Roger Lehet was living on a boat when he invented the diminutive Kimberly wood stove, a sleek, super-efficient, shining cylinder of steel. Building my fire on a rainy night--first the crumpled paper, then a lean-to of kindling, topped by a chunk of split hardwood or a half compressed sawdust log—there are two tipping points of pleasure: when the fire catches hold of the wood and flares up, and when it’s hot enough for me to close the flue and watch the leaping flame turn into ribbons of fire, rippling behind the tempered glass window like captive Northern lights. My lovely little stove is a gasifier, capturing and re-burning the smoke and gasses released by burning wood, which creates the beautiful display. My Kimberly is the heart of my little house, keeping me warm in Montana snow and the chilly winter rains of Northern California. It guarantees me a hot meal even when overcast skies prevent me from using my solar powered electric toaster oven, crock pot and hot plate, and the small amounts of smoke that escape while the fire is getting started are far easier on my body than the fumes of propane. A small fire in the grate quickly heats my 250 square feet, and the banked down ambers last most of the night. It’s 10 inch circular top is a perfect fit for a panful of stir fry or a bubbling pot of stew, and it teaches me patience. You can’t turn on a wood stove with a twist of a dial. If my supper depends on it, I have to start my fire well in advance of my hunger and let the heat build until the top is hot enough for cooking. There’s no impulse eating, no quick fried egg or quesadilla. My Kimberly makes me intentional—about meals, about sitting at my desk in cold weather, about when I go to bed, which is an adjustment, but I like it. And in addition to all these blessing, it burns clean, releasing a fraction of the smoke that regular fires do. It’s tucked into a small alcove, needing only a few inches of clearance to be safe. Manufactured under the name of Unforgettable Fire, the bright little Kimberly gives me comfort and joy every day.
No, I tell my hosts as I wander across the continent, I don’t need a sewer hookup. I have a composting toilet. My compact, easy to use unti is made by Nature’s Head, tucked into the back of my tiled “wet room” which also holds my shower, bathroom sink and greenhouse, with a metal door that contains its moisture. My bodily wastes don’t generate sewage. They create soil. The main compartment uses untreated peat moss and alder wood shavings from a pet store to turn excrement into odorless, crumbly compost, while my urine, separated into a different compartment, can be diluted into a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, or poured down a toilet. Feng Shui, the Chinese art of energetically arranging domestic space, considers that flush toilets drain away the life force known as chi, affecting the life area represented by its placement. But my toilet turns dead bacteria, proteins and fats, and undigested plant matter, the byproducts of eating, into clean, fertile nourishment for plants, so it is seated in the quadrant of wealth, quietly making rich soil and symbolizing the conservation of earth and symbolizing the ecological society I hope we can still build. The Nature’s Head toilet, like the Kimberly, was designed by sailors, in this case looking to make a more user friendly composting toilet that could withstand the harsh marine environment.
The single feature that gets the most comment from passersby, besides the overall uniqueness of the Vehicle, is my Automated Safety Hitch, invented by Joe Jamison of Texas, whom I have repeatedly called at all hours, from fields, farms, empty urban lots and interstate highway shoulders, as I climbed the steep learning curve of mobile living. The hitch is its own creature, neither truck nor trailer, and far more imposing than a mere accessory. It squats on its own sturdy axle, complete with hydraulic disk brakes and winches that quickly attach and detach my truck, and can haul the trailer out of trouble if it ever gets stuck in the mud. Its black steel body transfers the considerable weight of my trailer pin from my truck’s rear axle onto its own broad shoulders, and when I unlock it with my turn signal, it helps me maneuver around corners with much more ease than a standard truck bed hitch, and also frees up my truck bed for a good store of firewood. Unlike other RVer friends, I’ve never been chased down a hill by the momentum of 16,000 pounds of house, I’m getting much better at backing my truck just right, so that the roller of my hitch lines up with the little metal ramp of my three-pronged receiver, and I can connect and disconnect my truck from my trailer with increasing speed.
If the hitch fills the job of major joints, knees, hips, elbows and shoulders, metal also makes up the skin and bones of my house. Aluminum tubes, sheeting and plate make up the basic structure and protective barriers that keep me sheltered not only from weather, but also from off-gassing plywood, the terpine fumes of fir and pine, or the potential for mold of wood framing and subfloors. My team even crafted, and is immensely proud of, an aluminum shower pan, designed to avoid using fiberglass, vinyl or adhesives, by my architect Johnson Osband and metalworker Vaclav Stejskal, a kayak builder by trade. Aluminum provides a vapor barrier, keeping contaminants out of my indoor air, shields me from electromagnetic fields, and resists water and dirt.
The wood element in Feng Shui includes all plant based materials—my cotton curtains, mud-cloth cushions stuffed with kapok fiber, my cotton, hemp, and linen clothing. My home has a lot of lovely oak in the interior: floors, built in shelves and cupboards and my desk, as well as a set of elm wood tansu step chests, but the object I’m thinking of now is my beloved Lifekind mattress. With a core of organic latex, made from the milky sap of plants, wrapped in untreated wool and then organic cotton, the Lifekind is the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in. I recently replaced my 12 year old mattress because new ones were on sale and I wanted to start life in my new home with as pristine a habitat as I could, so I decided to start fresh, but it could easily have lasted for many years more and is now being enjoyed by a friend. I come home to my bed and fall into its embrace, my whole body sighing happily. In designing a non-toxic home, I put my bedroom as far from the door as possible, in the raised “nose” of my 5th wheel trailer. It has metal walls, a hardwood floor covered in 100% wool carpet, 12 volt DC power only, to avoid ENFs in my sleeping area, and a mattress entirely free of synthetic foam, flame retardants or anything else that outgasses. Covered with organic cotton sheets, an organic flannel weighted blanket that is instantly calming to my nervous system, and an organic wool comforter with an organic cotton duvet cover, my bed is a sanctuary for my body. At rest here, my health has dramatically improved since I moved in. My blood sugar has dropped 100 points, I sleep well most nights, and people who haven’t seen me in a year all exclaim ovr ho much better I seem.
Fire, water earth, metal and wood, and the ingenuity of innovative inventors have helped me create this vessel that shelters me and makes it possible for me to write these words.