Friday 9 January 2009

The Orchard Tales and the Orchard Toils of the First Few Days of Two Thousand and Nine ...

AS THE OWL in the barn hoots and stirs himself for a night of hunting I sit here in the Bedford a few yards from him, warm and dry with nostrilsfull of harissa-spiced chickpeas almost ready to eat and connected via a little plastic thingamyjig to the whole world outside this orchard. The people in that whole world are amid such different experiences and live in an alphabet'sworth of different dwellings, and yet they all share the same need and yearning for warmth and home.

In these last few weeks I have learnt to think quite differently about those warm home comforts which we never really give a second thought. Living in a wooden vehicle parked in a field means that nothing comes in or out of our home unless we physically bring it about. Water must be collected from somewhere (at present a tap for watering flowers by gravestones in the churchyard down the lane), and waste water emptied. And warmth too must be collected ... we have spent much of our time since being here walking with rucksack and saw to nearby forests to find fallen branches and bring them home in great quantities so as to keep ourselves warm. This, I know, sounds romantic and perhaps a little obvious... but actually finding enough dry, uninhabited wood and carrying it back again is a constant occupation of ours in this cold weather. We have been lucky down here in this southern foot of England to escape rainclouds, but instead the sky has brought us thin blankets of snow and frosts that freeze last night's bathwater to crackling.

So we bought some bags of coal to augment the logs and it burned hot and fierce for two days. Then the stove began to smoke.. and not just out of the chimney. It smoked from the door, from the all the seals and bolt holes and from the collars at each flue joint. We coughed and coughed and opened windows. Freezing cold with streaming eyes we realised the stove couldn't be used any more. So for the next two days we had a fire outdoors, where the smoke could escape. We watched the stars and made hot water bottles to warm the twoquilted bed which we ran to as the embers died. The next evening the gas ran out! So that night we cooked dinner and boiled hotwaterbottle water on the outdoor fire and in the morning (after heating a precarious cupful of water for tea on an upturned camping-gas heater) I trekked out to find a new calor gas bottle while Tui stayed at home and dismantled the fire and re-fire-cemented all the joints before putting it back together again. I won't go into long boring detail about my day of gas hunting except to say that it wasn't unlike Frodo's journey to Mount Doom, but with more disappointments and train cancellations and refusals of busdrivers to take me due to "hazardous chemicals". A final arm-achingly arduous trek brought me back to a delightfully warm and smokefree Bedford! Our home is wonderful, but with no fire it is very much less so.. and in these modern days of central heating, it is no longer appreciated how very important warmth in the winter is. The next day we cleaned the chimney and found that the coal had left such a thick black sooty residue that there had been only a couple of centimetres of air left for the smoke to escape. Now we burn just wood and little nuggets of smokeless fuel.

In all these days of tending to our daily basic needs, neither of us has had time to create anything. I have begun but not finished a drawing by daylight, which begins to fade around half past three. We have bought a little generator to power laptops, a phone charger and a desk lamp, and now at long last have the internet too. Soon we'll be more established and I'll be able to reopen my shop and begin making clocks again. Town is not far away and my family is much nearer by than before, so we have had lovely days walking between the sunlit appletree stakes, and drinking cups of tea.

We have felt very much more outdoors than you do inside the walls of a house. Nature is right there. You don't have to go out into it, you are already there. It affects you more directly for good or ill. I have weathered cheeks, twig-scratched arms and dirt beneath my fingernails. The skies are beautiful and the blackbirds tiptoe their little threetoed birdfeet across our roof in the mornings. It is freezing in the night when we climb down from the luton bed and run outside to wee; and the low sun and the cracking of forest underfoot and the smell of woodsmoke from the chimney make our hearts soar.


Joan Tucker said...

Rima, I was looking for an update;
my partner and have camped and we have a small van we take to shows. I have experienced that close to nature, no heat, slightly dirty, woodsmoke fumed self. It is educational to get close to roughing it. People have forgotten life without heat. Life without electricity. From the experience you will get closer to the lives of your imagined critters and folk.Of the worlds once lived near nature and the magic.

Stay well and warm and journal this as after time goes by -one forgets. I sip a cup hot tea with your journey in mind.
Joan Tucker, Off Center

Jess said...

Hi Rima, so good to see you back inn the Bloggeshire! You make the cold sound so beautifully romantic but believe me, I too know the reality! I think you're brilliant doing this, and even thinking about starting up your clock shop again! Welcome back :)x

Yoli said...

Glad you are back girl. Can't wait to see your new clocks. There is something to living raw that makes you feel acutely alive. Good for you.

Storyheart said...

I'm glad you're back. Was wondering yesterday how life was going for you both. I hope you're considering turning your experiences into a're doing what so many dream of doing.

shadows and clouds said...

Hi Rima, your travels sound wonderful if also difficult. before my mr m's old car/van was written off this summer, that's pretty much how we spent our summer holiday travels around europe and it is fun, but can be trying, though winter weather added to it must make it more so. here at home we live with just a log stove in the kitchen to heat the whole house (it really heats just the kitchen) but we use its attached water boiler to heat five hot water bottles per night for our 4 degrees bedroom. as for stove tubes they do need cleaning out quite regularly as soot can really reduce a a stove's ability to draw air and keep burning well. also certain woods produce more sap and soot than others and so can both block up the tubes more and (if more sap-producing) increase the risk of the tubes/chimney catching fire, so it's good to keep them cleaned out from time to time. the range surface of our stove can be lifted and cleaned with a wire brush too, getting rid of excess soot which gathers under there too. and we have a spokey thing which can be attached around the stove tube, and you can pull up the spokes (kind of like an umbrella frame, but spoke by spoke as you need them) to dry out socks, tea towels etc. quicker above the stove.

sorry for rambling and you probably knew all of this already, but it was just in case you were missing any of the ideas, in the hope of keeping you guys snugglier!

have lots of fun!

shadows and clouds said...

p.s. when i said sap i meant resin! sorry, thinking in italian too much :S

Anonymous said...

Hi Rima

I spent a year living without mains water, gas, electricity and sewage so I know what you're experiencing! It's hard work at times, even whilst it's wonderful.

Could I offer a word of advice? It won't just be the coal bunging up your stove - burning unseasoned wood produces creosote which will bung up your chimney very quickly. Unfortunately to rely on wood for a stove or fireplace, you need a supply of year old well seasoned wood - doesn't matter what kind, just so long as it's seasoned (to quote a chimney sweep). I realise this is a problem - obviously you have no space for a large stock of wood - and I'm sorry I can't offer a suggestion to get around it as I know how expensive bagged firewood is and just how much you will be getting through. Should you ever come to the Shotley Peninsula we'll give you some for free - though I know that's small comfort right now.

rusted wings said...

Such living so close to the earth and humanity in the larger sense brings such heart reality and deep appreciation for every little thing....which in this hurried lifespace for most gets lost, and is amongst the most valuable treasures. Feeling more in touch with world-need and life in general is awakening and so real. Up here in the north country of Montana, and the harshest winter I remember in the past 12 yrs. of being here, with -45 for many nights, living in a little cottage and heating only with wood, I'm thankful to know "this too shall pass", and the stronger we are becoming.
Blessings of joy, light and warmth,

laoi gaul~williams said...

oh welcome back the both of you i so loved reading this post. i can related to some of your adventures here~we were in our van for a week at easter in north yorkshire with no heat except for our stove and hot waterbottles~we would wake in the morning with curtains frozen to the windows! but its such an adventure and an experience not to be missed~you are right its being right there with nature that i miss when i am home.
stay safe and warm and continue to enjoy the adventure :)

love the photos :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Rima, sorry to hear about your problems with your heating. Rowan wood is very good to burn -we relied on it in the mountains in Wales. How horrible of the driver not to let you on with a gas canister.

Ciara Brehony said...

Rima, so delighted to hear your voice again! I missed you!
Oh your words bring me back to caravan dwelling in the lowlands of Holland, and all it's trials and tribulations: finding water, unfriendly landowners etc. But keeping warm the hardest bit! We left in the autumn after a lovely summer, off to the heat of India, hoping to avoid the worst of the winter but arrived back to the coldest March in years. I remember being paralyzed by the cold and it took a friend to rouse us out to find some firewood.
Mind you, our wee house now is pretty cold and we woke to ice inside our windows the other morning!
I do miss being outside so much of the time though. It really brings the element of spirit into your consciousness doesn't it?
Well, blessings on you both for a year of good fortune. C x

Nao said...

I love your honesty Rima~ I appreciate your ability to tell your story with such authenticity. I am also happy that you have a fire again, being cold in the winter is a very challenging thing. I grew up in the woods with wood heat and no electricity, I have great respect for your experience, the hot water bottles, and the collection of wood.

As always, you are an inspiration~

Great post, it is such a delight to come and visit you here. Blessings to you in this new year.

mama p said...

Rima, so happy to see this post! I have done so much of my road-living in the warmth of the other-half of the year, so this was an education for me, too. It is awfully romantic...and awfully real to live this way; and I am grateful for your illustration of it.

I love what Joan said above about now you may become even closer to your folks and stories, and I can say no better. I feel like a child peeking into a wondrous world now, a fabulously real one now, when I visit your blog...

Many thanks and a happy, happy New Year to you & Tui.
Pilar & Oisin

nina said...

rima, my friend! so good to hear your words and see the photos. i was greatly reminded of your artwork when i saw the photo of you standing with stacks of wood strapped to your back, and i'm hoping you'll do a self portrait of that, layered stockings and all. i can very vaguely relate to your lifestyle, but only vaguely: when i was young,o so young (and much more able) i travelled across europe for five months by bicycle with the boys' dad (they weren't yet born); we started out in greece in april, and worked our way across to italy, up and over to corsica, on up to france across the waters, then through england and wales, a bit of germany, and a bit of holland. showers were stolen on ferries, our beds were pads on the ground in a tent. night time reading was done by candle, if at all. i once went eight days without bathing, washed my socks, underwear (two pair each) by hand every day. we did NOT do this when the weather was freezing. i kept a journal each and every day, taping flowers and postcards and watercolors i'd painted with spit into its pages, in hopes of one day publishing my story and photos. we saw things that car or train travellers never would have seen, as rob had a recumbant bicycle and drew much attention. we visited a home that was made from a cave, slept outside of strawberry fields, hid out in a stone structure with no roof to keep away from a two-day wind. but, no, we did not freeze, and did not have to carry bundles of wood; we did, though, carry all of our travelling possessions on the backs of our bikes...
i commend you and tui for moving ahead with your plans, rather than turning around and seeking shelter from the elements in a house with a roof. you are young, and talented, and have a marvelous thirst for the unknown, for whatever lies around the next bend in the road. i think of you every single day, as i glance up to my wonderful little clock you painted so exquisitely with tiny houses and a luna moth and pipe smoking moon. my heart goes with you down that road; sing or hum an ancient tune by the fireside for me, ok? xoxo

RedLentil said...

It's so wonderful to read about your journey - both preparing your beautiful home and now travelling and living in it. I spent a while travelling through south west England many years ago during late October through to early December. We were walking though and I distinctly remember the cold! I also remember how quickly modern-day things seemed "odd" and unnecessary! Light switches and plugs were so alien and belonged to another life!

Anyway, from experience, ash wood is always the best to burn as shown by this old English poem ...

Oaken logs if dry and old,
Keep away the winter's cold;
Poplar gives a bitter smoke
Fills your eyes and makes you choke;
Elm wood burns like graveyard mould
Even the very flames are cold;
Apple wood will scent the room
Pear wood smells as flowers in bloom;
But ash wood wet and ash wood dry
A King to warm his slippers by.

Beech wood fires burn bright and clear
If the logs be kept for a year;
Chestnut's only good they say,
If for years, 'tis stored away.
Birch and firwoods burn too fast
Blaze too bright and do not last;
But ash wood green and ash wood brown
Are fit for a Queen with a golden crown!

FreeDragon said...

Your blog almost, almost, makes me want to wander around the world. But think I would need a home to come back to at least once a month.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I am most glad to hear from you once again. You have been in my thoughts often during these colder months and I have said a prayer for your comfort and welfare. I feel like a total wimpy for complaining when I run outside in my pajamas for more firewood! I shan't complain again!
Ah, but to share one's bedroom with the owls!

My thoughts are with you and I am glad you are re-connected to us all!! Write as often as you can!

Shelley Noble said...

Thank you for being so honest, Rima. Your post's first paragraph reads like the best story prose. And the rest journals the reality in all its challenge and joy.

Whenever I think about life in centuries past I always remember that the main job of everyday was the acquisition of food. Full stop.

Up until now, modern life has taken that task out of our hands for the most part. Making art is truly a luxury isn't it?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

A beautiful story, Rima.The more so for being told so honestly. It calls up memories of some camping trips, years ago, and makes me smile and wince with you. Good luck in your travels!

Acornmoon said...

Stay safe and warm Rima, you are right, we do take central heating for granted. It won't be winter for ever, just imagine how you will appreciate spring. Good luck!

d. moll, said...

May you find all the wood you need. I spent 3 months camping when my son was 6-9 months and he was in cloth diapers.....I leave the rest to your imagination.

Hugs to you and Tui. I'd bring by a nice stew if I could..

valonia said...

Happy travels, Rima!

You look like you are parked in a very stunning area.

Keep yourselves warm in this icy weather.
Do you have a carbon monoxide alarm? They really are a must when you have a stove because if the flu blocks or the fire doesn't draw properly you could get carbon monoxide coming back into your truck.

Much love, x V.

Ruthie Redden said...

such wonderful images you paint in my mind Rima, my thoughts turned to you both over the past weeks when the frost sat on my windows. thank you for this tale, we live these experiences through you & tui, in the luxuries of our modern day living, but we miss the first hand, exquisite, bitter sweet experience of your days. i admire you so. wishing you peace & contentment on your travels x x *ruthie* p.s i stumbled upon this work (the sculptures anyways) and it reminded me of yours -

Barry said...

Stay warm. The pictures are incredible and your writing sings, as usual.

busylizylonglegs said...

what an inspiration and breath of fresh air you are, fantastic to see you last week, relieved that the fire is now operational its been so terribly cold, so glad now that the internet is once again within your grasp is just so nice to hear of your wonderful life tales and happenings sending luck hugs and happiness your way xx

busylizylonglegs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
busylizylonglegs said...

valonia is right make sure you have a carbon monoxide alarm please !!!!!

Cat (darklingwoods) said...

Happy to see the update Rima, I think of you and your adventures often! Please do stay cozy warm!


BT said...

A lot of what you relate strikes a chord with me, Rima. We have one old Stanley stove to keep us warm and hunt for wood to burn on an almost daily basis. Since the builders knocked the conservatory off the back of the house we feel we are living more 'outside' than inside at the moment.

It really does make you much more aware of the weather, the cold and the seasons in general. Like you, I expect, we wear more clothes to keep warm and go out when others would think us mad. Today we walked Buster to the lake and it was pouring with rain.

Lovely to hear of your adventures and so pleased you are hooked up at last.

Happy days both of you,


Anonymous said...

Oh yes, I can relate to that - our cottage is heated by one woodburner with a back-boiler, so wood-gathering has all but erased creative activities from my world the last months. By mid-December, the novelty of heading out (again) after sunset into the rain with bow-saw and axe was wearing thin enough for me to invest in a small chainsaw, an object I had been ambivalent about in the past, to say the lease. Now, it is one of my most cherished possessions - it is actually making life possible and sustainable. Otherwise, wood-gathering becomes a full-time job, and one that doesn't pay the bills.

As for seasoned wood v. green - yes, it's true: take care of your chimney if you're burning unseasoned wood over a period of time.

Somewhere in me is the knowledge that Spring will come - it will be glorious, and all the more for having felt the bite of Winter - but it feels a long way off, still.

One thing - when I've been out fasting in the woods in cold weather (not this cold!) I've found that one of those heat pads from the chemist attached to my shirt between the kidneys helps keep me warm like you wouldn't believe (just don't sleep with them on - they can burn). I remember from a previous post that you are getting acupuncture - the heat pad goes over the ming men point, which is like the pilot light for the whole body's heat system; putting the pad over it kind of super-charges it. I guess it would probably be really bad for you over a long period of time, but it's a winner for the really cold times.

Okay, enough of Tom's Winter Tips... I hope your journey onwards is blessed with endless stacks of well-seasoned and fragrant wood chopped to the perfect size for your burner... (and glorious clear skies full of Winter stars)

Anonymous said...

It does sound lovely and romantic, but very back breaking, I remember days I was draged out to go net fishing for our dinner in the middle of the night and to collect wood for the fire, mind you it was in New Zealand, a lot warmer!!!

Anonymous said...

While it sounds romatic, I do lov my central heat. I admire you though for following your dreams.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we do forget how it is to warm ourselves through our own efforts when we sit in centrally heated splendor! I'm wondering how many people can even build a fire these days, no less find and haul the right kind of wood.

I hope things stay marvelous and romantic and inspiring and not too smoky :-)

Anonymous said...

I would hesitate to get drinking water from the graveyard tap unless its tested. Bodies, ground water is not a great combo.

The Dutchess said...

Life is an adventure..and you are living it..I wandered in the mountains of spain,with bagpack. It was a "survival" tour sometimes.
Wish you luck and a great sence of humour..Take care..(And there will come an end to these very cold winter days)

Half-heard in the Stillness said...

Hello Rima been checking your blog most glad to see you've managed to surmount the difficulties with the stove, I wonder how you finally managed to get back with that gas word you are both awe inspiring in more ways than one!! How grateful we are that you are sharing your journey with those of us not so brave! As they say in Scotland (I believe) 'Lang may your lum reek!' which I believe means, Hope your chimney always smokes, therefore you always have a home. But in your and Tui's case I mean.. May you always have heat and that your chimney smoke goes out in the right way!! :)) Stay safe, hugs.

Morag Lloyds said...

Hello Rima
Its been a while since I was in touch, but here I am. I rememebr the days when i lived on an old barge and one winter the stove overheated and a very silly pal decided to run up on deck and put a shovel of snow down the chimney which cracked it and we were without heat middle winter in was hard but you know now many many years later I look back and remember those days with fondness and glad that I did all that when I was young. Now at my ripe old age Im still going over at weekends to sit on a boat on the west coast of Scotland in the middle of winter! .. there must be a bit of gypsy in me. I just love to be out in the landscape.. I think you are both just great and love reading your blog.
please visit mine again and say hello eh.. tales of travels on a boat.. keep well keep happy and enjoy ;-) xxx

Anonymous said...

quite remarkable ... all of it ... art, story, life. one of your prints remains on my mantle with my children's photos and my icons. lovely.

Vita said...

Everything has been said already, so I just want to wish you warmth and good weather and lots of inspiration. It's great to see someone living the life many can only imagine. Cheers to you both!

Flying Whale said...


Gail said...

So good to hear from you, and happy tales too ... despite the cold ... take care of yourselves.

I look forward to the next installment.

Happy New Year! ... a little late I know - but better than never ;-)

-Gail X

nefaeria said...

Hello Rima,

Long time lurkers here. I just wanted to drop a line to let you know that you have a couple of ladies in Canada (well, probably a lot more, but we can only speak for ourselves!) that absoloutely love what you are doing.

If you ever stop on through our neck of the woods, stop on by for tea ;)


Aymi & Laurel

hadanevada said...

i love your blog, it´s amazing, i dont understand english, but i can dream in this site...thanks for this magical trip...
from Canary islands,a lot of kisses

i admire you...

RosesRadishesandRubbish said...

Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life so graciously. For someone like me that can only enviously dream of living such an adventure, it fills a little space in my heart. I absolutely love your art.. it is magical!!:) Best Wishes...Amy

Solvay said...

What more can be added. Wonderful, how many fascinating people are following you along the way. I admit that things like creosote, coal soot, cemetary water, sinking temps, and the like, hinder me from adventure. I grew up seeing all the bad things that can happen, and so, alas, I go not out into the world as you and Tui do. You WILL figure it out, streamline it, invent, expand, recreate - how can you not. I am humbled and inspired by your bigness of life, even if there've been many held-back tears to avoid the burn on the weathered cheeks. I am so sorry for the impediments and burdens and seeming impasses, but I cheer you on, as you are so courageous and visionary. NO couragio ever blazed forward without temptations to stop or turn back thrown in their way. Forge ahead. It's the only direction: forward. I look forward to reading. I have turned down my heat in solidarity, hoping that somehow, I can add even one wee bit of encouragement from here, very far away, where it has been -30 (Fahrenheit) for days until today. I thought of you, as the air was a frost factory, making sparkles in the night sky constantly. But, it was a deathtrap for any without a source of heat. I will pray for invention and wit to visit you by day and by night with solutions unforeseen! Best. Best. Best.

Heather said...

I have just discovered your fascinating blog via Annette Emms. I love your work - it's romantic yet down-to-earth at the same time, modern but with a medieval look. Our heating broke down during that very cold spell and I was very glad to have it repaired. I have got so used to central heating now, it would be very hard to do without it. We didn't have it when I was a child and I can remember ice on the inside of the bedroom windows on winter mornings. I hope I can find my way to you again - my daughter will love your paintings.

Barbara Martin said...

I am glad to be reading this update of your adventures. I, too, have lived with a woodstove through one very cold winter in central Alberta. Keeping warm occupies your mind and ensuring the woodpile is well stocked. Coal is a dangerous substance to be using in a woodstove, it burns hotter and the fumes are toxic. My blessings are sent to keep you safe on your journey.