The visit to Satori Lodge this week was worth it for the view alone. iNhlosane looks wonderful from this angle. Even MG drivers did not complain about the very vague road.
Four years ago, Jeff and Louise Ghersie discovered their piece of paradise. They were looking for a mountain, forest, water and few neighbours. They found the ideal spot along the Dargle valley and spent two and half years building Satori Lodge so that others could share their idea of heaven – living completely off the grid.
As grass is abundant on the property, hay bales were the obvious building material. Jeff took us through the process, emphasising the importance of ensuring the grass isn’t moist. The end of winter is the best time to cut and idealy the moisture content should be 5-8%. If bales are damp, the walls will rot. Jeff and Louise did all the work them selves. They were able to build sections of up to 30 bales a day, making sure it was completely plastered and sealed before the mist set in. On occasion, the weather did affect the walls and they were dismantled and reconstructed the next day.
Timber was sourced from a gum plantation over the hill (Jeff chose the trees himself) and he helped cut the thatch in Middlerus. Jeff is pretty handy with a lathe, so he made all the doors and windows and installed double glazing in the bedrooms. It gets really cold up here, however the temperature inside seldom varies from between 18-20 degrees, even when it was minus 10 outside and snow had piled against the walls. The roofs are pitched at 45 degrees to cope with the snow. Donkey boilers using wattle felled from the woodlot on the property keep things extrememly snug in winter.
Jeff installed the plumbing, electrics and sewage works himself “House building can be done by a couple of people,” he told us “it takes time, but you know exactly what you are getting.” He emphasised the need for proper planning – “Before starting the project, one needs to have a building plan and a good idea of your intentions, as the building affects the foundations.” A small window reveals the inner workings of the walls.
Louise is an artist, so after mixing cement and carrying poles she was able to add special creative touches to the buildings. “We chose this slower pace of life deliberately. We work hard all day planting veg, checking on the water source, preparing for the next building, but it is satisfying work.” Their lives are more thoughtful for having to consider how much solar energy they have stored before switching on the washing machine, or making sure that leftovers are eaten for lunch as they don’t have a fridge. She also runs a sewing machine, DVD player, vacuum cleaner from the energy generated by the sun and Jeff runs his angle grinder and other power tools too. “Sure we have to do without some things”, says Louise, “but the gains are enormous.”
After exploring the buildings and asking hundreds of questions, everyone walked up the hill to see the source of their water, which is gravity-fed to the lodge.
While they were gone, Louise gathered ingredients for a salad from her garden, made lasagne by hand with homegrown butternut and handmade feta, popped a loaf of bread in the oven and served a delicious local lunch in pottery bowls that she had made.
Conversation was animated as everyone shared information and ideas – the best way to build a wind turbine, how to generate methane from algae, who are the most reputable suppliers of solar equipment… “I enjoyed the rolling grassland views and admire Jeff and Louise for their hard work,” said Eileen Rassmussen, adding: “Neil is more practical, so he enjoyed chatting about the water wheel he is building and was pleased to find two names of people interested in water power.”
Dargle is home to many remarkable people and is always pleased to welcome friends and neighbours from the surrounding hills to learn about our lifestyles. Satori plans a Hay Bale Building Workshop soon – watch this space. For heaps of ideas about living lightly on our planet, visit the Sustainable Living and Indigenous Plant fair blog www.slip2013.wordpress.com and also mark your calendar to visit the SLIP Fair at the Botanic Gardens in Pietermaritzburg from 25 – 28 April.