I have been thinking a lot these dark days about the wolf that played puck with the three little pigs. How, in a few breathy huffs, he razed to the ground their ecologically-sound straw house, their sustainable wooden one, before he met his lupine demise in a boiling pot on the fire. However cautionary a tale this is meant to be, it didn’t deter my family from making a life-changing decision to move back to Galway in the late 90s and build a timber home. It was built in a factory in Sweden and delivered to us on the back of a lorry on the winter solstice. It was pre-fairytale Tiger time, and in the long light of the previous summer the children and I settled into a small cottage close to our chosen site. We decided that my husband would remain in Dublin for the time being as he was the designated bringer home of the bacon.
So I supervised all the ground work. PJ, the digger-man, ‘a tasty worker’ by all accounts, broke the earth with the metal claw of his machine and soon the foundations were taking shape. A woman out standing in her own field, I worked with my two loyal neighbours to get the water pipes in place, organise conduit for the electricity cables, oversee installation of the septic tank, the incessant rain seeping through every stitch of clothing while my beloved sat in a cosy office in Dublin, his back to the radiator.
News soon spread throughout the village that it was to be delivered on the shortest day of the year. Another fairy tale: how could a real house be built on such a light-starved day? However, that morning the sound of a truck snailing along the low road drew neighbours from their beds to stand on mounds of earth and marvel with us at the sight of our home coming from somewhere beyond in Scandinavia.
Berries blazed as solstice rays began to gild the tops of the trees. Birds flew out for their days gathering while a mechanical crane manoeuvred its wheels up our driveway. It grabbed a panel from the truck and a gable-end with three windows and the main door, designed to look out onto the burnt sienna of the mountain, swung precariously above our heads; then expertly lowered into place. Next to be positioned was the panel that held our son’s bedroom window, our daughter’s, followed by the large expanse of glass that would be the eye looking into the heart of our home.
Here was a triple-glazed barn-raising that the Amish would be proud of if they were ever guilty of such a deadly sin. Workmen, balanced like gymnasts, laboured on top of the now secured walls with not a whisper of wolf-wind to unsteady them. We watched while panel after panel was slotted into the next as if it were a child’s block set.
Twilight witnessed the roof-felt being stretched across joists and beams, sealed from all weathers, and here was our house with its door open to the dark and the first lights glowing from the windows. In the shadows I’m sure I saw the slink of wolf. He could save his breath to cool his porridge. No amount of huffing or puffing would blow this house down.