Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beginner's Mind and Virginal Pep

Let it be known right now that I am a complete research junkie. So as you can imagine, my recent foray into this housebuilding project is utterly fulfilling. Sunrise Sister, a blogging friend of mine, posted this morning about life sometimes being like a Star Trek adventure, and this particular research and planning project definitely has Star Trek-like elements to it. I feel like I'm on a whole new planet. Or to be more precise, I'm more fully on this planet, exploring some of the most fundamental aspects of it for the first time.

I'm no slave to astrology, but there are a couple of weekly horoscopes that I like to read, and one of them is astrobarry, who wrote the following for my last week's horoscope:
You oughtn't buy into the false notion that you need any particular bit of training or experience beyond what you already possess, in order to start making a whole new mound of progress. Instead, consider your relative amateurishness as an asset; lacking the wearisome jaded quality of those who have 'been around the block a hundred times before', you'll bring a virginal pep to activities you try for the first time.
Indeed. I am most definitely feeling full of "virginal pep" these days, and while I'm "making a whole new mound of progress" by filling my brain with all kinds of new information, I'm doing so from the place of what is known in Zen Buddhism as Beginner's Mind.

One of the reasons I've chosen earthbags as my building method is because it's simple for beginning builders to learn, as was demonstrated in full over the past weekend's barn raising.  It was a really a beautiful thing to see around a dozen people who had never built this way before, including the hosts themselves, quickly put together a structure which has the potential to last long beyond our own individual lives.  In fact, earthbag-building is growing like crazy in many parts of the world because it provides structures that are hurricane- and fireproof. And it's an extremely inexpensive building method; that's no small thing these days.

Earthbags lend themselves nicely to round structures, which is what Richard and Kerry are building for their llamas.

The first thing we did is turn all the bags inside out so there would be no corners sticking out:

Then the bags are filled with dirt (other fillers can be used too; more about that another day).  You take a 5-gallon bucket, cut the bottom out, and use it as a chute, or funnel:

To the left you can see Richard and Elisa setting up the chute-in-bag.
Then one person holds it in place, while the other pours bucketfuls of earth.
The foundation is made by digging a trench and filling it with rubble, after which the first course of bags is laid, like so:

Richard and Graeme.
And a whole lot of dirt to fill the bags with.

Richard and Elisa "sewing" the bag closed with a piece of wire.
This was my least favorite part of the process; tedious.
You can just fold the ends of the bag under instead, but it means less full bags, i.e, more bags.

Graeme holding a tamper.
This is used to compact the earthbags after a course is laid, making them into "bricks."
Tamping also allows the courses to be made level.  And it's a whole lot of fun.

After the first course is laid and tamped, two rows of barbed wire go on top to hold the next course in place.
This is sometimes humorously referred to as "Velcro mortar."

Bricks are used to hold the barbed wire in place until the next course is laid.
It's also possible to staple them in place. I think that's how I'll do it; the bricks are inelegant.


I am so grateful to Richard and Kerry for opening up their home to Eliana, Graeme, and me and giving us this opportunity to learn and practice.  You can see lots more photos (some with me actually in them; I'm the one with the blue bandanna) at Kerry's blog:  One Little Farm.    


  1. Polli - This is so exciting to read and to witness - the "virginal pep" IS AN AMAZING naming of an energy we often don't give enough credit. You've planted another post in my mind that should show up at MINDSIEVE in a couple of days:) Thank you and keep up the good work!!


  2. I love the idea of a round house. Built with lots of pep!

  3. The word MOUND stuck out in this post for me. This is exciting to be a part of this project with you, all be it hundreds of miles away, but nevertheless there in spirit.

    I look forward to hearing more about this and your updates soon.

    I LOVE THIS horoscope for you - WOW.

  4. Wow wow... How wonderful, a Beginner's mind and a virginal pep :-))) When I read hurricane proof, my eyes got very focused suddenly :-)))
    Blessings on your journey, polli :-)))
    Bravo, bravo, bravo!

  5. SS - Glad this inspired you! I can't wait to see where you take it.

    Tess - Yes, round houses make so much sense. I'll be doing domes, myself.

    Jennifer - As always, your being with me in spirit means so much.

    Claire - I realized after I posted this that I put "fireproof" when I meant to put "earthquake-proof." These structures are VERY strong, and are being used in places like Haiti right now because they are a cheap easy way to provide sound housing.

  6. I love it. A little curious about the roof, though. Can you put a grand piano in?

    Now that I know we're due for a monster quake here, probably in my lifetime, I'm looking at most of my house with suspicion, and then going about my business. Same way I approach life in general, I guess.

    Also, I love your blog wallpaper.

  7. Probably no grand piano is this llama barn, as it only has a 12-foot diameter. They're still trying to figure out what they're going to do for a roof, I think.

    When I build my house, it will consist of domes that are earthbagged all the way up; no need for a separate roof at all.

    Thanks for visiting!