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Manic Monday, Part One: Solo Plastering

by Tara

This morning, Tyler starts a couple batches of plaster going in the mixer, then heads down to the camper to program for the day, leaving me to tackle plastering by myself. I'm reeling from the sudden change of pace: Tyler took the last couple days off from work to help with the house, and lately we've had Tony's help, then Kevin and Joy's. Together, in one afternoon, we finished the first coat of plaster on nearly half of the exterior of the house.

Just yesterday, this progress felt exhilarating. Now, the sense of accomplishment has faded, replaced by a daunting hopelessness and loneliness. Five pairs of hands are down to my one, and the weight of this project feels insurmountable.

The plaster now mixed, I empty it into the wheel barrow and attempt to maneuver it towards the wall I'll be working on. But my boots get sucked into the mud, squelching and sticking with each step, slowing my progrss. The wheel of the barrow is worse, immovable, digging itself deeper into the mucky patch that lies between me and the house.

I heave and I heave, until I finally come to the infuriating realization that I simply cannot move the barrow on my own, especially as I don't want to tip the thing over and lose some of the precious, expensive plaster. I sigh, give up, and fill a bucket with plaster. As I zombie-limp, grossly unbalanced, towards the wall in question, the weight digs into my palm, cutting off circulation. I can barely make it ten feet without stopping to set it down and shake my hand, and I make a mental note to fill a half bucket next time.

Now, it's time to wet the wall. This process, while speedy with a team of two, is slow and inefficient and a little nerve-wracking with just me to do it. First, I get the hose ready, in place where I want it. Then, I jog over and turn the generator on. As soon as it rumbles to life, I scramble back quickly so I can squeeze the trigger on the spray nozzle. (Since the water is gushing from the ground, but has nowhere to go until I squeeze the trigger, I'm afraid I'll blow out the submersible pump if I'm not quick enough.) Arriving quickly, I grab the hose and squeeze the trigger, relieving pressure. I spray the wall down. Then, I drop the sprayer and run back to the generator, turning it off before the pressure builds.

Next, I grab a hawk and a trowel and get to work. As soon as I load my hawk with plaster from the bucket, I can tell it's going to be a rough day. My left wrist, the one that is holding the weight of a hawkful of plaster upright, is protesting in pain, utterly shot from yesterday's plastering marathon. My right hand, which grips the trowel, is a scrunched claw of pain that refuses to close properly around the handle. I scrape the plaster from the hawk and onto my trowel, and then press it onto the wall. Again, my wrists scream in protest, but I work through the weakness, hoping I'll get into a groove. I don't.

The sun is warm and bright today, with a cool breeze rippling the tarps behind me like sails. Though the tarps protect the walls from direct sun, they do little against the wind, no matter how many bungees we tie them down with. The warmth and the breeze make for walls that dry quickly, quicker than I can work. I can't get into any sort of rhythm or make any sort of progress because every painful spurt of effort is quickly halted by the need to press back and scarify before the plaster dries. I cannot spray down the sections I've already plastered for more moisture, for the water will wash the lime out of the newly-applied mix.

When I can move on to a new section of bare wall, I find that it has dried and needs to be re-wet. I repeat the generator process over again. I climb up and down the ladder. I drag plaster over by the half-bucketful. This halting, frustrating, achingly slow progress sends one phrase echoing through my head, over and over again: I can't do this by myself. I can't do this by myself. I can't do this by myself. I keep plastering anyway, my mind engaged in complex mental gymnastics to keep myself from totally freaking out. Wet tears slide down my face and blur my vision.

Despite the pain, I must plaster. Winter is coming. This straw needs to be safely covered over, and I'm the one who's going to do it. The bare wall before me seems immeasurably vast. I feel like a tiny speck of a person on shore, engulfed by a massive wave, in way, way over my head. I am so inefficient, and the amount I've completed so far could be easily completed by two of us in about a fourth of the time. Perhaps it isn't even worth plastering solo on a sunny day.



I can't remember how I found your blog, someone linked to something, but I just wanted to say thank you. My husband took one of Andrew's strawbale workshops this summer too in Oregon. We have similar plans as you, but we are just now searching for our land. I know our plans are crazy. I know it's going to be hard if not impossible. But I keep planning for it. I love to see your progress. It feels like a glimpse into the horror and agony and wonder that will (hopefully) be our lives in a couple years. Thank you for being so honest about the physical and emotional journey you are on. I really am so grateful for your honesty. You guys are inspiring because *you're doing it*! Best of luck as you keep working - I'll be watching vicariously from afar and preparing myself mentally.
Posted by Liz on October 22nd, 2014 at 1:04 PM
I'm a bit late tot he game, but I just want to say - I empathize with you. We have a log house that we are trying to chink, then stain and seal. June, July and August were hot and relentlessly sunny, and in late August the weather turned, seemingly overnight, to consistently rainy. Working with two people makes the job manageable, but working alone is slow and frustrating. I've had to consistently shift my focus away from "We have the rest of the house to finish... we won't make it!" to "Let's get 8' of this wall done, top to bottom, today."

I hope you get 'er done before the weather turns!!

All the best,
Posted by Mandi on October 22nd, 2014 at 1:36 PM