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.

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.

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!


“Comings and goings “ is a regular agenda item in our weekly community meeting: this week Chris, Kate and little Fergus left after being here for almost six months. Everybody deals with parting in a different way- some are able to express their feelings right there in the moment, for others the “missing” of the person doesn’t begin until after they’re gone. Here we sing a song as farewell:

“while you are away
from your people we do pray
that in your searching you will find
balance in your heart and mind “

Spending a few months together we get used to the place/ role someone takes on in the web of community. Chris spent a lot of time building and fixing things and I will miss his confidence as builder. Kate inspired me to start running again this spring- thank you!

And Fergus, being the youngest child on site, gave us all the chance to be silly and to remember how quickly children grow. In the time here he learned to walk and is now speaking his first words.

I wonder how the fact that we have so many people coming in and out affects the children. What does Fergus think now? Here a toddler is surrounded by people outside the family: older children and adults who give attention and interact with him. It is safe here for parents to give their child a larger range of movement- there are many eyes on the children.

So Kate, Chris and Fergus: we wish you well on your journey and hope to see you again soon!

Today is the second big day of arrivals: Welcome skillbuilders! The tent village fills up and we start our “permaculturalization” tomorrow morning.

And Friday and Saturday were the final days of the Small Straw Bale workshop: Friday was spent doing a lot of filling: with light clay, cob and straw.
On Saturday we applied the “bodycoat” and everyone got muddy! Have a look: