This is a post about the time I slept in a debris in the Fall of 2016!
Home. What is home? It’s a place we go to when we are not at work, a place we store things, a place to decorate, a place to create culture and share. It is a place that protects you from getting wet and cold, or shields you from the hot sun and other weather.
However, in the larger sense of the word, a home is a place of comfort and support. Home is also a feeling- a deep longing to an original sense of being, a sense of place.
Our physical homes may be among concrete if you live in a city or among trees if you live in the woods. No matter what a home looks like, it resides within a larger context. This larger context – the Earth itself – provides all of the necessary materials needed to create a home. With a little knowledge and strength, humans can build incredible things using all the resources at hand.
Upon building the structure of the debris hut (a survival shelter), I started getting excited at the prospect of sleeping in it. It was fun as there was a community of people around me helping to build it, and the structure looked sound and sturdy. The hard work it took to find the perfect branches to create the skeleton of the hut was subdued by the fact that I was not alone. It also because very clear to me that I would have to work very diligently and fast if I were to sleep in a hut like this in a survival situation – and that I may have to settle for a less well insulated one given time and energy constraints.
After thousands and thousands of leaves had been placed on top of the skeleton to create enough insulation, I began to have a deeper understanding of what challenges might lay ahead of me that night. Not only was it the smallest space I have ever slept in, but also, the complete darkness, claustrophobia and the tremendous weight of the debris over me was on my mind.
That night, the hot stones we heated up on the wood stove were my saving grace. Combined with my body heat, it was eventually somewhat comfortable in temperature inside there! It took my body and mind a while to settle into the narrow space. My body shivered in waves, sometimes relaxing against the warmth of the rocks, sometimes realizing the top half of me was cold due to the fact I had a gap of about four inches between my body and the attic of the hut. The other place I could feel a cold draft entering was at my head where the door of the hut was. I put one stone on either side of me and one under my head and covered them up with a small clump of leaves so they weren’t so hard against my body. They stayed warm until the early morning.
Then my mind geared up for the ride. What if this thing implodes on top of me? What time is it? What if I only last an hour in here? How is my son doing tonight sleeping at his grandparent’s house for the first time? What if a bear comes around a finds this thing interesting? Don’t worry, the door is right there… you can always go back to the tent if you want to… there is nothing here to harm you…you are being taken care of… you are safe…you can breathe.
The hut dampens noises, and so my normal sense of movements out in the forest didn’t exist. I could only hear a few of the leaves blowing off the hut and my own breath. I desperately wanted to look at my watch every time I woke up slightly, but decided that would make things worse. It was also completely dark, my only frame of reference being my own body and the door opening at my head. There I was; I only had my breath, the forest floor and most likely a bunch of ticks to cradle me through a 25-degree night. Eventually, exhaustion from a long day building the hut took over me and I was able to sleep a good chunk of the night.
At 4 am, I awoke thinking that either I must have only slept for an hour or its almost dawn. And I had a strong urge to urinate. Decision: go out and pee and find out what time it is? Or stay inside and sleep more and save all the heat? Curiosity won over me, and I went out, peed and looked at my watch. 2 more hours I told myself. Back inside I went and slept soundly until 6am, even though the stones were no longer warm.
As I lay engulfed in this pile of leaves and sticks, it dawned on me that I could trust the Earth and my community of people who helped create a safe and somewhat comfortable shelter. The experience made me extremely grateful for the spacious home that I live in everyday, as well as curious about how to make my home simpler and less taxing on natural resources.
It also birthed a deeper gratitude for the trees and their wisdom of the seasons (i.e. Dropping leaves in the fall) and for all of the elders who have passed on this information so that we can re-learn these types of skills which shed light on how to continue living connected to the Earth. Most of all, I was once again reminded that I can trust myself to know what to do and when to do it and that I am my best ally. Sleeping in the debris hut has given me the confidence and reassurance that the forest can also be my home.