When I first came to O.U.R. I was just establishing myself as a natural builder. I was living in Courtenay and worked a lot with Cobworks on Mayne Island during the summer. OUR was in its first years of establishing vision and zoning and every time I was there I saw a group of people in meetings all morning and then in work parties all afternoon.

Little did I know that I would be one of the people in the meetings a few years later.

My interest was to promote and teach cob and Natural building. I had not spent much time thinking about community and didn’t see myself as a community member.

As my relationship with O.U.R. became more familiar , Brandy and I talked about hosting a longer building program every year. We started with a program we called Plan B : Practical Leadership and Natural Building.

Preparation for this was the design of the Healing Sanctuary: a process of community inquiry into needs and wants and a design that would make sense of all the ideas.

This building was much larger than others I had built and none of us really knew what we were getting into when we started into the season. We knew we wanted to build a stone foundation, cob and straw bale walls and a living roof. We also knew that for permit things would be better with a post and beam structure.

 

As for the program I learned a lot about group dynamics, leadership and communication. We had a few wonderful support staff who kept breaking up tense energy when needed and brought in fun and lots of heart.

Everybody camped on the land (this was and still is typical for most natural building projects) and shared meals. We shared our knowledge in “each one teach one’s”, started our days with yoga, and struggled together as we built the massive foundation walls, log post and beam and cobbed and built bales through the summer.

When the program finished we wrapped up the building site and made plans for the next season.

So it came to be that O.U.R. Ecovillage now has several natural buildings, built in summer programs by a temporary learning community.

 

When the second season came along I decided to participate more in the “community” piece realizing that I quite enjoyed the processes and times spent together. The core group was small then and the idea was that more committed folks would join to hold this dream together. This is where I began to learn the art of “holding space”. I have since come to appreciate that this is key to the success of the programs and it is something that doesn’t fit a job description. It’s energy, synergy, and it comes from intention and attention to each other as we relate to the whole.

Most importantly it takes time.

As we developed more facilities OUR garden also became the focus of a learning program that was somewhat parallel to the building. We called our programs “skillbuilders” from then on:  either Natural building or Sustainable Food production Skillbuilder. The number of people on site in the summer kept rising and each year we added a few more events that became regular occurrences in our annual cycle.

All along Brandy tirelessly built relationships with funders and successfully landed grant money for most programs. We sometimes held our breath when signing large contracts: can we really pull it off?

We laughed and cried, problem solved, went through endless cycles of norming, forming and storming always thinking that we would finally end up just performing. Ha! That’s not how it works though and what we did learn is to expect the ups and downs and ride them with more grace.

 

As I write this I am acutely aware that I learn most when in contact with others. The deeper the connection, the more vulnerable we become, the bigger the learning and the more I feel a sense of belonging.

O.U.R. Ecovillage, especially the people at the heart, have seen me through my cycles of growth, challenged my sense of what’s possible over and over again, and in the end I now operate from “WE” more than from “I”. As I step away I wish to express deep gratitude for all the subtle shifts in my being that living in community caused. I am more open and more whole as a person.

My work here has been fulfilling and rich, challenging and rewarding on so many levels. I am honored by the trust invested in me over the years and I am proud of the accomplishments we share. My heart is imprinted in the earthen walls all around here and I hope that this body of work will continue to inspire the future buildings for the village.

 

May the voices around the commons be joyful, may your steps be light and bouncy and may your circles be deep and warm.

We had a first light frost on the ground with a half moon in a clear night sky. Yes it’s getting colder and time to move the kitchen indoors.
Today was picked as the moving day and everybody jumped in. Wheelbarrow loads of stuff was taken out of the cupboards and fridges and is now in its new location for the cold months. Marisa orchestrated and many hands made the work light. And still it took all day.
At the end of the day dinner was served indoors!
A few more interns finished on Friday and have moved on. The place feels empty and quiet. Our winter population will count around 20.
There’s lots more to do to be ready for winter: the garden will be put to bed, firwood moved closer to the buildings, water shut off to outdoor showers.
Meanwhile I am preparing for a trip to Africa- 10 days from now I’ll be on my way. And Sundays at O.U.R. Ecovillage will resume in February.

Yes, it’s been a long while since I last actually sat down on a Sunday to write.
It is somewhat symptomatic for how the season takes off here at the Village, leaving hardly a weekend to sit back and reflect.
So here it is Thanksgiving weekend and we are taking three days off. Days off look different for everyone. In my case it looked like this:
Sleeping in was definitely on my list. Followed by “unscheduled time to do whatever I felt moved to do”. That translated into doing some browncoat plaster in the bathhouse and cleaning out the gutter of the Art Studio.
A drive to the open water near Sooke at French Beach was a wonderful break. There’s just something about sitting by the ocean and listening to the pulse of the surf.
A visit with friends also felt good and was long overdue.

So think about what time off means to you and how do you make it happen?

Summertime for a builder is high season at work. For many of us, however, summertime means time to travel, have a holiday, spend time at the beach with kids and so on. It is festival season, too, and around here one could make attending festivals a full-time occupation at this time of year.
I’m experiencing the cross-over of all these here at the village, and especially over the past couple of weeks.
We’ve had some fun times with our “Taste of Cob” running at the same time as a kids camp. Children as young as four learned to mix up clay, sand and straw into the material for sculpture, wall or bench.
Led by natural building interns, participants young and old happily danced in the mud, flipped tarps, spread clay slip onto dry cob and pushed it all together with their newly discovered thumb power.

At the same time Robert Laporte from Econest guided the Skillbuilders, continuing Natural Building Interns and visiting econest interns in a tour de force effort on erecting the second floor of Taj 2. We applaud everyone in that workshop for their determination and hard work.

And then a few days later its all done- the Skillbuilder program that is- 9 weeks of learning and living together, struggling with the challenges of group dynamics, feeling the highs and lows of community life, of creating a new self perhaps or a new vision for one-self. And the question arises: what now? How do we take the learning and integrate the experience.
And for me the question is up: How will we create next year’s program- what do we keep and what do we change? Every group is different and amazing. Our learning is ongoing as well as O.U.R.Ecovillage takes on this role of demonstration and education site more fully every year.

But as much as something is finished- we’re only in mid summer and so much more is coming up. So this weekend at the Duncan Folk Festival marks a welcome break for me with music and community connections.
And tomorrow is Monday and we’ll start with a check-in at 8 am in the Chillage.


“Have you heard about us before? ” this was the opening line for many conversations over the course of the Organic Islands Festival on the weekend. Cassandra (in the picture) and many of our interns spent their weekend time networking and introducing O.U.R. Ecovillage to curious visitors of our booth.

We shared our ideas around natural building and food production, explained about zoning issues and ecovillage development, and made new connections in the community.

Our display showed ideas like “Lasagna gardening”, Seed balls, natural plaster samples and ingredients and offered a natural building “peep show” in a dome made to look like a cob oven.


While many were anxiously following the final game of the soccer world cup, Brandy facilitated a panel on Green building and sustainable development with Guests Doug Makaroff of Living Forest communities, John Gower, JC Scott, Gord Baird from Eco-sense and me, representing O.U.R. Ecovillage and my own design company “houses that love you back“.


The panel offered diverse approaches to reducing our carbon footprint from a building perspective. Alternative systems, woodland preservation, sustainable harvesting of lumber, natural building and the idea of the 100 Mile house were presented in short presentations by each of us and then questions from the crowd fielded. A juicy topic like this is hard to fit into a forum like this, so I invite you all to look for “Building as if People mattered” a one day conference in the Spring of 2011!
All in all we had a good time and feel in good company among the many businesses and producers of “organic everything” .
Join us this week for a “Taste of Cob” on Thursday or Friday : cobbing fun for the whole family.