A Dragon In The Belly

The rain is pouring down, then eases into drizzle, then picks up strength again – and I listen to the drops hitting the roof of my parents’ house, making nature’s music. There hasn’t been many days this summer I have heard that song, fortunately, the clouds have often parted or disappeared altogether and the sun has said a friendly hello to me and the other people working on the cottage. In fact while everyone else in Finland has been complaining about the awful summer weather, for most days I have been basking in the sun in this forest corner of my childhood landscape. For that I am thankful.


My son flew back to London last Friday, along with few of my tears in his blonde hair. It was lovely to have him around while I was building, to share the experience with his child’s eyes and heart. For him to see how much this place and this cottage I am building means to me. A seed of love planted in his heart, for trees, nature, Finland, Earth and universe itself. Next time we return, I am hoping we can already sleep inside the cottage and see the stars through the roof window. Or at least have a nice cup of hot chocolate in there, which is more likely if it’s below -20C and Winter…

Before my son left for UK, I had also a class of local primary school (same where I used to go as a child) children visiting the site and cottage. Their teacher, Teija, had visited the place earlier and so I had planned and organised some natural building activities for the 11-12 year old children, including digging the clay pit, mixing cob and building with it. Those children not wanting to get muddy, I put out paints and brushes to paint some stones and pebbles, to integrate into my cottage, possibly as part of my dragon, inside the external wall surface. Even though the group of children were girls by majority (19/4), most of them were very keen to jump straight into whatever was offered to them, some spent most of their time in the very muddy pond, or excitedly jumping on the cob mix, after screaming: yuk, disgusting! πŸ™‚ Some of the children were so keen on the activities that they didn’t want to leave, and a few asked if they could come back again. All in all a good day – and I hope that another couple of seeds of Earth love were planted inside small big hearts x

On Saturday my volunteer Beez (Carla) left also, so suddenly it was quiet again. My mother tried to fill Beez’s boots by making some cob mixes for me and my father was working on the strawbale wall and the top plate, trying to get it ready for plastering, which should really be done as soon as possible. On top of all that, my parents were going away for their summer house, so it was going to be only me, myself and I working on this project for several days… But, just as the sun and luck has so often shone on this little cottage, on Sunday my lovely London friend, Michelle, asked if I needed any help with the building work. Did I? Well, just maybe perhaps. So, Michelle is arriving to Helsinki tonight… πŸ™‚

Last week while Beez was working on the cob side of things, I was re-stringing bales and building the wall up with my father. Here are some photos of the progress.

My father made a square window frame for my round window frame (as it is easier to secure and install than a round frame.)

Internal view, with the top plate in place. However, since there was so much space at many places on top, we managed to put full or half bales on top of most of the plate. My father then secured them with long stakes from the very top (he had to temporarily remove some roof planks) to the rest of the wall.
As luck would have it, my father found a round, thick glass from his shed, which had been sitting there for ten years at least. Our neighbour Jani, cut the glass to size for my window and voila! My father then fixed the round window into the square frame and yesterday I filled the gaps up with bundles of straw and cob.
The cottage seen from NE with completed strawbale wall and the cob oven and gap in the wall above and around it, which still needs to cobbed to the ceiling height before I leave.

Once the balewall was standing, I needed to start cobbing the remaining wall next to it, including the cob oven; which I thought would become a dragon’s head. My very first experience of cob – was building an oven in Kate Edward’s workshop in Norfolk almost a year ago. Now armed with the snippets of information (oh how we forget!) remaining in my brain and Kiko Denzer’s great book: Build Your Own Earth Oven, I set out to work, to finally wake up my dragon….

Sometimes, when I work with clay (or other natural materials), I have very little idea of what I am doing. I may have a seed of an idea, I may even know what I would like to do, but what the clay in fact becomes, is very much up to organic process, intuition, if you will. So, I started making the oven form with sand and strawless cob and realised that this form cannot make a head, because it just isn’t meant to be a head. What could it be? And when I run my fingers on the shape, almost as if blind, I realise it is becoming a wing. Well, dragons do have wings, so…

The whole process of building the oven is too lengthy to describe in detail here, but I am happy to say the work was successful and I have since then lit few small fires inside the oven, to help it dry out. Since the oven is on the North-East side of the cottage and only gets limited sunlight, it is quite useful to speed up the drying in that way, before I leave for the Winter. I was even hoping to get a pizza fired in it before next weekend, but that may be wishful thinking, as I don’t want a proper fire lit inside the oven, before the dry strawbale walls are plastered securely….

Yesterday, working alone on the cottage, with only music as company, I continued sculpting the rest of the dragon, including her head, to which I formed nostrils and to them, just as a curious test, pierced few narrow channels all the way through to the fire pit. I then lit up the oven and waited anxiously – and suddenly – and ever so gently, few swirls of smoke started flowing out of my baby – a dragon is born!

Sculpting the rest of the dragon is still under way but judging by size, it is a baby dragon. In a way this is quite apt; since this cottage IS my baby and I am a baby of this forest. I took my first steps within about 20m radius of this cottage and in many ways my own dragon came from this forest. In fact we all have baby dragons inside of us, just waiting to be born, awakened and breathe fire. The magic within… πŸ™‚

I am here only for another 1.5 weeks and there is plenty to do. Strawbale walls need to be (lime) plastered, green roof set up (well, at least covered properly), cob walls built, front door finished and fitted (our neighbour Jani is working on that), wind boards installed and stone facade continued. This is only the exterior work and I am not even considering the interior work here, as I am assuming I have no time left to finish it this time around. But we’ll see… now that the dragon has awakened, anything is possible!

Until next time –

6 Comments

  1. Heidi, you are a true inspiration – what wonderful work. Your baby dragon nest is just so beautiful! The enthusiasm and energy you've clearly put into the build is astounding. Am so proud of you πŸ™‚ Was it really almost a year ago we danced the cob in Norfolk! Wish we'd been able to come and help you build your cottage but it has not been possible – perhaps next time… Enjoy the next few weeks xx

  2. Thank you Rache, yes, time is flying by and I can't believe how fast everything's happened. The seed was planted in Norwich, or maybe it started sprouting then… nothing could stop it from growing πŸ™‚ xx

  3. Thank you for sharing your incredible and inspiring story Heidi. I have just returned from our Western Canadian Permaculture Convergence; a gathering of amazing people all working towards developing sustainable and regenerative community and to see what you are growing for yourself, your family and friends – I admire you for your courage and your drive as well as your creativity.

  4. Word seems to be spreading, I just came to this blog from a share on Facebook. I'm planning on doing something similar in the jungles of Costa Rica. So I just wanted to drop a comment sending love and respect for all that you have achieved here!! Rock on!

    From Boston, headed to Costa Rica! -michael

  5. Hi Michael, and thank you! It is wonderful to get so many inspired people all over the world coming together here, reading the story of my little house. If it helps you to believe in your own dreams, how great is that! All the best for your journeys! Heidi πŸ™‚

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