Archive for October, 2011


Many in the circles I have been in have talked optimistically about a graceful and ethical descent into a life sustaining culture that will occur in our lifetime. But many have also expressed fears that it will not all be graceful and ethical. To me, the Occupy Wall Street movement is one symptom of what I and many others are calling The Great Turning, the inevitable shift away from our current industrial growth, consumer based culture. Hope and excitment lies in the opportunity for a shift to a life sustaining culture while fear comes from the gut feeling many of us have of the possible disastrous outcomes of a failure to make this shift.

Last night things began to escalate in the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has become not only nationwide but global. In Oakland, California police threw tear gas canisters, and shot projectile rounds, including rubber bullets into the crowds injuring more then a few. This was after they had forcibly taken down the protester’s tents and shut down their camp earlier the same day. Tonight, those in Oakland are trying to take back their camp and many across the globe are marching or otherwise expressing their solidarity with them.

The occupy wall street movement has caught the attention of the world, bringing issues that many of us have been talking about in our homes and communities to the forefront. The movement continues to grow and I believe that the protests are only a small fraction of a much larger underground movement that has been developing now for many years. This movement is a movement of people who know somewhere inside that things are not quite right in this world and that business as usual cannot continue much longer.

We are reaching a tipping point. People from all angles and all walks of life are starting to talk about a coming change. Chris Martenson has been talking about it for a while, tying in economics, energy, and environment. Joanna Macy has also been teaching on this shift and how to deal with the fear, grief, anger, and despair that many of us often feel as we start to face the realities of what is going on in this world. And these are just some of the bigger names that I have been following who are talking about The Great Turning. Lately, it seems that no one I know, family, friends or acquaintances, can deny the feeling that something is on the edge of change; something has got to shift. In the last six months it has been popping up in conversations all around me no matter where I go and among people I did not expect to be talking about these things.

Although I times I have felt overwhelmed and fearful of what might be coming I am at my core excited to be alive at this time and a part of this shift. Having always been interested in the environment and sustainability the realization that things are going to change very soon has done nothing more then given me a sense of urgency and fueled my passion in pursuing the things I am already interested in and doing my very best to aid in this time of transition. Now I have a framework and a clearer understanding as to why I have always felt so strongly that we must find a way to live more sustainably and in harmony with the natural world. Everyday I am feeling more clarity that I am on my path as I seek to explore ways to create homes, grow food, and live in community in ways that regenerate and support nature’s life supporting systems, and thereby support the human race.

We humans, with our unique gifts of the mind, the power to organize, and our opposable thumbs (among other gifts) have become the keystone species of this planet; our impact on this Earth and it’s ecosystems are far greater in proportion to our biomass. As the keystone species we have a great responsibility to act from a place of wisdom. We have the ability to do great good as well as great harm and we are forever creating change at a faster rate then we can foresee. Knowing this, I am choosing to develop the parts of myself that tend to be left behind in our culture today; the spirit, the heart, the ability to communicate effectively and with compassion, and the soul. By doing this I hope to be better equipped to fulfill the large responsibility of being part of a keystone species on this planet. I hope you will consider joining me on this quest. I think we can make this world a better place.

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Over the past year  or so I have been dreaming of building my own cob house. Every time an idea comes to me I write or draw it, leading to the accumulation of many possible house designs. The designs are still rather rudimentary as I consider all of this part of brainstorming, an important part of any design process.

The design process that I do my best to follow is the one used by many permaculture designers (if you want to become a certified permaculture designer click here to see info on the amazing course I took with living routes at the Sirius Ecovillage in Shutesbury, MA). Below is a diagram of this process taken from the blog of AppleSeed Permaculture (click on the link for a more in depth explanation of the design process)- a blog that has a lot of good info on permaculture.

Based on this diagram I have been working on articulating my goals. As of now here is my goal statement for what I am calling my evolving dream. Keep in mind this is my big, long term vision. I hope it will one day manifest!

” My land has all the necessities to sustain a community; a clean water source for drinking and bathing, woods and open space with good solar exposure for growing food and siting buildings. It is surrounded by a vibrant, progressive community and natural beauty.

My home is small but sufficient for me, a partner, and a child. I designed and built it with my own two hands and it is made of all natural and non toxic, sustainably harvested materials. It blends into the land and exemplifies sustainable design. It gets good natural light, and provides for my heating, cooling, cooking, and other needs at little or no cost to me or my environment. It has the ability to evolve over time as my family, needs, and means change.

There is at least one large common space on the land that can be used for small retreats and for educational purposes, including creating and doing art, both visual and movement based. There is also a common dining area with a kitchen, and simple accommodations such as tent platforms, and small dwellings. All structures demonstrate sustainable design, showcasing a myriad of natural and green building techniques, and were built through community builds and workshops.

The whole land exemplifies permaculture principles and is filled with an abundance of wild and cultivated edibles and medicinals. It is a safe and holding space for all people of any race, age, gender, faith, orientation, and culture. We try our very hardest to make everything that we offer at, and through this place, as accessible as possible to all.”

Phew…. That is a long goal statement and, I realize, a tall order. But why not dream big!

So I have my goals articulation, but I don’t yet have a site, making it hard to analyze and assess the site. In permaculture the site often dictates, or at least strongly shapes one’s design so one might wonder why I have already begun to brainstorm building designs when I don’t even have a site yet! Well, part of it is just pure excitement and impatience and a desire to do something while I wait for the time when I feel ready and am able to commit to a site. And also, I have found that through my designs I am beginning to clarify my vision and therefore what I would look for in a piece of land. When I started I did not realize I really wanted land with it’s own water source, including a place to bathe in such as a natural spring, river, or pond. I also did not realize that I really do want land that is big enough to one day house more then just my family and become an educational retreat center. All of these realizations have been immensely helpful and so I am glad that I have started to think about the design possibilities before committing to any one location or site. And who knows! If I am part of a small eco-village or retreat center maybe more then one of these designs will manifest into reality! It has also been fun to see what themes and similarities have emerged as I become clear as to what I like and want, and it has also been interesting to see what has evolved and changed as I have more information and knowledge to inform my design process.

So, for a few of my designs. I think this is the very first one I did, back in fall of 2010. South in this design in up. I will try to always make it clear which way is south as, at least in the Northern hemisphere south the direction in which you want to orient all major windows on a building if you are following passive solar design principles. Passive solar maximizes the natural light you receive and helps to heat your house naturally during the winter and keep it cool during the summer. You will notice the benefits of being south facing if you look at hills or mountains near you. Notice that the south facing slope is always warmer then the north, appearing sometimes even a few weeks ahead in springtime then north facing slopes!

In this design the front entrance opens up to a patio and greenhouse on the south side. A south facing greenhouse will optimize your ability to grow food in winter months and, if it is attached to the house as in this design, it will help to heat your house in winter months. The shower and bath are also in the greenhouse allowing for the steam and moisture created by these facilities to be released into the green house, which should be a warm and moist environment. Also, it would make for easy creation of a greywater or wetland purification system.

Almost all of my designs, including this one have a proportionally large kitchen. This is because in my experience the kitchen ends up being the center of the house. It is where people congregate, and often where the most time is spent, especially in a household that actually cooks its food. Also, in a household that cooks their food from fresh or preserved (canned, dried, etc.) local food and is trying to be sustainable a root cellar is an invaluable thing. This design has a root cellar in the lower left (NE corner) of the design. Placing the root cellar on the north side of a building is best as that side of the house will naturally be the cooler side with the least sun exposure. It is a bit hard to see but the stairs in this design also lead to a small loft that is above the desk and day bed area. This loft would act as the bedroom.

Another thing I tried to design into this house was the ability to built it in stages. The kitchen is almost circular and I thought could be built first. It is large enough that I could sleep and live in it with my basic needs taken care of until the rest of the structure was built. The patio and greenhouse would be built last, although a outhouse would be built earlier on of course.

Below is my third design and still one of my favorites. It is the house that inspired the image I call home, which has come to symbolize many things to me. I often call this my yin yang design.

In this design South is down. It is a bit hard to tell but the upper half of this yin yang is the structure while the lower half is actually a garden. The diameter of the circle I figure to be about 30 feet, making the area of house, if assumed to be half of the circle, to be about 350 square feet. For most in America this might seem incredible small but I would want the first house that I build to be small and manageable as the one thing about building by hand with cob is that it does take time. Also, as proof that living in such a small house is possible and people are doing it by choice, I have seen a family of three living quite comfortable in a yurt with a 25 foot diameter. That is only 490.625 square feet! And that was in Canada, not some third world country mind you. (I talk a bit about their lifestyle in another post, The Dream)

As an artist I like the contained wholeness of this design. It is elegant and simple. The shape of the upper half of the yin yang in the orientation that it is also maximizes the surfaces of the house facing South and gives both the bedroom area and the kitchen great south eastern exposure. I love the morning light so this is something that I like about this design.

Once again, there is a root cellar on the northern side of the house and this time the toilet and bath area is also attached on the north side. This would be good for cold winters when you don’t want to go outside to use the bathroom. This house could also be a single story or include a small loft above the bedroom area for storage or for a child to sleep.

Because I likes this design so much I also started to play with possibilities for the roof. Below are two possible roof designs I came up with.

 On the left is a more conventional roof design and honestly a design that appeals to me less. On the right is I design I did after seeing some pictures of beautiful cob houses with curved ridge beams, including one on page 232 of the Hand Sculpted House. These curved ridge beams give the house a beautiful, organic shape and I actually think this design would be relatively easy to build. The ridge beam would run pretty much east to west (with east being up in this picture) and the eastern end would be higher, allowing for a loft. Also, I realized that on the SE side of the house you could extend the beams creating a nice trellis over the patio that would be a natural extension of the house. I also tried to figure out where approximately one would need support posts. In The Hand Sculpted House they recommend that you do not span more then 12 to 14 feet without support, and so I drew in some support beams airing on the conservative side with spans no bigger then 10 feet.

My next few designs are for more typically shaped rectilinear plots. These design came after some thought during my green building course  given to the need to start creating sustainable designs for cities and the need for houses to be flexible and able to evolve over time. Much of this thinking came from watching a fascinating movie called How Buildings Learn. One of the beauty’s of cob is the ability to design furniture and individuality right into your structure often making a house that fits like a glove to the lifestyle of it’s inhabitants. But this does not always lend itself well to the possibility of the house changing owners. And so I decided to play around with a few more rectilinear designs that could more easily evolve and contain conventional movable furniture, etc.

The one below I designed specifically with San Miguel de Allende in mind. The houses in this beautiful spanish colonial city are filled with color, interior courtyards, and gardens. It is also a city filled with artists and the creatively incline and so an art studio felt like a must to me. I cannot imagine going to San Miguel and not doing art!

In this design South is up again. It is a bit confusing to know what is the open courtyard and what are encolesed structure so I will do my best to walk you through it. The main entrance to this plot on on the lower North side. You enter into a garden/courtyard space with a structure on either side of you. On the left is the root cellar, kitchen, main area, and a bedroom. On the right is a studio space and a screen in patio for when it is rainy or buggy out. Above both the studio and the bedroom could be a second and third bedroom, giving this design the potential to hold quite a few people, which seems fitting for a San Miguel house which is often rented out to vacationers or passing through many hands. The upper right (SW corner) is where the bathroom and bathing area is, as well as a compost operation from which soil for the gardens could be taken.

Here is another design I did with San Miguel in mind for a friend’s plot. It turns our I got the orientation on the plot not quite right but it was fun anyways to play around with some real dimensions.

In this design South is to the left. The lower left and the right hand side of the plot are outdoor garden/courtyard spaces. It definitely was a bit more of a challenge to design to real plot dimensions and I am honestly not sure that I love this design. The biggest challenge was that I knew there were some big trees on the north side of the plot that the owners did not want to cut down, but that left the south side, where one would usually put the gardens as the logical place to build. I did get to actually see the plot after I did this design and there are definitely things I would do differently, but it was a good exercise and drove home the importance of knowing your site and designing for what already exists in terms of landform, solar orientation, and other things.

Here is one last rectilinear design I did, with more of a temperate, Northeastern climate in mind.

In this design South is up, on the side of the greenhouse. Once again, I don’t know if I love this design as I honestly think I prefer more rounded shapes and spaces. Despite that, I was playing around with another design tool, a book called A Pattern Language and I think I learned some important things from this design. One of the things I paid particular attention to in this design was the need for transition spaces, especially when entering and leaving the house. Therefore the entryway is either through the greenhouse, shade room, or pantry, all of which provide a moment for transition before entering the home life.

A Pattern Language is a fascinating books that uses patterns that the authors found in what appeals to people and makes people feel good in a space. These patterns are then used to guide the design of everything from a room, a house, a garden, a neighborhood, a school or even a city. The book is a big fat book but is set up in an easily usable way where you literally can start in one spot, say the bedroom of a couple, and read about what such a space should include and then at the end of that short little section it will suggest other spaces that often go along with a bedroom for a couple, such as a family kitchen or a house for a couple. And by this method you can slowly work your way through a design piece by piece, leaning about what makes a sitting spot in a garden attractive, and why shifts in lighting between spaces can be important.  If you are a designer, architect, or planner I would highly recommend this book.

Ok, getting close to the end of my designs I promise. This next one though, is one of my favorites.

South is the lower right corner here. I love this design for similar reasons that I love my yin yang design. It is rather simple and feels very contained. This design was inspired by both the yin yang design and the yurt that the family in Canada was living in. I was amazed at how spacious their yurt felt, which only had a 25 ft diameter. This circular design could use the simple roof structure of a yurt and would have about a 30 ft. diameter, including the thick outer cob walls, so the total square footage would be right around 700 square feet. Only some of the inner curved walls would be full walls, while some would be more like space separators with the height of maybe a countertop or a a privacy screen. There is the potential to attach a wrap around green house on the SE side as well.

As you can see, I have stuck with the theme of having a large open kitchen that is the main gathering and social area. In this design the kitchen is also divided from a sitting area by a peninsula like countertop. Then in the NE is the bedroom, placed so that it will receive good morning light and in the North you once again have the root cellar/pantry.

And lastly, here is one possible design for a common space.

Here the entrance faces south, which is in the upper left corner. The center space would be particularly well suited to movement, dance, yoga and things of that nature but could be used for other things as well. I thought it would be nice to have the side spaces as changing rooms or mini sitting areas but they could also serve as offices, art space or some other purpose. I thought the space in the north though should be bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms.

As you can see I have also drawn in some of the outdoors, including an outdoor amphitheater, and my thought was that in good weather the structure could turn into more of a gazebo like space with large doors thrown open on all sides, providing additional seating space for the amphitheater and bringing the outdoors in.

So that concludes my designs for now! I hope they were of some interest. There are many details that I left out, such as the placement of internal thermal mass to store heat, the placement of wood stoves, and other illustrations of sustainable design principles, but I did my best to illustrate some. Hopefully these give you some idea of my designs and the possibilities when doing natural building with cob, an incredibly sculptural medium, or other materials.

Tonight I whirled. Spinning and spinning and spinning. I was a witness to the whole world as I spun from that one point. That center of gravity that held me and the world. Light came in through my right hand and love came out from left. Like a dust cloud covering me and everything in it’s path with a fine coating of compassion. Tomorrow I will paint my whirling.

(written on 10/21/2011)

Whirling (Watercolor)

October 24th, 2011

Here is the whirling picture that came. It is not quite what I expected, and perhaps is not exactly a “whirling” picture, but I think in many ways it embodies my ideal whirling; a spontaneous whirl that begins slow, complete with a bit of natural wildness.

The wanderer in the cocoon

Recently I have been wandering. Wandering geographically as well into the depths of my own mind, soul and heart. School, a place I used to love and thrive in, became a prison whose purpose it seemed was keep me from wandering. Everything I knew myself to be; a good student, confident and socially adept and involved, a leader in in world of extracurriculars, seemed in question suddenly. I found myself wanting to retreat, isolating myself  and wishing I could escape all the obligations and responsibilities of academia and society. And I hated feeling this way. I beat up on myself, trying to make myself go out and stay engaged, and yet the more I tried the more I knew I did not want to be there.

Asking my parents if I could take time off from college was one of the hardest things I have ever done. When I finally mustered the courage to ask they were receptive (thank god!) but getting there was a long, hard path of facing many of my demons and fears. My fear of being that college dropout, of not finishing what I started (I only have 1 more semester and then I will have my degree! How could I stop now?), of disappointing my parents, of disappointing myself! But something inside of me was screaming with an urgency, an urgency that I did not quite understand, telling me I needed to be free to wander.

Now, it is October of my year off. My classmates have resumed classes, I will not graduate a semester early in December, but the world has not fallen apart. In fact, I feel a huge weight lifted off me, and I feel myself expanding and growing in profound ways as I am allowed to explore my own depths at y own pace. And, I think I will go back and finish my degree, but I know that for now I made the right decision to take a year off. And in a society where “soul searching” is not always recognized as a valuable and legitimate thing to be doing with ones time, I am incredibly grateful that my family and community was and is able to support me in my decision

Although at this point I do not feel a need for outside validation of my decision, a recent book I have picked up has helped me understand my own need to wander and put things in perspective. The book is called Nature and the Human Soul and is written by Bill Plotkin. In this book, Plotkin, who is a a depth psychologist and wilderness guide, proposes a development model for healthy human development. Reading about his model, which is a circular model of development that is eco and soulcentric, I feel like my own trials and tribulations, as well as my own gut feelings about what is healthy and what I need has been fully validated. Reading his book has given me insight and understanding to why nature, both our own and the that of the earth, is so important for healthy human development. And it has also helped me understand some of the causes for much of the destruction and dysfunction I see around me. Plotkin skillfully explains the egocentric society that dominates today, where the primary objective is socioeconomic gain for the individual while also illustrating a viable alternative for moving towards an eco-soulcentric society where each individual manifests their own unique purpose in the world and acts from a place of deep connection to the whole world or cosmos. What a beautiful and in many ways simple idea! That a mature person would be acting not for the benefit of just the individual but for the whole world! And yet it seems this is not what most so called adults in our world are doing.

But I think things are shifting. Lately it seems that everywhere I go people are talking of and doing their part in The Great Turning, although they may not call it that. To my knowledge, Joanna Macy was the first to coin this phrase, but it is now being used by many across the globe. To me, the work that Plotkin is doing does much to address the third stage of the great turning; a global shift in consciousness. Without this shift actions to slow or call attention to the damage we are doing, such as the occupy wall street movement (which I fully support), or even education and analysis of the causes of this destruction will only take us so far in healing our planet, and therefore our people. We need to also look inward and do our own inner work.

This is what the 4th stage in Plotkin’s developmental work, the wanderer in the cocoon, is all about. This stage is also what Plotkin sees as the transition stage to becoming a true, mature adult.

Here is one passage from Bill Plotkin’s book describing the quest of the wanderer:

“The Wanderer (of any chronological age) seeks to discover her ultimate place in life. Not just any place will do… It’s got to be her place, one that is in keeping with her vital core. It’s a place defined not by the deeds she performs but by the qualities of soul she embodies; not by her physical, social, or economic achievements but by the true character she manifests; neither by her capacity to conform to the masses, nor by her ability to creatively rebel against the mainstream, but by the unique way she performs her giveaway for her community. Her ultimate place is identified not by any social forms or roles but, rather by the symbols, stories, and archetypes unearthed from the deep structure of her psyche and by the way the world invites her to belong to it.” (pg. 251-252, Nature and the Human Soul)

I am blessed to feel that I have reached this stage. As I read this book I know that my family and community has allowed me to fully experience not only this stage, but the three stages before largely from an eco-soulcentric place and I am grateful for that as well.

I have not completed reading this book and I may write another entry when I have, but as of now I feel quite strongly that for anyone feeling lost and confused in this world, or questioning the way things are, whether they are young or old I would highly recommend Nature and the Human Soul. And for parents or anyone working with children or youth or even in just any position of guidance and mentorship, perhaps even to adults, this is, in my opinion, one of the most important books you could read. I am certainly glad I am reading it for myself and long before I have my own children. It will definitely shape how I choose to raise them.

The Great Outdoors in NYC

My first very own field guide finally arrived today! It is the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to New England. Now you might wonder why am I getting a field guide when my current location is new york city. (and yes, I realize New York is not included in the new england states but I decided there is probably a fair amount of overlap in the flora and fauna). Well, over the last couple of years my interest in plants and animals has been steadily growing. I always loved the outdoors but it has only been recently that I have wanted to know the plants more intimately by name, medicinal use, nutritional qualities, habitat, ecosystem function and more. And the long and short of it was that it was when I came to NYC to live with my grandparents for a month and help take care of my beloved grandpa post op my curiosity finally drove me to buy a field guide. Even in riverside park there is much to find! And I found myself without a more knowledgeable friend close by wanting desperately to know what this tree was, whether that shroom was poisonous, and what the name of that bird is. And so I ordered what I hope to be the first of many field guides.

I have slowly been gaining knowledge by going on plants walks with those more knowledgeable when I can and taking advantage of other opportunities. This summer’s permaculture course made me feel even more strongly about the importance of knowing plant functions in ecosystems. Then in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I have gone with my parents for many years to do art as a family, a took a new interest in El Charco de Ingenio, their botanical gardens. There I saw a totally different desert ecosystem overflowing with a diversity of cacti. Tapping into a recently evolved “green map” of San Miguel I found out about a one day workshop on tincture and salve making using medicinal plants. And so in one short day I found myself learning how to, and actually making, right there on the spot, herbal tinctures, infusions, teas, vaseline or oil based creams, and beeswax based creams- wow! I didn’t know it was so easy! Here are some basic recipes.

(CAUTION: I am not an expert and each individual herb should be researched and used accordingly. Some are poisonous if ingested or if the wrong part of the herb is used, and these recipes are simple basic recipes of a beginner, so please do your own research before trying anything you plan on taking or giving to someone else.)

Tinctures (alcohol based)

1 part dried herb

4 parts alcohol (vodka or gin or glycerin work)

Leave for two weeks in the sun, agitating or shaking daily

Strain out the organic plant matter and put in a dark container and store in a dark, cool place and it should last over a year! Don’t forget to label it clearly!

20 drops of this concentrated tincture in a glass of hot water can be used to make a tea or taken directly.

40 drops in hot water can be used to soak gauze or other material to make a compress.

Tea or Compress

Most of us know how to make a tea but here are a few words of advice if you are using it for medicinal purposes. The water has to be boiling or just at boiling point. Purely hot water won’t do. Steep it for 5 to 10 minutes, not more as it will get bitter. To use a tea as a compress just soak some gauze in the tea and put it where you need it.

Infusions (oil based)

1 part dried herb

4 parts olive or jojoba oil (other plant or fruit oils can work too)

Add Vitamin E to keep oil from going rancid (This is optional but will help extend the life of your infusion to about 1 year. Otherwise it will last a few months. It works well to just buy a capsule of vitamin E and break it open, adding the content to your infusion.)

Leave in a closed container in the sun for 10 to 14 days, agitating daily

filter out organic matter and put in a dark container in a cool place to store.

Infusions can be massaged into skin or heated to release odors of herbs

Solid Cream (beeswax base)

100 ml of olive oil or other oil

5 grams of herb

5 grams of beeswax

Heat the oil and herb for 1/2 hour in a double boiler

Strain herb out of oil (Optional. Some people leave the herb in)

Add the beeswax while still hot, pour into desired container, and allow to solidify

And done! This can also be used to massage into skin, as lip balm or other topical use. Also, you can play around with the ratio of beeswax to oil  to get different levels of solidity.

Vaseline Based Cream

Double boil vaseline and herb together

Pour into your desired container and let solidify.

Then use as is! No straining, no nothing. This is the lazy man’s version of the above solid cream. Personally, I would prefer to not used a petrol based product and it seems you can get the same consistency by altering the ratios of oil to beeswax with the previous recipe!

I also learned a bit about a few common herbs like arnica (do not ingest this one! It should be used only topically), chamomile, calendula, lavander, and mint but I think I will save that for another post.

Then when I returned to Ithaca, NY Peter and I asked our very knowledgeable friend Micah to take us mushroom hunting. And oh did we find a lot of mushrooms!

(once again, a word of CAUTION: many mushrooms can be deadly! A few are even dangerous to touch, so be very cautious. Go with a knowledgeable guide. This list of “ten commandments” for the mushroom hunter are also a good guide to follow).

But we found maybe 6 or so pounds of black trumpet chanterelles- delicious cooked up with lots of butter and garlic. And we also found some old man in the woods, toothed fungi, and artists fungus and oyster mushrooms. This experience in particular made me really want to know my flora. Imagine being able to eat like a queen and not have to pay a cent!

And so when I arrived in new york my eyes were trained to look around me and notice the flora and fauna. And there are so many fascinating plants in riverside park that I do not know! And birds that also intrigued me. I also found Maitake mushrooms, which, after much debate, I decided not to eat due to the possibility of accumulated toxins and pollution in them. And I also found what I think is an artists fungus and some puff balls! But I am excited now to go out and try and identify the many plants and birds that I have not been able to name with my new field guide. Oh, so many possibilities! What was that fragrant plant whose smell I recognized but name I did not know that was growing by the hudson river? I will hopefully let you know in a few days.

Connection

Connection (Pencil)

Fall, 2010

This is a photo of Peter and me, taken the first summer we met, summer of 2009. I am still madly in love with him!

The Young and Old Man (Pencil Portrait)

Fall, 2010

 

 

In Memory (pencil portrait)

Fall, 2010

Dedicated to Stephen Noble Holland, March 23rd, 1998 – June 14th, 2010

And his mother, father and sister.

This young man taught me how to find my own way. He showed me that I could define and shape my own world, and he pushed me to think carefully about the what kind of world I wanted to be a part of. With him I tasted for the first time the rich beauty of love. He will forever be a part of me and in my heart.

Death.

Something we the living attach grief to.

We wonder what we could have done

What could we have said

To change it.

Prevent it.

But perhaps this world was just not meant for them

Find a long golden red strand of hair

Unexpectedly in our green hoodie

The one both Stephen and I wore

I smile.

He’s watching over.

He is watching from a better place.

And he says he is happy,

Finally

And please, let us live

For never in a million years

Would he want his death to keep us from blossoming

Perhaps that fear

That fear that he would hurt us

Was what kept him with us for as long as he was

So he asks us

Please let go

He is happy and at peace now.

Let us be too

***

May he find a place

Where the light s softer

The earth more forgiving

May he rest easily

And forgive himself

For things I long ago had already forgiven.

May his spirit find a home to rest

Where love flows freely

To and from him

May he rest in peace.

The Dream

Hello! Below is the first articulation of our dream from my old blog:

The Dream: Our very own, hand sculpted, cob house

1/13/2011

“Work is Love Made Visible”

Welcome to Sculpting Earth, a blog documenting the story of a young couple and their journey to create a wholesome, low impact, simple and joyous life. Our first step in this journey is the creation of a home. We have chosen cob as our primary building material.

It is the beginning of 2011, a new year, a time of change and transition. Tomorrow Peter and I will leave Gainesville, FL to drive all the way to Ithaca, NY, where we will start a new chapter of our lives together, in the same place. Finally! As I have spent the last two weeks in Gainesville with Peter, helping him get ready to close this chapter of his life, both our minds have been buzzing, as busy as bees, with our dream to build a cob house. But it is no longer just a dream. We are going to actually do it!

The book, The Hand-Sculpted House, by Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith, and Linda Smiley has not left my bag in the two weeks I have been in Gainesville. Peter has bought a measuring tape to take the dimensions of spaces he likes; what height ceiling feels good? How wide should a counter top be? How high up should the cabinets be? We are starting the process of collecting information, taking notes, and brainstorming possible layouts. And, in preparation, this summer Peter and I will be taking a 6-week course in permaculture and green building at the Sirius community in Western Massachusetts.

Cob is simply amazing. It’s both of those things, truly; simple and amazing. It’s simply sand, straw, clay, and water. All things that come from the earth and can go back to the earth. And it’s really quite amazing. Its warm in the winter, cool in the summer, yet aesthetically beautiful and will withstand the test of time. It’s also accessible to all. Anyone who is interested enough can have his or her own cob house. They can cost as little as $500 and they don’t require expertise. They are not exclusive to the rich, the progressive, or the artistically inclined. Ancient mansions have been built with cob, and modern architects have used it too. But also nine year olds have built their own playhouses with this simple, elegant, time-tested method.

We plan to break ground for our cob house as soon as the weather gets warm enough in 2012, somewhere in the Ithaca area. Come December 22nd, 2012, both my birthday, and the possible “end of the world” (or more hopefully a time of great energy shift), we hope to be moved in for the cold winter months.

What do we still need? This is our dream, but we want you to share it with us! We want your support and your help and we will give you stories and pictures and opportunities to learn and be inspired. Join us! We will send out periodic newsletters, probably less frequently this year and more frequently come 2012, and we will keep a corresponding blog where the latest updates and pictures will be posted. Whether you are rich in money, time, or materials you want to get rid of, there is almost certainly a way you can help us.

As of now we still do not have a site picked out, and we would love your help in finding a building site. We are considering many options; buying a cheap plot of land, using a friends piece of land, making an agreement with a landowner that we will build them a beautiful house that will eventually be theirs if we can have it rent free for the first ten years… there are many possibilities so for now we wait for an opportunity to present itself.

We are also looking for donations. Cob houses are cheap but there will still be expenses. Our goal is to raise at least $15,000 to go towards building the house. Its a fair amount of money but for a house?! That’s nothing. And we will show you how beautiful a house can be with just $15,000. Cob houses are a multifaceted expression of sustainability, ecology, values, harmony, permaculture, ethics, and love through functional art.

Most importantly, we want you to come help us build! We guarantee it will be an experience filled with learning and enrichment for the soul. The hardest part of building a cob house is having the time and the labor. But the building of cob also lends itself easily to bringing people together and forming community through shared experience. This is a hand-sculpted house. We will literally be sculpting the house as if it were one big clay sculpture. You don’t need to be artistic or have skills in construction to come help though. Whether you decide your place is in mixing the cob with your feet, laying cob loaves to help us build a 3-foot thick wall, or sculpting the archway to heaven as our front door, I am sure you will discover something profound for you. It’s fun and therapeutic work. Come for an hour or two if you are curious, come for a day if you are dying to come but have a tight schedule, or come for a week or even a month. We will probably be living in tents or possibly yurts, and we would love for you to join us.

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We have now both completed the permaculture course and the green building course (such valuable courses for anyone on this earth!) and, of course, with new information to better inform our decisions are dream has been evolving. We probably will not be breaking ground in spring of 2012, but who knows, it is still a possibility.

I have now embarked on a journey to continue gaining knowledge and experience, exploring all facets of the homesteading lifestyle, which from what I have seen so far, encompasses a wide spread of possibilities. The image that this lifestyle is, by nature, all consuming and generally occurs only on the fringe of society, in rural, isolated areas by people who look like the stereotypical image of a hippie has been shattered once and for all for me. Of course I had my suspicions that the these stereotypes did not have to define the homesteading lifestyle but now I am seeing with my own two eyes that homesteading can be many things. One particularly illustrative experience was my almost two week stay at a small, off grid homestead just a ten minute drive from downtown Guelph, a city in Ontario, Canada. Here I met a woman (whose name shall remain anonymous) who had tired of the upkeep, bills, and clutter of her large suburban house that she felt was keeping her from doing what she really wanted to do. Finally, in her mid thirties she ended her lease sold and gave away most of her belongings and began to live in a nomad’s teepee. Now, almost 4 years later, she lives in a beautiful, clutter free, 25 foot diameter yurt, and pays no bills other then her car insurance and cell phone bill. Her only electricity comes from a single solar panel that allows her to have a few lights and charge her computer and cell phone. Her food is kept very simply in a ice box that is half underground, accessible through a trap door in the floor of her yurt. This simple method requires no electricity; they simply put a block of ice in the bottom that lasts almost a week in even the hottest days of summer! Their water for washings and cooking comes from rain barrels or the stream, and the drinking water they bring in in carboys that they refill from a friend’s well in town. All food is cooked on either an indoor or outdoor wood stove and they grow some, but not all of their vegetables on site. The site is only accessible down a 1/4 of a mile path through a beautiful cedar forest, so all materials are brought in by wheelbarrow.

And yet what amazed me was that this life did not feel like a lifestyle for only the most extreme. Let me explain; First, the yurt itself felt amazing spacious, clean and homey. Second, this woman, rather then being consumed by this homesteading lifestyle, did indeed seem freed by it. Since leaving her suburban home she had founded a non profit that worked on water issues, was the executive director of this non profit and was a very respectable professional woman by any standard who got up and went to work every day. She also had a beautiful, incredibly articulate three year old daughter (who yes, she had given birth to and raised in her yurt) and was pregnant with her second child. She was a normal woman who had deeply questioned the way she had been living and started living by her values. And the result was beautiful.

This stay in Canada, where I was helping to insulate a second, 11′ by 10′ wood cabin with slip straw and earth plaster, is just the beginnings of my explorations and learnings, but it was an excited start after having completed by permaculture and green building course. Here are a few pictures of the project I was working on in Canada:

Mixing the cob. All it is is 1 part clay, 3 parts sand, some straw, and a bit of water.

Mixing clay slip. We found and dug the clay from a local swamp!

We stuffed the walls with straw tossed in clay slip (a straw salad). Its all help in place with chicken wire. Then we use earth plaster (also just finely cut straw, clay, sand, and water in slightly different proportions) to plaster onto the chicken wire.

A close up of the wall. On the left you can see the base coat of earth plaster while on the right is the straw still exposed.

Here it is getting close to done! It will still probably get a finish layer that may be a lighter color earth plaster or lime finish.

So why did I create this blog? Well actually, this blog has evolved out of an earlier SculptingEarth blog that I began because my former partner, Peter Benjamin and I shared a dream. That dream was to live harmoniously and in partnership with the world around us. Not just the human world, but the natural and animal world. That blog was to document, publicize, and network around a dream of ours; to build a cob house (the dream still exists and has grown, and I don’t worry, I will explain what cob is). For better or worse, that blog disappeared when the host site we were using went through some changes. In the meantime, the dream evolved and realities about the enormity of what we want to do also started to set in. I realized there is much I still want to clarify for myself about my own vision and dream and hence there is much I still want to learn and explore before I build my own house. And so this metaphor of sculpting earth grew to mean much more for me then just sculpting my own house. My intention with this new blog, which is broader in it’s scope but able to encompass the goals of the old blog, is to document and share my learnings and explorations and thereby also document the evolution of  my dreams and how they change from inception to manifestation.

Although I promise there will be more posts on the subject of cob, for those totally mystified by the word and who are thinking of corn cobs right now, let me briefly tell you what cob is. Cob is a building material that has been used for centuries. It is simply wet adobe, which is nothing more then clay, sand, and straw. This material is used to build houses that can be any shape and size that are, in the end, one solid mass. A mass that is incredibly durable against earthquakes and fires, keeps spaces cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and can be built by almost anybody. There are two things that make cob so attractive to me. First, is so accessible! The materials are cheap and the technique is easy and non technical, allowing almost anybody to build their own house. Second, it allows for incredible freedom of creative expression. It is literally like sculpting clay! You are not limited by rectangular bricks or boards. As an artist myself, this idea of sculpting my own house is incredibly appealing.

Here is a picture of the first cob project I was a part of (picture taken by Kaitlyn O’Connor. Check out her blog here!). This cob bench is only partially done, but if you look closely you see a little niche carved into the back- just a very simple example of a group of beginners playing around with sculpting on this simple form. If you search cob houses on the internet you will see many more and be able to get a feel for the potential beauty of this form!

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