During our strawbale workshop, we were fortunate enough to meet Martin, a sweet man from New York City who came to participate. Over the course of the week, we were delighted by Martin's humor, down-to-earth kindness, and musical enthusiasm. What follows are his reflections on his time at our homestead. Thank you for taking the time to document and share your experience with us!
The Straw Bale Workshop – or - What I did for Summer Break
Sometime this past winter, I made a decision that would cause my path to intersect with an amazing group of people in Vermont. My wife and I have been looking for either a house that needs fixing up, or a piece of land on which to build a house, in order to have a place where we can retreat from the hustle and bustle of New York City. There have been a few prospects over the past two years, but none of them have panned out in the end.
As we were looking, I happened upon this website called “Strawbale.com”, and I started following it and reading the various articles that the owner, Andrew Morrison, wrote about building with straw bales. I had already spearheaded a project in Seattle where the community in which I lived at the time was building a Community Garden. As part of the deal, we could raise funds to match city funds either with cash or with volunteer hours, so we decided to build a cob toolshed. We easily met our part of the bargain with the time it took us to raise the shed. Now, 12 years later, I was ready to learn about one of the other “green” building techniques out there.
I sent in my money, signed my release form, and put the workshop down on my calendar. Life went on, then an e-mail or two arrived from one of the hosts, Tara, asking about dietary needs and a short statement about who I was. Nothing could really prepare me, though, for the experience I was about to have in Vermont, helping Tara and her partner, Tyler, to build their workshop.
From the friendly interaction with their neighbor down the road, who pointed me in the right direction, to my departure as the last one to leave the party, er, workshop, it was far more than I could have hoped for, not just in terms of what I learned from Andrew, but also in terms of what I learned from the participants, each of whom brought his or her background in construction, permaculture, raw food diet, music, tiny house living, hunting, pole barn repair, computer language, deck building, and so much more to share with everyone else at the workshop.
I was surprised by the diversity of backgrounds, but I was also surprised by the ease with which everyone at the workshop mixed with one another, meshed in terms of personalities, and worked with each other during that wonderful and too-short week. At times, it seemed as though there were multiple workshops taking place. One participant rehabilitated the compost that was on site, throwing himself wholeheartedly into the work of mixing in the various types of organic matter necessary to heat it up – all this after having spent the entire day working on the Straw Bale structure.
Every evening, Andrew took out his guitar, various other instruments were distributed and a computer was hooked up (yes, there was high speed internet) so that we could look up chords and lyrics. Interspersed between songs would be various stories of trips around the world, experiences in tiny house living, advice about the best and worst in composting toilets. And, notwithstanding these late night jam sessions, we all seemed to have bottomless wells of extra energy as we consistently got up at 7:00 or so in the morning and worked until 6:00 or 6:30 with a one-hour break for lunch. I know I’m on the right track when I’m able to sustain that kind of pace without grumbling or feeling fatigued. I suspect all of the other participants feel the same way.
The food, everyone agrees, was delicious, nutritious, and it met the needs of everyone from vegans, gluten intolerant, vegetarian and omnivore. As I mentioned, one person was eating only raw food, but he brought his own stash and was perfectly content to take care of himself. As I say, this group was probably the most easygoing and accommodating gathering of people, ready to jump in and help, happy to go with the flow, and operating on a wavelength that was almost always harmonious. I really can’t believe how quickly everyone clicked. It could have been something in the food but, really, if it was it can only have enhanced what everyone had already brought to the table.
For me, personally, this workshop brought me closer to understanding just what it takes to be responsible for your own dwelling. It is so much more than I think that I am ready for, yet, but going to Vermont and participating in this modern day ‘barn raising’ reminded me of just how much community is a key element in the successful construction of a home or workshop. Everyone I met there is walking on the path towards that community, wherever it may be.
For some of us, that community is still something that we are seeking. Many of us have a community that is physically spread out across the country or the world. Some have found their place and their community but are adding new skills to their skillset, already planning a building or the repair of a building. We all agreed that, at the end of the workshop, we were sad to be parting ways and that, if the Zombie Apocalypse were to take place, we’d happily stick it out together up there with Tyler and Tara.
I am sad that we are all so spread out and, as one of those who is still seeking his tribe, I am hopeful that learning these skills, along with meeting and sharing with this group of people, I am starting to get better at both building a structure and at building a community. Living in NYC presents its own special challenges in that regard. I have lived here with my family for 12 years and we still count on one hand the number of families, couples and individuals that are a part of that close circle with whom you would gladly live through the Zombie Apocalypse.
We are still not sure where we are going to wind up, but one thing we are sure of is that, wherever that place is, it will be close to family. In the meantime, we will continue to learn about building strategies of various kinds and we will continue to connect to the place and people where we live as much as we can.
Now that I am home and have had some time to reflect on the workshop itself, I am realizing that, apart from what I have mentioned above, I have also discovered that I have a lot more to learn about the nuts and bolts of building, from designing a house, to pouring a foundation, to building a frame and putting on a roof, not to mention planning, planning, planning!
After having seen what can be done with 18 highly motivated people, one experienced leader, two hosts and a friendly dog (plus other visitors and neighbors) I am even more inspired to continue walking this path, seeking out more teachers and more information.
That week was a real treat and worth every penny; I am so glad to have gotten to know such a wonderful group of people. While I find it hard to imagine that I’ll be so lucky as to get struck by that kind of lightning twice, I can be happy knowing that they are still out there and that we are still cheering each other on.
I am already enjoying reading about decisions that some of the participants have made based on their experiences this July – big, life-changing kinds of decisions. These are the kinds of processional effects that happen when we are ready and open to what life presents us. I am so grateful (and greatful) to Andrew for his leadership and for taking the plunge, himself, in creating these workshops and sharing his knowledge with us. I appreciate, also, how open he was with us while bringing peace and hope into our world by opening his heart and standing in his vulnerability. Thanks for that, Andrew. It is really sticking with me. Easier said than done, though.
Thanks, also, to Tara and Tyler. They were such gracious hosts and were so generous in opening their home and hearts to us. I always felt safe and taken care of, with a full belly and a mind at ease. Someday, I look forward to going back and visiting them to see their finished workshop and, perhaps, to help them build their new house when they are ready to build it.
In peace and love,