This is the brief story of “Csacsi-rét”. For half a year, from August to January, I lived in a caravan with my partner and our almost two-year-old child. The caravan was parked in the middle of a field that was previously habited by two donkeys. I cannot say it was full consent from their sides, but we decided to share the meadow with them. Our motivation was to start living on the land, in the warm embrace of mother nature, and create a community with the neighboring families. Eventually, we left the land and the community in January. A huge wind storm damaged the structure of our shelter and we didn’t see ourselves putting energy into repairing it. Along with a few other factors, we understood it was best for us to move on. It was a wonderful chapter of our lives for each of us. Let me share our contemplation of it.
We purchased a renovated, second-hand caravan. It sounded like a solution good enough for now, safe enough to try to move to the land and start living with the other families. However, we were aware that given our needs we’d go nuts if that was the only space available for our family, rain or shine. My partner had a curious idea: what if we purchased a large enough polytunnel (a hoop greenhouse) and put the caravan inside? This way we would not only have space to build an outdoor kitchen and play area (“living room”), but we could also cultivate all year around. We worked during the summer on this vision so we were ready to live full-time on the land by September. Our sheltered living space was 8x8 meters, out of which 12m2 was the caravan.
Although our home conditions might have resembled a gypsy camp to some, we had a luxurious life indeed. A life we chose to live, at least. We even hosted wanderers from Trustroots. We had phone coverage and access to electricity that enabled me to keep working with the computer. We had running spring water, a gas boiler, and a gas stove for everyday comfort. We installed a shower cabin outside that gave protection from the wind and was big enough that our kid’s bathtub would fit inside too. My partner enjoyed having hot showers outdoors and I loved to take cold showers in the middle of nature. We created a massive kitchen workbench with space for all my tools and spices. I was very happy to cook there daily. We built and used a compost toilet. We had a successful project with composting poop in our mixed compost pile. Finally, we installed an electric heater in the caravan for the winter months. On the coldest nights of the year, the temperature would drop close to zero.
Our child enjoyed being surrounded by other families. They became strong references in her life. While it took conscious effort for us adults to live in a community, for her it was the only way she knew. Wouldn’t we see anyone from the community by noon, she would say chao mama and papa and get going. We were blessed with the location of the land. We were in the middle of the Asturian countryside. We had a creek with a waterfall on the land. There was plenty of space to play with the elements: from playing with the earth to feeding the campfire to dancing in the rain to jumping into the creek. We even built a play area with a swing, sandpit, trampoline, etc. for both young and adult kids.
Throughout these six months, the most impactful experience I had was a deep nature connection I developed. I was basically in the caravan while working on the computer, changing clothes, and at times, sleeping–most of my time I spent outdoors. I was fully aware of the weather at any moment. I started to recognize weather patterns. I breathed fresh air all day long, fell asleep while listening to the brown owls and crickets, and woke up by the light and birds. Since a school excursion to Szár and its surrounding woods in Hungary, I was in love with camping and sleeping in a tent. Here a dream would come true. I would often choose to sleep outside on the terrace in a sleeping bag under the protection of the polytunnel and just feel the joy of camping.
The idea to turn our living room into a veggie plot was proven to be great. Under the guidance of my partner, the garden produced a variety of vegetables: carrots, broccoli, rucola, cabbage, radish, green peas, and so on. It really followed the principle of the best garden grows in the shadow of the gardener. You could observe the growth of the seeds and plants day by day.
It wouldn’t be a memorable chapter of our lives if we didn’t have surprises and challenges. Whereas living in the greenhouse gave us protection from the elements and captured warmth, it came with its downsides too. It could get very loud when the rain was falling on the plastic cover or the wind moved the steel structure. It could get unpleasantly hot inside too. Eventually, we needed to set up some shades above the terrace that we only removed for the winter months. Although the temperature was always some degree higher inside the polytunnel, during the winter nights it could drop to 1-2 degrees and wouldn’t go higher than 7-8 degrees during the day either. We needed to stay physically active and learn how to dress ourselves up warm.
We installed a gutter on one side of the greenhouse to capture the rainfall in a 1000-liter tank. It turned out to be a modest container in times of climate change. Asturias is historically a region with plenty of rain throughout the whole year, however, this has been changing recently. With two days of rain, the tank would be full, and then there might be no rain in the coming weeks to fill it up again. We planned to use this water for irrigation, dishwashing, and showering. With such weather patterns, 1000 liters is a little amount.
We learned it along the way that foundation matters a lot. We needed to excavate and level the area where we wanted to put the greenhouse. We hired a professional with a machine to do that. While he did a fair job, we didn’t double check the level and we didn’t leave enough space around the greenhouse for maintenance either. This made everything a bit more difficult later on. For instance, when we built the terrace, we also needed to level it, and keeping the ditches clean was also more troublesome. Now we know it.
Finally, we sometimes lacked the comfort of getting cozy in a warm, spacious home and just watching the rough weather from inside. Our caravan had black tinted windows so very little light would come inside. It’s good for privacy on a camping site, but for us, it felt like staying in a dark, small cave when keeping the windows open was not an option.
Overall, it was a great time we spent living in the greenhouse. If it wasn’t for the storm, probably we would be still living there for a while until we’d figured out our plan for a more permanent shelter.