An essay by Gaia U Bachelor’s degree Graduate, Sophie Viandier
When my parents finally decided to sell their house, it was not sudden. They had been going back-and-forth about it for several years. It was their oasis, the product of their sweat and blood, not to mention the opportunity for play, growth and nourishment it gave their children, my brother and me. That winter, however, a microburst thrashed through the hundred-acre-wood and stole sixty trees of life. Not a single one hit the house, the barn, or the garage—but the outhouse, built by my brother, was not spared. A hemlock crashed hard into the structure. Our little outdoor “do-your-business-privately” hut was crippled. It was a sign—sell the house, along with its fields, gardens, woods and spirit.
Just a year prior I had bought a house with my mom, a 1,300 square foot cape built in 1948 out of materials from an old school house across the way. The furnace was cracked, the insulation made of ground up balsam fir—essentially sawdust—, the roof leaked, the plumbing had lead solder, and the owner had hoarded trinkets from the past four decades in boxes piled high to the ceiling. The goal: use the house as a teaching tool for sustainable design and building, as that was the direction of my Gaia University degree pathway at the time. With a little effort and in little time the project became much more than that.
After ripping out the walls to make way for updated electricity, insulation and plumbing, the project developed into one of social and environmental responsibility. The environmentally- minded renovations came easily, though this approach was not particularly understood by most—removing all fossil fuel-based energy and recycling materials that would have ended in a landfill is foreign where I live in New Hampshire. Meanwhile, the social part became inextricably linked to these ideas of “green” and “natural” building. My teachers were my neighbors, friends, and local experts on anything house-related, but very quickly these “teachers” became my fellow students, solving a bigger problem than that of a typical renovation in the cold climes of the northeastern United States. Electricians were curious about my solar panels, plumbers were baffled by my greywater system, and garden clubs could not understand why I had planted so much comfrey. I realized something bigger than a renovation had started. A local revolution had begun.
I hosted tour after tour, school group after school group both in the house and on the land. Word of mouth spread and my strange little house on the main strip became a destination for plant swaps, solar energy and winterization workshops, natural building talks and more. I had blended the past with the future, and the world was soaking it up. Solar energy bloomed in town a year later, I was consulted on water heaters and mini-split heat pumps, and emails for my clay paint recipe and paper-bag flooring came pouring in. It was an unexpected and beautiful outcome of a tiny project with a basic goal.
And then I decided to leave.
It’s not easy loving something that cannot be uprooted and transplanted. My cozy oasis, my house that costs $27 a month to run, my trees that will fruit heavily this year. I have heartache thinking of the flowers I will not see, the frogs in the ponds, the blanket of clover and the forage walks through the berms and field. It’s selfish, I tell myself. I want something more, something else, somewhere else. But why?
“To run its course” as defined by Merriam-Webster is “to complete its natural development without interference.” And what is interference? “To prevent a process or activity from continuing or being carried out properly.”
Have I become incapable of carrying out this project? I wonder. Or has the project completed its natural development? In the years to come perhaps the answer will become clear, but what I know in the present as a twenty-four-year-old Millennial is that the former is true. Everything felt right about the project for several years. Its purpose, direction and significance were natural and smooth. I expended much effort, of course, but it was rewarding and organic. I was happy. And then, one day, I wasn’t.
The question became one of the future—what business will I have here? What does the community need? What role do I want to play? Every forthcoming idea seemed somewhat possible, but there was no energy lighting the flame beneath. No classes on business plans, loans or profit forecasts could solve this quest for the “Holy Grail,” and my youthful patience was losing interest. With no friends and a community that had milked what I had to offer at the time, I was ready to leave. The natural progression of my project was completing its course and taking on a peaceful life of its own. What had been my project, the town’s project, my friends’ and family’s project was settling into its destiny, and I could choose to push and pull, or I could let go.
A microburst came thrashing through our woods not a week ago. A pole snapped, and we lost electricity until the linemen came to drill through the frozen ground at three in the morning. The tops of two wolf pines snapped, one just barely missing our house. But the five-hundred-pound outhouse was swept off its feet, yelling “it’s time to go.”