First night

23 March 2010, from Housetruck

A year and a half ago, I started designing a portable home. First a trailer, then a truck, the home evolved through my mental pictures and planning. Functions became spaces, spaces became edges, edges became structure. Six months ago, I committed myself to representing the structure in steel. Through the autumn the skeleton formed its flesh of wool, plywood, cedar, and fir. A roof was erected, windows added. As happens with such projects, in the end the tiniest details consume most of the time. Where once I hauled great sheets of heavy plywood now I was placing delicate cedar tongue-and-groove boards. Decisions of whole inches became decisions of sixteenths.

And finally, on this glorious spring day, Jim, the builder of windows and doors and all around excellent wood butcher, phoned to say that he was done with his final trimming, and the truck was ready to leave his shop. Still not having yet registered the truck, we schlepped up to the closest DMV. On the way, I realized the Isuzu’s dashboard was void, blank, unreadable: speedometer was idle, temperature was infinitely cold, odometer reading was blank. Clearly something had gotten disconnected. Yet the truck still drove, and I praised the minimal digitalization of utility trucks.

At the DMV office, I spent a very nervous 15 minutes waiting in line for my opportunity to explain what the heck this vehicle was. In the end, I did have to explain it, but only because the DMV examiner was curious: in fact, all she really needed to know was whether the VIN number on the truck was valid. Months of worry about whether the damn thing would be legal at all dissolved quickly into the sunny afternoon, and I drove back home, speedometer still idling at zero. I hoped the gas gauge was at least close.

Safely parked in my driveway, and after a thorough vacuuming of the grimy plywood subfloor (still to be laid with cork), the place looked relatively homey and welcoming. I accepted the truck’s invitation, and moved in my bed, an oriental carpet, my small desk and chair. On window sills and trim I placed tiny objects: bells from my grandmother, Tonia’s tiny clay house lunaria, an eye of a cat painted on a diminutive canvas, a raven in flight across a board no bigger than a postcard, Patti’s painting of my spice jars, four small rocks given to me by Arawen. Outfitting the house, even in this minimal way, felt a lot more like moving than I thought it would: Lloyd the cat was clearly upset at the change, and the vacant space where my desk and bed were seemed sadly empty.

But the little house is comfortable. As I move around, the house slowly rocks on its suspension and tires, a bit like a sailboat in a calm sea. The honey-colored wood of the walls reflect and disperse the light from my small lamp and the votive candle, and a warm glow emanates from the interior. Light from the ‘big’ house glow just outside my window.

I crack open the door, the handle within a hand’s easy reach from my little desk, and listen to the songs of the frogs.