Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The End of the Season

It's been more than a few months now since I have left Missouri. At the time of my departure, Mark and I were getting ready to start cobbing in the rocketstove.... The days, and especially nights, were starting to become much colder and more harsh, and Alyson, Mark, and Cole were ready to be moving into the barn.

At the Colloquium I attended in late October I had to chance to share what I did this summer and put together a few pictures that showed the progress of the barn. It was put together to focus on certain aspects of the process that I found to be of interest. Here are the slides:


Rural Missouri





The barn as it was when I arrived...





Reclaimed sub-floor from an old torn down gymnasium....





Roof truss sections constructed out of wood from pallets....





Jig assembly of the first roof truss...





Fourteen finished trusses...





Squared and plumed.....





Completed endoskeleton......





Sheet metal up, door and window bucks installed....





Earthbag foundation......





Corner detail....





Last of the details before putting the bales up....





Earthen adobe floor...





Three feet at a time...





Shaving the stacked and pinned bale walls...





Roof insulation....





Interior, this is the raised kitchen area with force
water pump retrofit....




Rocket stove test......





The barn just before external plastering....





Gooseberry Barnhaus





This experience in a work trade position, in which I actually lived and worked with a family who were so loving and open enough to sharing their home with me, has been truly unforgettable. In exchange for my time, labor, and ideas I received an empowering opportunity to work daily with one of the best natural builders I have come across. Not only that, but also have the chance to participate and be a part of the Gooseberry family, and that of the whole Red Earth Farms community, which was something that filled me and brought me to a newer level of living...... one of sharing.



Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Week 19


It is hard to imagine that six weeks has gone by since the last post. A lot has happened, both with the building project and personally for me.

The week leading up until my trip back to Michigan, we worked on constructing and installing an outdoor kitchen at Gooseberry. We trucked over the fridge, stove, and all the dry and stored food that was still at the trailer by DR. The kitchen sink that will be used for the barn was fitted into a table and plumbed for greywater runoff behind the army tent, into the dried creek bed.

When I returned from my two weeks away, the first story bales were completed. I arrived back just in time to work on the upper gable ends of the barn. Putting up strawbales is extremely easy and fast. Mark designed the dimensions of the barn to fit the bales, which meant less cutting and resizing. Rebar was used for 'pinning' the bales together, with a bar positioned vertically on both the interior and outside. After the wall was up, we then 'sowed' them together using bale twine and long metal needles. This helps to keep the wall secure until the plastering is applied and dried.

After finishing all the bales we then moved to installing the windows, doors, and flashing, which we are just now wrapping up. Yesterday, we moved the solar panels onto the roof and relocated the power system from the outhouse/toolshed to the second story of the barn. We did some calculations to figure out different positions for angling the panels for different times of the year, to track the sun for maximum sun catchment.

Things that are about to happen are the plumbing, rocket stove, moving the kitchen, and plasturing. It is looking like everything else on the list will have to wait until next year for Mark and Alyson to finish, as fall is quickly approaching. The main focus is to get the things done that are nessesary for them to be moved in for the winter.

It is hard to imagine that I will be leaving in less then a month. My time here living and working with Alyson, Mark, and Cole has been so rich and rewarding, I will be sad when it is time to leave. I am planning on going to the Natural Building Colloquium in Oregon right after this, to meet and talk with other Natural Builders in the field. That, I am excited about.

(More pictures on the Flikr site.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Week 13


The Fun has begun. I have been waiting to be at this point along in the project since I have arrived here at Red Earth. Up till now, the work has been predominately more conventional based: framing, roofing, carpentry, etc, which are important steps and I am glad to have more experience in those areas, but it is not what I’m mostly interested in. I came to learn how to work with cob, strawbales, adobe, earthen plasters and to get down and dirty doing it.

This past week we started pouring in the first layer of the earthen floor. The floor will contain three different layers, a rough 4-inch sub floor, a second 2-inch layer, and then the finished floor which is about half an inch and will finish smooth as tile. The sub floor is an adobe mix that is made up of clay, sand, and straw, at 1-1-1 ratios.

Mark created a soaking pit for the mud to sit in, which allows us to set a batch for soaking over night to be ready for the next day. We set up mixing stations, laying down a 9x9 foot tarp that is close by to the pit and to the site. Using 5 gallon buckets, we found that 2 bucket loads of each material was a good amount for mixing and moving. We start with laying down the clay and sand on the tarp and then use our feet to stomp and mix the two materials, and then lift one side of the tarp to turn and roll it. After a round or two or stomping and rolling, we then add in the straw, which is presoaked, and mix it all together really well.

The process is extremely fun and messy, and with the accompaniment of some music, you soon find that dancing and stomping in a rhythm is the best way to mix. A batch takes about 10-15 minutes to mix. It is then wheel-barreled in and poured on top of the previously tamped gravel. Using a long 2x4 screed board to box in the section we are working in, the adobe mix is then toweled in evenly and smoothly. The mix is about the consistency of wet cement, and when it dries, will be nearly as hard as well.


After a full day of Mark, Josh, and myself mixing and pouring, we looked and had only completed a section that was about 4x14 feet....which at that rate would take us over a week just for the sub floor. We soon realized that a work party is the best way to get it done quicker and not get burned out doing it all by ourselves.


The next day we managed to round up about 5 people or so, with others randomly stopping by, to get three mixing stations going and crank it out. We got snacks, drinks, and had some music playing, and everyone had fun getting all muddy and sweaty. Within under 3 hours, we had nearly tripled the amount of floor that just the three of us had done the day before. We are planning on having a couple more work parties this upcoming week to finish it up. After that, as the floor is drying, we can work start working from the outside putting up the strawbale walls.

At the nearby Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, there are 4 houses going up that will be using strawbales for the walls and insulation. A couple of the projects are ready for the bales to go up and so Mark was asked to do a demonstration on working with strawbales.

The class went for about an hour, during which Mark talked about the basics of building with strawbales. He showed everyone how to thread different size bales using some homemade bale ‘needles’ out of some metal strips. When using bales, which are usually 2x3 feet, you will encounter areas along in building that will require a smaller size bale. In this case, using some extra bale twine and needles, you can ‘sow’ and tie off a new size bale to fit the dimensions for whatever you need. He also showed everyone how to notch the bales, which is handy for fitting a bale around framing or anything else that is running up through the walls. The class also was Josh and mine’s first introduction in working with bales.

When designing his barn, Mark specifically made the dimensions of the walls to match that of the strawbales. He did this so the walls could be quickly thrown up with as little reshaping and cutting as possible. When the time comes, the walls should be up within a week at the most. I of course will be leaving for two weeks in early August and so it looks like I might miss out on putting up the bales...but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

This last week or so, before moving onto the earthen sub-floor, we also finished the stub plumbing and did some diagraming for the houses’ interior and exterior plumbing, which I found rather interesting. He will be catching and collecting rain water that will be fed into an underground cistern. That water will then be pumped in by hand using this antique force water pump that Mark found at the Dog and Gun flea market. This thing is amazing; with only a dozen or so pumps, the whole water system for the house will be pressurized, and with the tank we just picked up, will provide about 19 gallons of water at a time. We harvested an oak stump from a nearby Red Earther’s homestead and buried half of it in the ground, which we will use to mount the pump onto later. Mark’s family will have access to the pump right there in the kitchen, which will be nice during the winter.

The previous week I was mostly sick, resulting in a lot of sleeping and minimal eating. There was a bug going around, or maybe it was the Lunar and Solar Eclipses we had, in either case, most folks here were feeling really run down and needing rest. I missed out on the trip to St. Louis and in participating in the “Show Me State” games playing Ulitmate Frisbee, which was a bummer.

Being mid summer, the energies are high here and people are really starting get things done. I’m finding myself not having enough time in the week to get to all the things I want to do. Even though we are really moving now on the building project, I am looking forward to my visit back to Michigan in August to spend time with friends and family.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Week 10

The last few weeks have gone by really fast, with much happening, lots to process, and lots of building happening. We’ve completed the earthbag stem wall foundation, started adding some additional bracing to the outer posts, put on the exterior fascia along the edge of the gable roof, moved in half the gravel for the sub floor, gutters up and working, started and have nearly finished the sheet metal roofing, completed the toe-up along the stem wall for the strawbales to sit on, and put on the foam insulation and corrugated metal along the exterior of the earthbag wall.

Things now are rolling, with good weather (if you can stand upper 90s some days), more help and a renewed sense of momentum on the project. In the past weeks we’ve had 3 interns leave, Betsy, Kris, and Monica, and recently gained another, Josh, who is from Buffalo, New York. Mark’s younger cousin, Jasper, has also just arrived and will be with us for a week or two to help out.

It has been interesting to be here for the ‘changing of the guards,’ with interns coming and going. I am grateful to have the time and availability to be able to stay here for a longer extended period, and know that it will have a much longer lasting effect and impression on me, as opposed to just coming here for a while and working a bit.

In the mean time, during the last couple of weeks, the usual has happened: lots of wonderful food, Ultimate frisbee games, dances, birthday parties, meetings, long hacky sack sessions, potlucks, and making new friends.

I’ve worked on building a thatched sun screen to provide some shade for sitting under just outside my tent. The wall was constructed out of fallen osage and walnut branches, and held together with screws and wire. I have yet to gather material for the roofing. At first I was thinking of just doing a willow weave to diffuse the sun’s intense light, but now i’m leaning more toward a thatched roof. I plan to cut a bunch of grass, let it dry out, and then bundle bunches to use for ‘shingling’. Many cultures around the world use thatch to cover the roofs of their homes. I’m mostly experimenting with this small project, and don’t really know if it will last during the heaving rains, and am hoping to have a cool place to hang out in my free time.

Other exciting things in the works are a semi-vacation/road trip next weekend, where a carload of us are going down to Kansas City for a concert, up to Columbia for an Ultimate frisbee tournament, and then another show in St. Louis. I’m excited to see the different urban community projects that are happening in Kansas City and St. Louis.

I am starting to think more and more about starting some kind of sustainable urban project in Detroit, to expose others to natural building, permaculture, and community spaces. I feel places and cities that have bottomed out are ripe with new opportunities and are much needed. There are many abandoned resources in Detroit, empty houses, factories, plots and fields of land, that are just waiting to be utilized to create something new and beautiful. The only way we can shift from what is falling economically, is by putting energy into something that is creatively different and that will revive and transform the current social paradigm.

In the meantime, here are some photos of the work we’ve done these last weeks:


Kris leveling out gravel.



Gravel sub floor. The wooden blocks sticking out
of the earthbag wall will be the level of the earthen
floor when it is completed. The blocks are used to
nail in the baseboard for the floor.




Mark nailing on the fascia, a finished
detail that will be stained with linseed oil to
help preserve the wood.



Installing the first section of gutter.



Along with the metal roofing,
the gutters will collect rain water that
will be directed and stored into a large
underground cistern.



The metal panels are installed in
3 foot sections and are a nice
shade of purple.




Dinner I prepared: spiced black-eyed peas and
potato, beets from Dandelion garden, rice with
onions and carrots, a sauteed bunch of
chard (not pictured), corn bread, and a yummy
carrot cake.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Why Natural Building?

When I finally realized that I didn’t want to make a living sitting behind a computer for 50 hours a week, I started to ask myself, what is it that I truly want to do. For the past 2 to 3 years, I have been on a quest to find that something, something that will not only support me, but would also provide an outlet to help make a positive change in the world that I live in. This journey has taken me on interesting and exciting adventures. It’s led me to live in the progressive Berkeley area in California, in hope of making change by being socially and politically active, to moving to Central America to start a new life, with a desire to learn how to grow food and live closer with the land. I’m finally just now discovering what “it” is that I have been looking for. It is what I am here to do, and what I can contribute to benefit my local community, and ultimately, to benefit the rest of the world around me.

Natural Building has revolutionized how I choose to live upon the Earth. It opens up so many more levels to living, it helps me access a part of myself that has been neglected and quieted while living in the contemporary, prefabricated society. It fills in the missing ‘holes’ in my life that a consumer culture seeks to take more of. It puts back into my life an excitement to be alive, and ignites a passion to co-create with the Earth, and with each other.

After finally getting an opportunity to have direct experience with helping to build using natural building methods, I am finally starting to understand what was drawing and pulling me, like a magnet, toward working in and doing Natural Building. I’ve read numerous books and have heard about what it means to others, why and how they got started, and the reasons why it’s so needed and important right now. This helped to motivate me to seek out a longer opportunity to really learn and get experience in this field. And after thinking about and trying to pin-point what it is that has attracted me to doing this, I feel I finally understand why I think it’s important, and want to share some of these reasons.

One area of life that Natural Building fills for me, is the sense of community it offers. It brings people together and helps make connections with others that can be deeply rich and meaningful, as well as creative and fun. It takes a lot to build a home, and a lot more to make it comfortable and enjoyable to live in. Natural Building unites people to work together for a common cause. We can find a more fulfilling life by knowing that we helped another person in manifesting their dream of building their own home, and have the opportunity to celebrate that with them for the rest of their life.

Which brings me the next reason of why I love Natural Building: choosing to have the opportunity to plan, design, build, and ultimately live in a home that is your own. In today’s culture, we are told that we can’t build our own home, that it should be left up to the ‘professionals’, that we don’t have the time to build and create what we want. Natural Building can be done by anyone, regardless of age. It's intuitive, safe, fun, and is an excellent way to stay healthy and fit. By having to pay out high cost to have others build our homes, we are forced to become in debt to a bank, for a mortgage that will take 30 years or more to pay off. If we didn't have to pay rent or make a house payment every month, just to have a basic need such as shelter, then we would not have to work as much and have more free time to seek out activities that we really care about and truly interest us.

On an economical level, Natural Building makes much more sense to the insanity that our current situation offers us. Building a home out of materials that are directly from the Earth, that involve little to no energy to harvest and prepare for use, and that will last for thousands of years, seems more reasonable to me. Simple and natural materials such as dirt, sand, clay, grass, rock, and water are all in abundance, and are also in our own very backyard. The majority of people living on this planet live in homes made out of natural materials.

One third of the total amount of energy that the U.S. consumes, goes strictly into extracting, processing, and converting raw materials into what our building industry uses to make our homes and other buildings. That does not include the petroleum to truck, ship, or even fly the materials to other parts of the country or world, nor does it factor in the mad amount of waste that this industry produces or what happens to it afterwords. Twenty-five percent of landfill in this country is from industrial building waste. Seventy-five percent of all cut trees in America are used for the construction industry. Our current systems are only designed for high and fast production, and mostly focus on profit.

Taking the time to look closer into how our society is structured and functions, it is easy for one to see that this cannot just go on forever. We are running at a speed that doesn’t allow for us to slow down, to take a look at what is really going on and to discover how distracted we are as a culture. Natural Building seeks to completely reverse our lifestyle from all the over producing and consuming. It teaches us to seek new and creative alternatives, ones that are more sustainable and positively long lasting for our children and for the generations that will come after them.

So back to building your own house. Building a home doesn’t need to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. A home that is constructed consciously, sourced locally, and uses natural building methods, shouldn’t have to cost more than 5 to 10 thousand dollars, or less. Some Natural Builders do it for as little as $500, some can manage it for free. By reclaiming and recycling materials that are still perfectly usable, such as wood, windows, doors, metal, etc., items that would normally be trucked and buried in a landfill, one can cut the cost of a home in half, and even less. Homes, businesses, factories, and buildings that are unused, foreclosed and falling apart are everywhere, and can be converted and reused to create new things. We just have to look.

As a society, we need to demand that these resources become more excessable and easier for us to locate and utilized. The major reason why it isn’t possible now is because it doesn’t really provide much profit for the companies and corporations that seem to run our reality. We need to wake up and look at what’s available and how we can use it, instead of just going to a store and buying whatever we want without thinking about where it came from and how it got there on the shelf.

Naturally built homes can not only free us from financial slavery to a bank, but also to the utility companies. The methods that our current industry uses to insulate, heat and cool our living spaces are some of the most wasteful in the world. A home built out of wooden boards, fiberglass, and drywall not only take more energy to make it reasonable and comfortable to live in, but are also not very durable or long lasting. For the rest of our life, we pay extra in utilities, just so we could have that quick convenience of fast assembly.

One thing that our ‘cookie cutter housing’ situation is missing or lacking, is how to maximize one of the most obvious and long lasting sources of energy we have: the sun. Designing a house in relation to where and how the sun moves across the sky, to maximize and utilize it’s light and heat to the fullest, is called solar passive design. In simply orientating one’s house to face south, and having the south faced wall contain most of the windows, one can have a cool home in the summer, and a warmer one in the winter, without having to turn on the air conditioner or crank up the heat.

In the summer, the sun is higher in the sky, which, in a solar passive home, the orientation of the home would prevent the sun’s rays and heat from directly coming in through the windows and help to keep the temperatures down inside. In the winter, the sun is lower on the horizon, and would shine in through the windows. If an earthen floor is installed, then the amount of sunlight that would hit it during the day would be retained and stored, and would then radiate out during the night, when the temperature drops.

A home that is insulated with the width of a straw bale and 2 to 6 inches of earthen plaster on both sides, would provide so much more protection and warmth (or coolness) then what our homes are currently made out of. Earthen plastered walls would act as the same as the earthen floor, they can be charged by the sun’s light and heat to be released later over time. Strawbale and Earthen homes also remain considerably cooler in the summer time, cool enough to not require air conditioning. Outside temperatures could be in the upper 80s to lower 90s, and the temperature inside an earthen-strawbale house would be in the cool upper 60s, without having to do anything.

Installing a more efficient heating system, other then using gas, electric, or propane, would also help to free us from being dependent on paying the utility companies. Even in using a conventional wood burning stove, most the heat is lost up through the chimney. You only get the radiant heat that is coming off the stove, not to mention they are also really inefficient and require a lot of wood to maintain over time. There is a certain kind of stove, called a Rocket Stove, that will work more effectively, offer more heat longer, and use a far less amount of wood.

A Rocket Stove is apart of the home. It is constructed into some large amount of thermal mass, usually through the walls, or most popularly, through a cozy earthen couch or bench. It’s flue pipe is often 40 feet or more, and winds and coils back and forth through the earthen walls or couch. This allows for all the heat and energy that is normally wasted through a short flue, which goes straight up and outside, to be stored into the walls of the house for later use, kind of like a battery. The wood is fed into the stove vertically, so that as the fire at the bottom burns up the wood, the upper portion just falls down and is practically self feeding. In comparing a family using a conventional wood burning stove to a family that has a rocket stove, the conventional users, on average, would use about 4 cords of wood a year, while the rocket mass heater would only need about 2/3 of a cord annually.

Rain catchment systems, wind turbines, solar cell panels, and motors that run solely on opposing magnets are also easy and effective sources of free energy. We need to start investing in people and companies that are providing the means to become energy independent, and not in those who are only interested in making us financially dependent on them.

There are many more reasons why a naturally built home is more economical, but to get back to designing and building, creating a home using natural materials allows for a larger spectrum of creative expression, much more than designing the boxes we call homes ever will. If we look in Nature, we see wonderful and organic shapes, curvy and spiraling lines, in all different kinds of shapes and sizes. For some reason, us humans spend so much time trying to square everything. We take a round and cylindrical tree and cut it into square boards. We try so desperately to have perfectly straight and boxed walls. Nothing in Nature is squared or plum or perfectly at 90 degree angles. Why not make a space that can be anything else? Why not round, arched, curved, windy, or anything that you want it to be. There are no restrictions as to how or what you can create. Working with earthen materials, such as cob, gives you complete artistic freedom to literally sculpt your house into whatever forms you’d like.

Natural Building helps to reawaken a creative process within us and gives us a direct outlet to channel it. It opens and engages us to think about the world around us and how our choices not only effect us and our neighbors and the cities around us, but how they also impact others who are on this planet as well. It empowers us to become free from financial slavery and to redirect the amount of power and wealth from a few companies and individuals back to us, our families, and our local communities. Natural Building dramatically reduces our imprint on the Earth, and motivates us to be creative and use what’s already here. It helps us to connect more with the Earth, and ultimately, more with each other.

The first time I walked into a natural building I didn’t want to leave. It felt completely different then anything I’ve every experienced before. It felt as if the Earth itself rose up and opened itself up for me come right in. The space was so comforting, with no sharp angles or corners or hard lines. It was smooth and rounded, gentle, and calming. Just walking into the space instantly and spontaneously centered me, and I knew that the home that I will someday eventually live in, will be made out of natural materials, and will be made by me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Week 7

Heat, humid, hot, sticky...pond, coolness, hydration, sanity: these were the two distinct patterns this last week. Temperatures reaching past 100 degrees, with a humidity you had to swim through.

On Monday, a bunch of us drove into town to run errands. Later in the afternoon was a triple birthday party for Kim of Red Earth, Apple, who is at Sandhill, and Nathan from Dancing Rabbit. The event was held over at Dandelion, which was nice because I didn’t have far to go afterwords. Besides a festive crowd of folks, food, and drinks, there was a planned kissing contest.

Two of the birthday stars, Kim and Nathan, acted as the judges. They were blind folded and waited as those who wanted to show off their kissing abilities drew numbers. Pairs were formed and each person had 10 seconds to kiss both Kim and Nathan, one at a time. After each kiss, the judges would then whisper into the coordinator's ear their results so she could keep score. After everyone kissed, the scores were added up, with Hannah and Ted coming in first place in a tie. That of course meant a final kissing showdown, with an increase of kissing time from the previous 10 seconds to 15. At the end of it all, Ted proved to be the better kisser, although some say it was just the mint he ate right before the event.

A little later in the evening, after diving into the pond a few times, I noticed that one of my amethyst plugs had fallen out into the water. I was a bit bummed, but made the resolve to finally make my own. When I was doing dishes in the evening, I noticed a nob of honey locust from a scrap of wood in the kindling box, which I thought was perfect for carving into a plug. Within a very little amount of time, I had sanded it down to the right gage and then oiled it to cure and preserve the wood from drying out. The plugs turned out so well that I am planning to harvest some oak or walnut to make another set.

The next day we moved some heavy, thick wood from the storage barn over at DR that will be used for the fascia details along the outside of the barn. The wood was from an old kitchen floor at the ‘Dog and Gun’ flea market. We had to cart it in onto the property due to the wet ground from all the rain this past weekend. We used the HTM 2000 to cart in the long planks along the path to the barn. HTM stand for the Heavy Thing Mover, which is made out of wheels from an old tractor trailer. We ripped the boards into the desired width and washed them in pond to clean them up. The task took most of the day and I was spent by the afternoon.

Wednesday we started the third course of earthbags and got halfway around the foundation. Later in the day I walked over to DR to drop off a pack of warmer clothes that have been taking up space in my tent. There is a double-wide trailer that is on the other side of the road from DR that Mark and Alyson stay at during the winter, until the barn-house gets finished. I stored my pack in the trailer and then stopped by Cob’s house to pick up some beer for this weekends Land Day/ Solstice party at Red Earth.

Thursday morning we added a period for stretching before starting work. Today was so hot and muggy, it felt like we were breaking every hour for a cool-down in the pond. We finished the third row of earthbags. I biked over to Sandhill for the weekly community potluck, practiced some knitting with an intern, and came home with a wonderfully full belly.

Friday we tamped down the course of earthbags we finished the previous day. We had two loads of gravel delivered from the local mine, which is just a couple towns over. By that time we were so done for the day, due to intense heat and humidity. Mark surprised us all by taking us into town to Zimmerman’s for ice cream. I ate a whole pint of carmel praline Rice Dream ice cream and never felt so good.

Later that afternoon, my partner and best friend, Laura, made it in from her drive from Ann Arbor, Michigan. We walked over to Dancing Rabbit and I gave her a tour of all the buildings and a little bit of the history of the place. It was so good to see her again after nearly two months of being out here.

Saturday was the first ever Farmers Market in Rutledge, which was organized by a committee from the three communities and others in the area. Farmers Markets are such a great way for people to make money and also support local food production. Food sold in local farmers markets is usually fresher and in season, which taste really good in my opinion. All the Gooseberry interns, Kris, Betsy, Monica, Laura, and myself all got up early to make the 2 mile walk into town. There is a short cut for people walking and biking that goes through a massive field. By the time we got into town, the sun was blaring down in it’s full on intensity.

The Market was small, and consisted of Alyson with homemade sour-dough rye bread that she baked in the earthen oven, and Mrs. Zimmerman. The goal is to get at least 6 vendors by the end of the summer. Mark, Tamar, and Penn brought their guitar, fiddle, and banjo, and jammed out some amazing bluegrass music for everyone. Folks from Sandhill had a face painting table going too. It was a fun and festive time and a lot of people showed up.

Sunday was the Summer Solstice and there was much anticipation for the festival that was to happen later. I did some ear candling to help remove some water that had been clogged up in my ear for most the week, and following that, received a killer massage from Laura.

The festivities soon began. There was home-brew beer from Sandhill and DR, and Alyson and Mark were cranking out pizzas from the earthen oven that were absolutely delicious. After swimming in the pond two or three times, a group of us got together and played a round of horseshoes over by the worksite. Having everyone from the different communities here at Red Earth was such a treat. The evening was really laid back and relaxing. It was one Solstice to remember.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Week 6

The amount of rain and lack of dryness made it very hard to get any work done. I enjoyed sleeping in and having more time to knit, play music, and retreat inward.

Monday morning work was canceled due to the powerful thunderstorm we had during the night. I awoke in the middle of the night to find water had collected on the roof of my tent, creating a mini pool, and had been leaking inside for some time. Luckily, I had my comforter blanket laying directly below it, which acted like a big sponge and prevented my whole tent from flooding.

Since we couldn't work until later in the afternoon, until it was dry enough around the job site, I had time to work on a needlepoint patch for the side bag I use daily. It depicts a figure in meditation, with the roots of a tree growing out below and anchoring him down into the earth, along with branches growing up and out into his environment, with a nice scenic landscape in the background and a bright golden sun above in the sky. I designed and created it as a reminder to ground and root myself, as a tree does, before attempting to grow and interact with the world.

In the later half of the afternoon, Mark and I finished installing the roof purlins on the north-side of the barn. We also did some blocking along the outer trusses to close up the gaps that would be created when the metal roofing is installed, with the intention of preventing any critters or small mammals from nesting up in the roof later on.

Tuesday night I awoke in the middle of sleeping to find myself having a severe asthma attack. After trying to calm it with an inhaler, I had to resort to the best medicine I had available: meditation. The tightness and stress of trying to breath immediately left my body and mind, and I was so awake after that I ended up staying up for the next three hours reading, knitting, and writing.

We worked a full day, mainly trying to finish up the truss blocking on the north-face of the roof. That went until lunch. We normally work from 7 to 11 am, break till 1 pm for lunch, then resume work until 4. As the summer heat increases, we are hoping to start earlier, or maybe work a little bit in the evening. After lunch, while Mark was at a community meeting, Monica, Kris, and I busted out some earthbags. There is something about moving and packing dirt into a form that I seem to really love. Building with earthbags goes really quick, which is very satisfying to see.

That evening was the tri-community potluck, probably one of my favorite nights of the week. While feasting on an array wonderful food, two more people expressed interest in learning to knit socks. I am excited that a craft that is simple, creative, and practical, such as knitting, has so many people interested.

Wednesday was another raining, wet day. I was able to sleep in and meditate for most the morning. Earlier in the week, I started to eat more raw/living food to help increase my energy levels and feel fuller after eating. I would set a blend of grains, nuts, and seeds to soak over night to eat for breakfast and lunch for a couple of days. Eating food that is uncooked helps to maintain the plants enzymes, which help the human body to break down and absorb the nutrients more efficiently. When eating cooked food, the plant's enzymes are cooked out (temps above 118 degrees will kill a plant and it's enzymes). When this happens, our own bodies have to take from it's personal reserve of enzymes to break down and absorb, causing a decrease in our over all energy levels, and ultimately our health. A few summers ago, I ate a completely 100% raw vegan diet, and I felt the most healthiest and alive during that time. Until more veggies are in season and ready to harvest, I will have to rely on more sprouting in the mean time.

Since the day was too wet to work on the barn, we were able to make an arching trellis for the grapevines that are planted just outside of Mark and Alyson’s army tent something to grow up. We put on our tall muck boots and trekked out to the back of the property, into the wooded area, to harvest some fallen Osage branches to use for the trellis. Osage is a super hard wood that is very rot resistant. There are Osage post in the area that have probably been there for at least the last 50 to a 100 years and are still kicking it.

Tonight was my night to cook. I had trouble getting a fire going, due to the wet wood that was available. After about 35 minutes, I got the fire up hot enough to heat the cobbed oven to bake in. I made two large pot pies that were filled with lentils, rice, potatoes, and carrots. In addition to the pies, Alyson harvested a ton of salad greens and some chard for me to prepare, and I made some cornbread muffins to finish it off.

This week there was a family visiting with the interest of potentially moving here to homestead. Currently, Red Earth Farms has two families, two sets of couples (one pair who are expecting a baby in two months) and another individual who is by himself. There are three or four other plots available. Usually, someone will become a resident and live here for a minimal of six months or so, which provides enough time for the members and them to get to know each other and see if they are a good fit. It also is necessary to be on the land for most of the year to see how your land responds to the different kinds of weather, especially rainfall, and also for site plan development.

That night, there was another crazy thunderstorm, which flooded everything, again, postponing work on the barn. Since the ground was soaked, it was perfect for putting in the post for the grapevine trellis. We laid out the collected Osage branches to get a rough layout for how it would look. After picking out the four corner posts, using a sledge hammer, we pounded them into the soft earth. We then notched the posts with a hatchet to help lock in the main branches that we attached for the bulk of the arch. Wiring was used to hold the branches together. The whole thing took us only a hour or two to finish, and now the grapevines have a place to grow and expand onto, as well as a shady cozy little place to sit under to get out of the sun.

After dinner, Mark, myself, and a previous intern who is working over at DR now, Ashley, carpooled into Memphis to Shelley B's to watch a playoff game between the Lakers and Magic. On the way to the bar, I said that it'll be nice to have some time to work on my knitting while watching the game, and Mark joked back that it would probably instigate a fight with the locals, which, at this bar, are mostly men. He said he would watch my back. I replied semi-serious that I don't want to go anywhere that I can knit. Needless to say, the game was good enough to distract me from pulling out my sock.

The last of the work days involved us doing roofing and more earthbags. We decided to replace claybags with gravel ones under where the door will be, to provide a little more support for all the future traffic that will flow through there. Friday afternoon, Mark pulled out the horseshoes and we measured and made a course to throw down. I managed to get two ringers in a row on one round... seemingly the peak of my shoe-throwing career to date.

Saturday was the once a month, summer time 'Dog and Gun' flea market right here in Rutledge. After stopping by Zimmermans for some breakfast, we headed to the fair grounds. People come from all over for this thing. You can find anything there, tools, household items, animals in cages (sadly), and of course, guns.... gotta love the midwest. I found a few sets of double-pointed knitting needles to share with others who are interested in knitting socks.

While I was there, I had a deep fried twinkie, on a stick. Enough said.

Sunday we decided to work because of the many days we missed during the week. We finished the 3rd course of earthbags. I attended the weekly co-op kitchen meeting that afternoon for the first time. Chad, Kim, Mark, and Alyson have it every week to just check in with everyone about the flow of the kitchen. Sharing one kitchen to feed 8 adults and 2 kids, plus guest and visitors, three times a day doesn't just happen, there is much planning involved.

Played some more horseshoes that evening and finally finished composing a song that I have been writing for some time now, which I am very satisfied with. (I've redone and updated the flickr page, now with many more photos. Be sure to check it out.)