“And one day you will drive away too”, she said. After Sue, our neighbor, told her story of dreaming of building tiny houses, one for each of her four children, five including her (and her husband’s) own tiny dwelling. And then over the years, each one would drive away, one by one until it was “just us, left with our tiny house”.
Standing in the big kitchen of their big (but not too big) house, she spoke those words. Oh, how many of us dream of these new but old dreams, unconventional now, but those kinds communal compounds that I am sure some ancestor not too far back inhabited. How many realize them?
Some people in Texas I met and stayed with for a while, had a pod for their teenage daughter, their own suite, communal space and mini dwellings for other guests. A midwife I knew bought an old falling down house in West Philly for a dollar (city initiative) fixed it up and had so many rooms, that she was always welcoming anyone and everyone without a home (usually without rent). Her daughter, born at home, who remembers her birth. They slept together in the room she was born in, until she was ready to sleep alone, then her mother moved into another room leaving her with her birthing/coming into the world room as her own living in/coming of age room.
How many ways to live within four walls or six or eight? Piled in, spread out, tiny spaces, communal spaces, spaces to gather together, places to gather oneself. Doesn’t everyone want a space of their own? Doesn’t everyone also want to know that they are not alone? Do we have the courage to dream something other than the unsustaining micro-cosms of nuclear families in oversized dwellings, whether it’s intentional community, extended family, good neighbors.
“And one day you will drive away too”, Tracy said and sighed. Sitting here thinking of these words tonight, after her husband, my landlord/friend/neighbor talked about making a place up the hill for my tiny house to inhabit. The man with the tractor from up the road, will come and level it. Hopefully he can, with all the stone in this mountain. I think this was his way of saying, “I support this project”. And I felt the settling in my heart, of having a place.
But now that my tiny home has a place, I imagine also the day that I MAY drive away. I don’t know when that will be, maybe not for a long time. But it will happen. I will find land or a more permanent community or the wind will simply pull me, and I grieve to think of leaving this place that has supported me in so many ways.
I have left many places. Many whom I have loved (two legged, four legged, plant, mountain, stream). There are many to love no matter where I go, but there is also this longing, even deeper perhaps than the nomadic sway, to belong to the land like a tree belongs, roots dug in as deeply as trunk rising into the sky. I am building my home on wheels because I do not belong to this place yet, despite my love of it. What does it mean to fully belong to a place?
Is it about ownership—I’ve never owned land. Always rented. But ownership itself is an odd idea. That owning equals devotion, commitment, and care. Before “ownership” of land, at least on the Front Range, the land I currently inhabit, the native people here understood place via respect, not because anyone said they owned anything but because they had walked the land long enough as a people to truly understand her. The people and their ways were shaped by the land herself. It’s ironic that we hand over “ownership” before we’ve even inhabited a place. Perhaps, those who moved with the plants, the storms, the cycles of seasons, had a greater feeling of belonging than many of us ever feel, even in our sedentary lives. Because they truly lived with the living earth.
Maybe that is what makes a tiny house so very precious in this sticky “I own it” world. The opportunity to have a space that is ours, but to not live in the illusion that the places we inhabit are ours. We have to learn to belong again to place, at least I do.
And, who know, Tracy….maybe I won’t drive away.