Sunday, August 28, 2011


Rainbow over the building site
In the earthbag house plans I bought from Owen Geiger, it says, "First, clear and level the building site."  That one sentence, those seven little words, became my entire summer.  And this, initially was for two main reasons:  1) I didn't have enough money to hire a guy with a backhoe, and 2) because of having to work, I could only work on the site an hour or two a day, and not even every day.  Compounding these were the intense smoke from the Las Conchas fire through most of June and July, and the intense heat during the middle of the day.

I had this idea starting out that I could get the house finished before winter, and if I had hired a guy with a backhoe, maybe I would have.  But after I realized that this simply wasn't going to happen, something very cool happened.  I gave myself over to the work; I allowed myself to fall into its rhythm. I began to look forward to moving my daily inch of earth, just as I looked forward to other little daily tasks unique to my new living situation.  It's all just part of this life, I now understood, each task as significant and ultimately meaningless as any action in life.

I came to look forward to rising at dawn and brewing coffee on my Coleman stove, writing in my journal, then going out with the mattock to chop grassy lumps, and eventually with a shovel, a rake, and a wheelbarrow to move dirt around to level the site.  I didn't care how long it took anymore or how hard it was or how dirty and imprecise. 

I realized I didn't actually want a guy with a backhoe to do it for me, even if I could afford it.  One day it struck me that the process I was involved in was much like giving birth at home - it was MY work, my transformation.  I was about halfway through the leveling process at that point; I was leveling the earth as it was leveling me.

My handheld tools powered by my lifeforce and gravity will have provided the foundation my house will rest upon until it is not more.  And that could be a very long time, far longer than the life of the body responsible for it.  Because it is not in fact the body that does this work, but the spirit does it through the body.  The body is just another tool.

In the Earthbag Building book, Kaki and Donald say, "Action dispels doubt," and that has become sort of a mantra for me.  Every time I've felt overwhelmed by the scope of the task, not having a clue what I'm doing, I've simply gone out there and started, and something in me has known what to do.  It's as though the earth in my bones is listening to the earth beneath my feet; it's an intuition deeper than than an idea.

When I first realized how hard and time-consuming it was going to be to level the pad by hand, I started looking for shortcuts.  I thought, Hmm, it's really only the rubble trench foundation that needs to be level, so I'll just start digging from the highest point and measure the 18 inches from there, and then level the trench with rubble later.  And then the floor can be leveled with scoria much later.

I could have done that, but that intuitive earth in me wouldn't let me.  On the practical level (no pun intended), I realized that I'd end up spending more on scoria down the line, but deeper and more primary than that was the need to become intimate with every inch of this project, this land.  The need to do it completely, to inhabit it.

And the joy of seeing that little bubble in the center of the level window is so worth it.  The joy of raking earth into spirals starting from the center of each dome circle and working my way out.  The joy of standing on the ground of my one-day house and seeing it now flat and round, looking like Owen's construction drawings.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dirt is Heavy

I have been thoroughly enjoying living on my land, but I have to say, July was a frustrating month of major obstacles.  Trying to get anything done in July was like trying to ride a bicycle backwards.  I knew going in that things could take longer than I was planning but had no idea just how incredibly slowly it all would move.  Part of it is because of things like computer problems and checks that came late - things unforeseen and not directly related to the building work.  But part of it is that I didn't have a clear idea just how long it takes, and what hard work it is, to clear and level a pad by hand.

We started, as I've mentioned here before, by hacking away the sagebrush.  In retrospect, that was the easy part, although it's probably good that I didn't know that at the time.  And that grass, oh my God, the grass.  That stuff has incredibly deep roots, and it's hard to even see where it all is.  I'd think I'd gotten most of it but then I'd notice  - oops, here's a spot, there's a spot.  And have to drag the mattock out again.

I got to a point with it where I just wanted to do something, anything to feel like I was making progress, so even though the site was still all lumpy and sloped, I put my center stakes in for the two main domes, and tied rope to them, which I had premeasured to the radius of each dome.  Then I drew out the circles and marked them with orange chalk powder.  Somehow seeing it laid out like that cheered me and gave me a new sense of momentum and energy to go back to dealing with the clearing/leveling process.

Doesn't look like much, but believe me, this represents hours and hours of hard work.
But then, wouldn't you know it, it started raining.  Which, as anyone who lives in a dry climate knows, one may NOT EVER complain about, so I won't.  I don't even want to; the rain has been glorious in many ways and for a variety of reasons which I'll go into some other time.  However, it washed my orange circles away as well as prevented work on the site for several days, during which time the grass GREW.  Aargh.  Well, at least it was more visible now.  And truth be told, it's nice grass and I'm sure I'll enjoy having it around my house, once it's built.  Just not IN my house, thank you very much.

Anyway, in the past few days I've managed, with Graeme's help, to churn up what was left of the grass (I think, I hope) in the circle of the main dome.  And since then, I've been shoveling and raking and shoveling and raking to redistribute the soil from the highest places in the circle to the lowest.  It's getting there, although I hesitate to say, "I'm almost done," as I've said that before and then been disappointed when I realized I wasn't anywhere near.

But out of all this - this long drawn out building process and readjusting my entire life to living in a bus and doing all my work at a cafe and hauling heavy things like water and dirt around and dealing with dead rodents my cat brings in and watching the enormous moon rise full over the little lights of Taos spread out and waking in the middle of the night to seven cows surrounding the bus and spectacular skyscapes daily and on and on - dare I say it - I've developed patience.  

I'm not in a hurry anymore.  The house will be done when it's done, and in the meantime, I have land to enjoy and a bus I'm in love with and a lifestyle that fits me like my favorite pair of jeans.

driving home in a rainy sunset
Graeme's the pot of gold
Sky.  Two Peaks.  Bus.  Oh yes.