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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.

root cellar gargoyles


Cob week for the Natural Building Skillbuilders and we’ve been building a Root cellar for O.U.R.Ecovillage.
Cob is still my favorite way of building: I simply feel happy as soon as my hands get into it.
This time around we have high production energy on the site. The goal was to get these walls up by the end of Friday and it was done by lunchtime.
The cob was made up by a bobcat and the group is packing it onto the walls in tall lifts- following a technique that Gord Baird from eco-sense shared with us. This technique allowed us to finish the walls of the first room in 4 days- and that included our learning curve!
Now new terms like “Baird Cob” and “power lifts” are floating and once again we see how there’s always more to learn and try out.
We’re playing with some sculptural detail as well: gargoyles surround vent pipes, buttresses and more.

rammed earth tires


Located on a North Slope, we started with a rammed tire foundation and retaining wall against the slope. This building will be earth sheltered on the South Side, is shaded from the east and west and we’ll give it good overhangs on the exposed sides.
Once the walls are finished we plan to lay a reciprocal roof structure and build up a living roof for more protection from sun exposure.
Doors are big enough to bring a wheelbarrow in: we imagine sacks of potatoes, crates of Apples and plenty of other delicious produce from the garden to be kept here in the winter.

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.


Giving people the space to learn and practice hands on skills is one of the central things at our village.
Last week interns were engaged in many tasks- and as leader of the building program I don’t get to fully observe what the garden team is up to. However, there they were on a sunny afternoon cutting the tall grass on a hillside with scythes.
There’s something about the rhythmic swinging movement that has an old fashioned appeal to me. It takes a while to find that rhythm, and once established the effort becomes easier. I tried and have to admit that I’ll need a lot more practice!

Meanwhile the Natural Building Skillbuilders were working on the Bathhouse: after laying most of the stone foundation the previous week we put in plumbing pipes and floors- or floor bases. The little building is set on a slope and we are stepping the floor levels to match that. This way our composting toilet will be accessed from a lower path on the West side, the shower and washing space has its own doorway from the East. The south wall will include some solar hot water system. Stay tuned for more on that.

Finally on Saturday a Wedding: We celebrated with our friends and danced until late last night to the tunes of the Ecclestons. Some good rhythms there for all to play!