the unfinished hut : an unfinished review

The day after the unfinished hut slipped through my letterbox I started reading it and couldn’t stop until I’d turned the last page. Also a delight to the hand and the eye, this ‘unfinished journal’ is held between wonderful photographs of the wabi sabi hut in question, all texture and weathered grain. As I read, I marked passages that sang out at me with pencilled asterisks. By the time I reached the end, the whole book was illuminated with a galaxy of graphite stars. Here are a few of my gleanings, that reveal Gerry Loose’s knack for memorable aphorism:

There are no insights at a hut that are not brought about by silence and solitude aided by the creatures and plants who live here too.

Our final home is the one we’re walking on.

One of the simplifications that hut life brings is the joy of not travelling. Of being in place. Being inplace means that I’m free to travel inward.

Memories grow fond and slowly, like trees.

It’s patience and that sure knowledge (together with a little healthy idleness) that make this the unfinished hut. There are others like it – and always have been.

There are others like it. I have one myself – an accidental acquisition, rescued and transplanted from a friend’s flitting. One of those ‘artists playing both’ peasant and aristocrat (according to Gerry Loose’s classification), I waver between calling mine a hut and a shed, keen to distinguish it from the category of ‘rich person’s play house’. Whatever you call it, perhaps you have to be a hutter (or a shedder – which has a lot going for it as a word…) to truly understand the effect a hut can have on time and space and one’s state of mind. But Gerry Loose gives a good account of the intimacy of connection with place and the fascination with details, balanced with a relaxed spaciousness, that time spent there in solitary devotion makes it possible to enjoy.

His detailed descriptions of pieces of wood of various provenance used to patch and extend his hut are so precise, idiosyncratic and full of love, it’s impossible not to see and savour this hut being evoked plank by plank, sentence by sentence. I appreciated the careful historical background, the hut’s genealogy. The manufacturers of the Carbeth hut were Messrs Cowiesons of Glasgow, who were also responsible for naturalist Frank Fraser Darling’s hut constructed to his own design on the Summer Isles.

The fauna and flora around the hut aren’t simply observed – they are lived among, shared with, cultivated and sometimes consumed. This chain of ecology is perfectly evoked, a complex interbeing which is one reason the hut-dwelling business is never finished. The bigger picture is always asking to be taken into account. The epigraph – Shinkichi Takahashi’s ‘Here’ – begins

This hut is larger than the earth

Since there’s nothing that’s not.

Towards the end of the journal’s glimpses at the hut from various angles (outbuilding, greenhouse, Japanese and Hungarian counterparts, John Cage), Gerry Loose hears of a friend’s death and remembers him visiting the hut (‘wired to find the unfindable, taking a slow intentional lifetime to look’) and leaving nothing behind but his memory:

That afternoon’s warmth remains in the seat of the chair and in the grace of the tea cup he carefully washed after use.

In the trail of my pencilled stars, there’s so much more I could say about this small potent book. Like the hut itself, its significance extends beyond its physical dimensions. My thoughts in passing will also stay unfinished – it is a book I’ll return to and press upon hut-loving friends. Like the sub-genre of classical Japanese poems containing huts (Sekito’s ‘Song of the Grass – Roofed Hermitage’ is pinned to the wall of mine), it will make me dwell in my own hut-inprogress differently. Gerry Loose has created the sense of a lineage, one that deserves its own anthology – another unfinished project perhaps?

Linda France