Frost, frozen pipes, muddy boots, drums at solstice, new life, new growth, new knowledge. Such has been our first winter at Makahuri in the Mustard Yellow House.
The coldest day of the year so far was June 22 — the first morning after the southern hemisphere winter solstice. The supposed “middle of winter” in fact comes early in the season, with two-thirds of it — and probably the coldest part of it — yet to come.
That morning, our paddock showed a new colour. Summer had brought dry brown, autumn bloomed greenly, but last Friday the grass and our outdoor possessions all gained the white of frost for the first time in our nine-and-a-half-months here.
Alexa, Tom asked, what’s the temperature? Minus two, she replied.
Minus two might not seem cold to you, depending on where you live, but here a minus-reading is unusual, novel — even glamorous!
When Connor stepped on to our pallet decking, I could hear his little paws scrunch in the frost. Just over the fence in George’s paddock, steam billowed from a fresh cow pat as well as from George’s nostrils. Ponded water in a wheelbarrow grew a shell of ice like the stiff caramel top of a creme brulee.
Inside the Mustard Yellow House, nothing came from the taps — not even a dribble. For the first time in my adult life, I was experiencing frozen pipes!
Tom would be able to shower at work, but first he’d have to get there. The car, parked in a relatively non-muddy but frost-exposed spot the other side of the schoolhouse, wouldn’t start. The iced-up windows wouldn’t open. Eventually, our neighbour/landlord revived our frigid Subaru with hose water.
Meanwhile, I lit the fire and kept myself and the dogs warm. The sun rose and a beautiful winter day followed, compensating for the cold start.
The previous night we had joined other villagers and friends in a solstice celebration (see scenes in the photo above). Accompanied by gentle, slow drumming, we marched to the top of Makahuri hill — the highest point hereabouts and the site of fortifications and inter-tribal fighting 180 years ago.
The northwest view from Makahuri Hill on Winter Solstice. That’s Cook Strait on the horizon, and Australia beyond (not shown).
From there we watched the sun disappear and the colours change quickly as the light faded. A little later we gathered around a brazier to talk, then had some food in the chapel and enjoyed live music from a local folk band.
How our house and paddock looked from Makahuri hill at Winter Solstice.
Things Have Got Very Different
It was a night when I couldn’t help thinking how much life has changed for us since we sold our “big” house and came to this place.
A year ago, when we were downsizing our lives and waiting for our tiny house to be finished, I couldn’t have predicted that 12 months later I’d be living in a field as part of a tiny village, tending gardens, gathering firewood — and milking a cow.
For yes, I’m part of the milking team for George. Having learnt a bit about bovine biology ahead of her calving, I’m now learning how to do things like lead George to the newly built milking shed, attach cups and keep everything clean. Later I hope to learn about making butter and cheese — stay tuned!
George’s calf was born in the early hours of Sunday and is ridiculously pretty. He’ll be staying around to keep his mum company and be another citizen of Makahuri. His name, confirmed just minutes ago, is Tofu.
Two-day-old Tofu takes a role in milking.
Does The Tiny House Withstand Winter?
The Mustard Yellow House takes winter in its stride. The little fireplace is amazingly effective, though because the firebox is so small, you have to feed it quite often, with firewood trimmed to no longer than 25cm and not too thick.
The house faces north so if there’s any sun, it warms the house brilliantly. The heat stays, too. Taking a shower or boiling the kettle can steam up some windows, but running the fire dries things up quickly.
There are windows on all sides of the house, so we can generally open at least a couple if we need fresh air even if it’s raining.
What’s impressed and surprised me is how fast the battery charges even on these short days. Maybe the geometry of our solar panels means they’re particularly efficient in grabbing sunlight at midwinter angles? I was expecting to use the petrol-powered generator more often than I have.
We’ve had a couple of mice and think we’ve found where they entered. One succumbed to a trap, the other got cornered and chomped by Connor. (Just in case anyone thinks that tiny houses are impermeable to pests.)
Have I covered everything? Leave a comment if I haven’t. Bottom line is that tiny life goes pretty well in winter.