I came to live in Massat in August 2012, along with Johan who was 17 years old at the time. He wanted to build his own cabin - a home - and to be as ‘off-grid’ and independent as possible. Living off the land was something that appealed to me too since I had taken a break from my studies and because my parents no longer wanted to support me financially. So building a cabin was both a challenge and an adventure. Why Massat? Because I already knew the place and it was still possible to find some land and to settle down here.
Contacts we had made previously enabled us to find a plot that was a forest of 2 metre-high ferns. Out of respect to the owners we got their permission to try out our bold experiment and to be able use it more-or-less as we liked. Much later we were able to buy the land.
For 5 months we spend our days building. Developing our manual skills, living off the land and the organisation of everything, all were inter-dependent. For the most part we built using natural materials and with hand-powered tools. While this was out of choice, it was also a question of necessity since we had no financial help, no paid employment, and there was no electricity to plug in such a thing as an electric screwdriver. We didn’t complain though, nor did we look for outside help. We took pride in doing things ourselves. And we got to learn new perspectives on “time.” There was the race against time; to get the walls and roof finished before winter arrived and we had turned into blocks of ice! There was the passage of time, the time needed to saw, to dig, to carry heavy wooden beams, to walk the path to our place. And there was the time taken to get to know each other better, as well as to listen to our bodies.
Johan thought long and hard about getting electricity. He asked around and weighed up the pros and cons. In the end we opted for a small water-powered turbine since we lived very close to a river. Even so it took a lot of patience and trial and error to build a reliable and efficient prototype. Johan never had the proper materials or the money to build what he wanted. Even so he managed to get by with cast-offs (a stainless steel shell, a large bucket, a length of PVC tube, a sheet of Perspex, and a motor from a washing machine).
Even when work was over, there was still effort! We got fed up having to wash with cold water or heating up the water on our wood-burning stove. So Johan built a water-heater heated by our wood-burning stove (using advice from his father together with that of our neighbour). .
Every day there was something new to learn, whether it was trying to make life just that bit easier or in our consciousness-raising. Sure there were bad times (arguments and self-doubt), but these only served to make us more aware of ourselves and of one another. Even so I don’t believe in a life entirely of “love and spring flowers.” Throughout I had this nagging doubt …..
Making a “home” is rather like building a large school where many subjects are taught – where you learn things that are once theoretical then practical, from sports to science and then to the manual arts. We learn a lot and there is not much time to get bored.
In the summer of 2016, we had realised our challenge. Our cabin and our vegetable garden have now become our wealth and our resource. We consider this place as our “base camp.” But it can cut two ways. Just as it can give us peace of mind, it can also be a source of frustration when we throw ourselves into lots of small projects that never seem to end or succeed. One can quickly loose sight of our objectives here and let life become a chore. In finding paid employment, studying and starting other activities, I have quickly realised that I also want to discover new things and experience new adventures - while all the time trying to keep hold of my values. I don’t want to be a slave to the vegetable garden or to the house. And so my quest continues ……
I sincerely hope that this account of our journey - as ‘expressed’ in these photographs and lines of text – will lead to new things in the future. But to each their own.