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Highly Commended in the International Category of the 2015 BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards

Log Cabin in the Woods

Isn’t this something lots of people, lots of writers, dream of having? A quiet, rustic refuge from our hectic, digital lives? A place rooted in wilderness where our muses thrive?

Well, I’m penning this now in our own cabin in the woods. Except it’s not made of logs, but of adobe. And it’s not in the woods, but on a hillside at the fringe of Cusco city, Peru, surrounded by smallholdings and other traditional agricultural plots.

The cabin consists of one bedroom with a double bunk bed, one bathroom, and a small open plan kitchen / living room decorated with ethnic rugs on the concrete floor and cushion covers handmade by a good friend. There’s also a storage room at the back.

My husband designed the house and worked with a local builder on its construction. The pinkish brown bricks of which it is made were moulded from the soil around it, and eucalyptus trees towering at the edge of the plot provided the supporting beams for the roof. The cabin sits in the middle of our piece of land - used for centuries to cultivate maize and potatoes and alfalfa - and looks as though it sprouted from the earth like a mushroom after a spring rain. Behind it, the hillside rises more steeply and is covered by scruffy native trees and shrubs, a fragile pocket of increasingly rare countryside.

If you stand outside in the early morning sun and breathe deep, the first thing you notice is the dry, crisp air, with its traces of acrid dust, dew-bejewelled grass, and the tang of eucalyptus. Strident cheeps and small flutterings hint at feathered neighbours. Sulphur-yellow butterflies skip randomly over mustard flowers. There seems to be no method to their madness.

In the afternoon, the sunlight mellows and warms, catches on birds’ wings, and sets the seed heads of grasses aglow. A breeze picks up and the eucalyptus trees sway like stately matrons with billowing skirts. The fast-growing and hardy eucalyptus is not native to Peru, having been imported from Australia in the 1880s. And a Eucalyptus copse is rather like a European pine forest, a monoculture devoid of most other life. Yet I’ve grown fond of the species. For me, it is very much part of the Andes and the Andean way.

But the best thing about our cabin is its fireplace. Sitting in front of it now with my family around me, warming my feet and admiring the flames (eucalyptus burns well), it occurs to me this is the first and only house-and-garden (if you can call it that) we’ve ever owned. Some might say it’s not much to show for half a lifetime of work. But I think it makes us fortunate.

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