards a bigger project.  Every hermit needs a hermitage, a dwelling place that is a somewhat temporary structure where he or she can retreat to in the world.  Now the garden in the back yard is definitely becoming a very cloister like, contemplative place in it’s own planted-and-wild sort of way.  But an actual structure would not only be a dedicated place to actually just *sit* and *think* but be a decorative aspect to the yard as well, in that hermit-desert father-Franciscan kind of theme that I’m going for.

For the last two days I’ve been stripping leaves off the branches to make them ready, sorting out the smaller branches to fill the spaces in between the bigger branches, and thinking of a plan on how to construct this hut.  My first thought was to build a simple small rectangle under 100 square feet with an arched roof on either side, kind of like the arches of gothic cathedrals.  The upside would be that the waddle would be consistent up the sides of the arches and provide support for any dob that I’d put on.  Dob, by the way, is a mixture of water, clay, grass or straw, and poop from a horse or a cow.  When mixed and combined it forms a kind of concrete that adheres between the branches, can be left exposed as is or painted.  I was going to white wash it.

Unfortunately, my mind lead me into a different direction.  Instead of a rectangle, I’m building a sort of square with one rounded end.  I laid out the pattern and marked the ground with my fingers, cut the initial poles for the walls, tried hammering them into the ground (mistake number one:  rubber mallets are not for stakes apparently), gave up on trying to hammer them into the ground, and instead dug a hole about a foot deep for each of the stakes, then stomped the earth around them to give them some support.

Then the waddling begins.  It’s a kind of peaceful weaving process, but the more sticks and branches you weave in between the posts the more you realize just how much coppicing you need to build a think like this.  I realized after getting about 10 inches of wall that I was probably going to have to switch to larger branches, and more than likely going to have to go into both hedges and cut more wood to finish the project.   But that wasn’t the biggest problem.

It turns out that soil that is dry doesn’t create much of a support for wattle (or is it waddle? Mental note, post about the Mark the Duck twitter feed at some point) as the walls get higher.  The key branches on the south side that I used for foundation poles began to not only bend in the ground, but turn up the soil.  Which means I need to possibly rethink my design, definitely dig up and re-pound the poles *or* put in support poles, and take all the woven wood out so I can do this.  The foundation poles *have* to be strong and in the ground stably otherwise the entire building, small as it is, could potentially come crashing down…even while someone, someone like me, is in it!

I’m agitated that I basically have to start over from scratch, but the reality is if I do the job well and know that the construction is solid, I’m going got have a hermitage that will that will not only function, but one that may last a lot longer in years than one that is just shoddily assembled.  I kind of like the open wood and the spray of branches that jut out everywhere.  I know that I could produce an adequate about of dob from the gumbo in my own yard…I’m not sure if that’s the route I want to go.  I need to think about it more, and think while I’m working.  God knows there’s enough grass clippings available to mix into any kind of dob that I would use.

It’s as meditative as walking in the garden, or pulling weaves, to build with the materials that come from the space you occupy.

On Building a Hermitage

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