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.

7 replies
  1. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    It has been an honor and a rich learning experience to share this time with you here – thank you. Your willingness to step out of the hands-on work into the Coop inspired me and your ability to balance practical and qualitative work continues to surprise me. Here’s to walking a path with heart..!

  2. Javan K.
    Javan K. says:

    There are few walking this life that have hands which have touch so much, feet that have walked so far, ears that have listened to the depths of crevasses and arms that have hugged so many.

    In stepping away, you step towards what is next and towards yourself.

    I will miss my friend, a mentor and one heck of a human being.

    Thank you Elke. Thank you.

  3. Linda Hill
    Linda Hill says:

    Dear Elke
    You will be building community circles where ever you go. What is very special about these community circles is that they will almost always surround a real actual community house of some kind because you are one of the few people in the world who combines natural building with community building. Thanks for all you do.
    With love
    Linda Hill

  4. Libbie
    Libbie says:

    Greetings Elke
    May you be blessed where ever you heart takes you. I am sorry we were not able to meet (yet!)
    You have been an inspiration to me.

  5. Cedar
    Cedar says:

    Hi Elke,

    Long long time no see. My very best wishes that your next journey is as exciting and adventurous and growing as has been the connection with OUR.

    From your Courtenay years; and now from Aotearoa.

    Your friend, Cedar.

  6. Michael Holmes
    Michael Holmes says:

    Hello Elke ,

    Thanks for all you taught me ,your patience ,kindness and understanding. I read a poem by the Sufi poet Hafiz recently and on hearing of your “stepping away” it sprang from the “shadows of my mind” it is called
    All the Hemispheres

    Leave the familiar for a while.
    Let your senses and bodies stretch out

    Like a welcomed season
    Onto the meadows and shores and hills.

    Open up to the Roof.
    Make a new water-mark on your excitement
    And love.

    Like a blooming night flower,
    Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
    And giving
    Upon our intimate assembly.

    Change rooms in your mind for a day.

    All the hemispheres in existence
    Lie beside an equator
    In your heart.

    Greet Yourself
    In your thousand other forms
    As you mount the hidden tide and travel
    Back home.

    All the hemispheres in heaven
    Are sitting around a fire

    While stitching themselves together
    Into the Great Circle inside of

    Transformations, completions ,we have drank the poetry of our wine . Best of luck my friend.

    Mr Michael Holmes

  7. Shannon McIntyre
    Shannon McIntyre says:

    I’m inspired all the time to believe in my own abilities and in the power of people coming together by people like you Elke- who have accomplished so much by being a voice of leadership who can also be so human as to make mistakes, empathize, and seek empathy from others. I wish you joy!


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