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Mud is Life

Houses that have lived for millennia.

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez

A strange relationship exists between me and houses. For me, they are alive, in a way. They have an energy, a memory.

Like layers in an onion, each year that goes by or family that has lived in a house creates a new layer. These layers build an energy and I find myself receptive to it.

I dream almost every night of houses. Some fantastical built with metal pipes going every which way; some built traditionally with an exquisite attic space, others float, some fly. Rarely are they just typical. If prompted, I can remember most of them.

I do not know why this is.

Old houses capture my imagination. I want to live for a moment in each layer of energy that the house has, like flipping through the pages of a book. When I see an old house that hasn’t been lived in or loved for a while, I want to rescue it like some people rescue animals. Foster it for a bit, clean it up, inject some new love into it. Houses that do not protect people are what? Just shells, empty without living energy. These houses make me feel sad.

The current (2022) real estate market in my city makes rescuing houses difficult. Whereas I see an energetic entity, others only see dollar signs.

The older the house, the more I am drawn. Partly due to the craftsmanship, especially one built without power tools. Newer homes do not draw me as much. I currently live in a WWII era cottage. It has charm and has seen some shit, to be sure. The craftsmanship is questionable.

I lived for a while in one half of a double built in 1902. Ten foot ceilings, eight foot single pane wooden windows, three stories, 2700 square feet. I rented it for $600 a month but the heating bill was upwards of $400 per month in the winter. I refinished the wood floors with landlord approval, I rewired some old outlets, I tried to repair the lathe and plaster that was falling in the kitchen. Built in drawers where the coat closet was. Gorgeous stairwell. Huge attic.

While I lived there, I discovered Michael Reynolds’ work, earthships and biotecture. I highly suggest diving down that rabbit hole. I wasn’t quite able to make it to Taos, NM to check it out in person, however, I was able to visit an earthship in Ohio on a first date with my now husband. One exists in Philo, OH. Standing inside a house made of the earth itself changed how I viewed what a house could be.

I sort of had an idea by looking at the pictures but until I stood inside one… Well, that’s when things changed.

Up until recently, earthships and cob were just good ideas to me. I took an afternoon workshop with Uncle Mud helping to build an outdoor cob oven. Diving in, feeling it under my feet and in my hands, working collectively with others, not a power tool in sight except for our conversation and laughter, our combined efforts to build a tangible useful thing out of elemental materials… That was another rung on my ladder to building my own house of mud.

My children went with me that day. My five-year-old daughter was all about cob and the work, as well as the mini-horse nearby, whereas my pre-teen couldn’t roll his eyes hard enough until others like him showed up and the pond was too good to resist. We all enjoyed ourselves that day despite the car breaking down.

I asked my daughter what she thought of the day’s adventure and she said it best, “Mud is life, Momma.”

Mud is life. A house built from living mud. This is my quest. This is the journal of the adventure to come.



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