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Blog On The Way

Day 1

Thursday we signed papers, gave money and took responsibility for 94,000sqm of land we can now refer to as ours. Today we headed out there for the first time in this context. We planned to stay over one night and come back tomorrow … but, as is apparent from these words, that didn’t quite work out. We will be going back out there tomorrow morning for another day of work.

We were given one key which opens up one of the existing structures where the other keys can be found. There are many locks to the different structures on the grounds but there seemed to be way more keys. So we began fishing around trying to find a key to open the house. About half way into the pile of keys we found one that worked.

We went inside walked around a bit and looked at each other wondering where to begin. We couldn’t find an answer so we went for a walk outside to have a look around. We then came back in and found two ideas to get us started: (1) clear the space as much as possible and (2) begin rough cleaning from the top down. Andreea went on to fill trash bags with trash and I began cleaning the walls and windows … oh and I brutally disassembled an old bed so I could carry it out.

The house is built of mud and cob and it has an earthen floor covered by plastic-like sheets. On one of the walls we encountered a large slab that had come loose from the wall (I’ll try to get an image of it tomorrow … I didn’t feel like taking pictures today) – which we will fix using locally and naturally available clay behind the house.

We managed to get through one of the rooms. I was the first to lose confidence about staying the night. It was an overwhelming first experience for me (for Andreea too, but I think less then me). My breathing was getting rough from all the dust and I felt emotionally drained. The house has been dormant and going into it feels like a huge resuscitation – we are bringing life back into it. It goes way beyond cleaning and fixing … we are slowly generating energy inside it … an energy that now requires careful maintenance but eventually will grow to support us.

Andreea wanted to light a fire to warm and dry the place from the moisture we brought in. As I started to get the fire going smoke began to pour into the room, apparently our chimney is blocked … here we go … so now we have a dusty, cool (we opened all the windows to let air flow through the house) and now smokey house.

Andreea finally called it and decided to head back to the city and come back again tomorrow morning.

It was a difficult day for me. I am intimidated by the thought of living in this house for a year (as it is still unclear if we will be able to build this year).

We sat down on the stairs to the house to eat before leaving and as we did this I watched our neighbor sowing seeds. She was bent over manually sowing one seed at a time of one plant (I think it was some kind of bean) and in straight rows. I was watching her and thinking of a video of Sepp Holzer tossing a seed-mix onto his terraces … and re-realizing what a long journey it is we have set out on.

On the way back, though tired, I realized the amazing abundance in which we live. Even though we have only basic possessions with us, there will not be space for all of our things in the existing house. Yet in this house lived 5 people (a couple with two kids and a grandmother) with all of their possessions.

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Blog On The Way

Roots

Monday we visited Mociu again hoping to meet with the mayor of the village to talk about fixing the road that leads to our property. It was also an opportunity for us to show our beautiful corner of the world to a friend who was staying with us.

It had been raining lightly and consistently for almost a day so this time we encountered muddy terrain and we rejoiced that we listened to Horatiu and got a 4×4 car which carried us in with confidence.

Our neighbors prepared a kind of petition request and they got all the people who would benefit from this road to sign it. We then drove back to the village center and filed the petition. The mayor wasn’t there but we met with someone else from the municipality who was attentive and helpful (and also interested because his property is just after hours and the lack of car access has made it difficult to sell it). We have already gotten word that this person spoke to the mayor and that our request was received positively and that hopefully work on the road will commence soon (this issue has been on the table for some time).

We spent some more time on our property, walked around with our friend and visited the Tilia tree we planted a week before. We found a tree filled with fresh green leaves and even new growth branching out from the ground. Indeed we are putting roots into the ground 🙂

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Planting a Tilia Tree

Saturday we drove out to our land by ourselves for the first time. We came with the intention of planning a Tilia tree (that we got the day before). It was a beautiful sunny day.

We stopped at our next-door neighbors to ask borrow digging tools. That led to a lengthy and pleasant conversation over coffee and cakes. We got a little better acquainted – they too have recently (a year ago) returned to living on and working their family’s land. We found much in common. We talked about organic farming and permaculture and water and the road that needs to be fixed so that there is reliable decent access to our properties.

We then moved on to our property and began a tree planting ritual. This was an event dominated by Andreea’s wishes and intention and she led the way for us. It was a transitional ritual … letting things from the past come to a rest so that more new things can grow in our lives.

We dug the hole and filled it with water. This turned out to be an excellent water percolation test – we already new that our soil has high clay content – but now we also know that it is very slow percolating as well (something that needs to be factored in our grey water system planning and good for making future ponds). We left the hole and the water to settle and we parted energies for a while. Andreea stayed and I roamed.

Our neighbor’s cows were grazing on our fresh green hill.

I began walking up the long hill that makes up the majority or our arable land.

This time I went all the way up and realized how large it truly is. The top part flattens out so that it is invisible from the bottom. At the very top I found these fresh blossoms:

And then this view to the south-west – at the foot of the hill I am standing on you can see a part of the “road” that reaches our property – currently passable only with a 4×4 vehicle.

As I headed back down I saw Andreea was stil engaged …

By now the sun had moved to the west and offered excellent light on our small valley – so I paused to take yet another panorama (click to zoom in):

I rejoined Andreea and we completed planting the tree and setting up an improvised fence around it to protect it from wild-sheep that roam the area.

Andreea stopped to say hello to the cows, especially a young calf that was grateful for her attentions:

We also revisited the new house markings we left behind during our previous visit and decided to leave our house oriented with the natural curve of the land instead of the precise magnetic north-south alignment. We decided where we will build our compost pile … and finally I took advantage of our car’s 4×4 capabilities and took Andreea up the hill too:

On the way out we stopped by the neighbors to return the tools we borrowed and we were gifted with fresh milk (from the above mentioned cows) and eggs from their farm. It was soooooooooo wonderful to be out there. We hope to complete the acquisition process in the coming weeks and to move out there at the beginning of June.

We will be heading out again this week to meet, together with our neighbors, with the mayor to discuss the issue of the road which needs to be fixed for us to be able to bring in construction materials.

 

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Blog On The Way Resources Videos

Natural Swimming Pools

Beautiful, inspiring, fun … something to look forward to creating in coming years 🙂

Available on DVD

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Blog Buying Land On The Way

Our Home Land

Side story: One expression of our attempt to be focused and clear about finding land where we can create a home manifested the week after we arrived in Romania. Andreea began to purchase a local advertisements newspaper “Piata” which is published every Tuesday. She began to look at real-estate options so we could get a sense of what was out there. We didn’t make any calls or go to see anything. Some weeks later when we had an initial sense of what we were looking for, Andreea began to put together a spreadsheet list of potential properties. She would review it every week, update properties that were re-advertised and add new ones. Over a couple of months this gave us a sense of how long properties were on the market and changes in their asking prices. Still we didn’t call anyone or go to see anything … though by now we were beginning to feel a little guilty about it.

After our trip around Cluj we were geared up to dig our hands deeper into real-estate dirt. We were now focused on two areas – Cornesti (where Andreea’s phone number began, and maybe still is, circulating) and Mociu. Mociu appealed to us more then Cornesti – it felt more spacious, lighter and younger – and it came to us by surprise! So Andreea began to make some phone calls. One of the calls left Andreea exhilarated – she described a charming conversation with an old man looking to sell 10 hectares of land in Mociu. Andreea was all giddy with excitement – for no logical reason – though we’ve both learned to recognize and appreciate that when this happens to her we’ve come across something good.

Later that week, last Friday (February 18th) Sabin and Ina once again came to our karmic rescue. They borrowed a car from a now mutual friend (thank you sooooo much Alex) and we drove together, the four us and the land-owner, to see the land.

Mociu is about 40km (30 minute drive) east of Cluj. The name Mociu relates to both a communa (an area that encompasses numerous villages) and the central village itself. It feels like a developed village – it’s center feels like a living public place (not a typical village scene) – including kids walking around (even less typical). At the center of the village we took a left turn and the property we came to see is about 2km removed from the center. Now is a good time to let some images do the talking.

We couldn’t arrive directly to the house with the car because the final segment of the road leading to it will only be completed this coming spring. So we drove into a nearby field and began walking in.

It sloped and led us to a small bridge over a small stream

and this is the view that opened up before us (slightly to the left/north because a blinding sun was shining down on us from the south) – it’s a panorama – so you are welcome to click on it to see more (that invitation extends to the other panoramas on this page as well).

We continued, passed one property where a young farmer greeted us and arrived at our designated property – this image looks back at the path we took to the property – the land on the right hand side is one of the agricultural hectares belonging to it.

and just passed it is this:

from left to right: garage (red doors), summer kitchen (pink walls), main house (long blue structure), and finally a barn (great space for all the wood working in our future) … and there are smaller structures for firewood, pigs and chickens. Both the main house and summer kitchen are built of thick cob walls. The other two structures were built in recent years. The whole “complex” is perfectly oriented with protection of both a hill and trees on the north and then complete opening to the southern sun. It is also hooked up to electricity and telephone lines (no gas and no sewage).

Across the “street” (to the left) are 6 additional hectares sprawling up a gentle hill of land and a water well (amazing water!):

The summer kitchen is a small structure with one room and a stove installed behind one of it’s walls (with access from within the room)

And this is the main house – a 60 year old structure which testifies to the strucutral quality of both the land and the construction.

We wouldn’t want to live in this house but we are also not happy to tear it down. It’s also very useful for us for living in while we build the main house. We are considering leaving it as is for now and maybe using it as a basis for the Feminitate center we have envisioned.

To the east of the entire complex is a beautiful clearing where we could easily envision our house being built.

We fell in love with the place and speak of it as ours.

For those interested in the workings of Karma here’s one amazing fact about this place. I didn’t know this until we arrived back back in the city and parted from Ina and Sabin – that’s when Andrees told me about it. This was the first real-estate listed in Andreea’s spreadsheet. It has been with us, waiting for us, from the first weeks we arrived in Romania. We had to patiently follow a trail of clues for it to appear before us.

By the way … the property to the east of us (just beyond the clearing above) is also for sale 🙂

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Blog Buying Land On The Way

Visiting Suncuius

Around 3 weeks ago we joined Ina and Sabin on to see Suncuius where they purchased land for their house. It was an exciting first – not only because of the prospect of becoming land-owners but also of creating a life with friends and neighbors like Ina & Sabin.

Lesson1: Romania is Beautiful

I’ve not yet had an opportunity to travel and spend time in the vastness of Romania. This was another glimpse into how simple, direct and beautiful it is. A set of landscape images from the area was published separately on my personal-blog.

Lesson2: 4 x 4

Ina and Sabin’s land is in the higher and more remote area of Suncuius. Getting to it from the lower area of the village is about 7 km out most of it on un unpaved road. We had a beautiful sunny day but the road was snowed over. On the way up we got stuck on our way up on an icy part of road we failed to negotiate. Ina and I got out and sat on the hood of the car (it was a two front wheel drive car) to give it more traction while Sabin attempted to get us past the hump in the road. These are my legs hanging over the car:

This is the wonderful view that opened up when we got past it.

… and this is where we moved back into the car

… and this is the breath-taking space we arrived at.

If you are going to be living in an elevated place in the mountains then you may want to consider getting a 4×4 vehicle – it makes getting around safer, more reliable and more pleasant.

Lesson3: Generosity

We arrived at the house of the family who’s land Ina and Sabin purchased. I was quickly reminded of the welcoming generosity that seems to be typical of Romanian villages. Though the homes are often old and run down – home-grown and cooked food and drink is always offered. An abundant life reaches my consciousness from village life here.

Lesson4: Plentiful Land & Water

The fertile lands and plentiful water in Romania is a big part of why we are here. Having land and the skills, tools and knowledge to work it is a unique, if not the most sustainable form of richness I can imagine. This is where we are heading.

Lesson5: Draw in Snow

While Sabin was off making some arrangement in town Ina took us to see their land. While we were there we made some markings in the snow to simulate what their thoughts for a house would feel like. This was a really useful exercise – seeing the house oriented on the land, experiencing distances, room sizes can be very eye opening – much more then many drawings. The snow makes it very easy to make markings, if you don’t have snow use sticks and rocks … but don’t miss out on doing this.

Lesson6: Classic Construction

We are building the first hemp-lime house in Romania. I took great pleasure in seeing this classically built Romanian house. I don’t know how old this structure is but it shows signs of durability.

Though we aim for something much better, more resilient and more ecological there are a few things I liked about it: simplicity, basic do-it-yourself construction, reliance on local materials, practical wood-joinery and stone foundations (instead of todays popular concrete).

Lesson7: Do Your Homework

A few months ago we had no idea what to look for in land and who to ask. Since then we’ve accumulated a list of things we’d like in our land to support us and make our life pleasant. We will probably have to compromise on some of the things – but with this list we know what it is we are compromising on and what we are getting.

Though the place was beautiful and we would love to be neighbors with Ina & Sabin we realized there were a few things missing:

  1. As we intend to extend our home into a place of learning, retreat and eventually birthing – this part of Suncuius is too remote and inaccessible. Suncuius is great if you want to retreat to a remote and intimate life – but we still have work to do engaging other people. To do this we need to remain accessible.
  2. We are planning to do diverse farming to provide for ourselves. Suncuius is in a high location making it too cold for growing grains. Suncuius also sits on top of many caves (there are sink holes all around) which effects the fertility and versatility of the land.
  3. To do the caves below water isn’t found in near-house wells. There is a spring in the area from which the village gets its water. Connecting to it may be a challenge.
  4. Accessibility may be an issue in winter months and also during construction when materials need to be brought in.

Had we not thought about these things in advance and known our needs and preferences we could have easily fallen in love with the place and overlooked them. Sabin is asking around for us about lands in the lower area of Suncuius (closer to the road, train station and on flat-lands).

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Blog On The Way

2 NGO’s and a Peasant Meeting

Last week we met with two inspiring organizations with whom we hope to collaborate in the process of creating our home here in Romania.

Habitat for Humanity Cluj

The first meeting with with Habitat for Humanity Cluj (English website, Romanian website) who’s mission is to provide decent housing where currently housing conditions are very poor. Here in Romanian they have a few house templates that they can build in a few weeks. They organize volunteers from around the world to come and partake in a quick and efficient building process. They also provide home owners with a  zero-interest loan at very small monthly payments (over as long as 20 years) to fund the costs of construction materials.

Our hopes are to both gain from their building experience here in Romania and to offer a shared learning opportunity on the benefits of building with hemp. We believe that hemp-lime construction can be a wonderful alternative with the benefits of simpler construction, better housing (insulation, air quality, durability) and ecological. A win for the organization, for residents of their houses and for the planet.

Eco Ruralis

Our second meeting was with EcoRuralis (English website, Romanian Website) who’s mission is to support traditional Romanian peasants (who represent ~50% of Romanian population) in the face of external forces of industrialization and commercialization (mostly originating from the EU) that threaten their survival and prosperity.

I realize that mission statement may sound petty and remote to non-Romanians so let me give you an example. It is now absurdly illegal for Romanian peasants to sell their traditionally developed and evolved seeds (over hundreds of years). Legal and commercial standards are pushing to replace traditional seeds with genetically modified industrial seeds. Such measures, together with beaurocratic hurdles required to selling their crops in local markets threaten not only their existence but an entire tradition of agrictultural knowledge.

A Peasant Meeting

EcoRuralis were extremely pleasant and generous with us. We immediately signed up as members and over the weekend they invited us to a member-meeting which took place in Calimenste (a 6 hour bus ride south of Cluj-Napoca). Not only were we welcomed in no-questions-asked, they also covered all the expenses in getting to and partaking in the meeting. We had a wonderful time and met inspiring people.

It is so exciting  and comforting to know that we have access to everything we need (from knowledge to seeds) to create up our own farm. Though we are currently focused on the construction aspect of our home we are also on our way to becoming peasants and taking up healthy traditional farming.

Another interesting shared interest is hemp-construction. Hemp was once a popular crop here in Romania and we hope it will be again. Everyone was very curious to hear more about hemp construction. We can’t wait to invite them all to see when the house is actually built and then to be our guests and experience what a wonderful quality-of-life it can afford.

Everyone was so kind and so generous. With some translation help I said to them that after almost 40 years of life I am for the first time beginning to feel I am at home.