Thursday, October 17, 2013

Earthbags and UV Rays: A Reluctant Experiment

When I sealed the busted skylights on the Sky Bus with filled earthbags in the middle of July, I had every intention of getting back out there within a few weeks to paint over them, since UV rays are earthbags' greatest natural predator.  However, life being what it is around here, I didn't actually make it back to the land until last weekend, and I was worried about the state of the bags after so much time passing.  But I'm happy to report that even after almost three months of exposure, they were still intact;  the lettering was faded, but other than that they were fine.  I painted them a cheery yellow, since that was what I happened to have on hand, and now I don't have to worry about them again until spring.  I was also pleased to see that this method of skylight repair has apparently worked beautifully; there were no leak stains at all in the bus, even though we've had quite a bit of rain in recent months.

The other purpose of going out there last weekend was to deal with the pile of bags outside the bus.  I was able at last to get all of them either into the bus or into my Blazer to bring to my house, and this is a HUGE relief.  No more mountain of bags sitting on the ground!  And other than a very few at the bottom that had mildewed (which were the lowest quality bag I had anyway), they are all in good shape.

Earthbags in my mudroom, freshly unloaded from the Blazer.  A bit dirty, but intact.
Seeing how much I was able to accomplish in just a couple of hours out there inspired me.  My goal now is to get to the land one more time before it gets too cold and/or snowy, and finish what little rubbling of the trench there's left to do.  I'm hoping I can get one or two helpers to come out there with me and bring wheelbarrows, and then within a few hours, the trench can be completely filled and covered over with pieces of the old tarp that was previously protecting the pile of bags.  Any volunteers? I'll feed you and buy you a beer at Taos Mesa Brewing :) 


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Earthbag Bus Repairs

A cool thing happened the other night.  I was on my way to meet the phenomenal Deonne Kahler at Taos Mesa Brewing to see a band, and the thought crossed my mind that I would run into my neighbors from the mesa there, Brenda and John, even though I hadn't seen them there or anywhere since last summer.  Lo and behold, I was right, and they filled me in about the earthbag dome they're building on Brenda and her husband Charlie's property, down the hill from Serendipity.  I also met a new neighbor, Diane, and it turns out she's from Montreal, which is where I was born.  The whole encounter really made me itch to get out to my land, but I had a problem to figure out first, one that I'd been procrastinating dealing with all summer.

At the beginning of June, I went out to my land and discovered that the last functioning skylight in the Sky Bus (the other two were gone and boarded up when I bought it), had blown off the roof and cracked.  If you're not familiar with the Taos mesa wind, that should put it in perspective.  The skylight was closed, and the wind was enough to open it, separate it from its hinge, and blow it right off the roof.


So I needed to decide how I was going to fix that before spending any real time out there, especially since the monsoon season has hit.  I finally sat down and gave it some thought yesterday morning, because I was going to go out there in the afternoon.  I had decided I was just going to Gorilla Glue a piece of tarp over the opening as a temporary solution, and was packing up to head out, when I had the sudden brilliant realization that I could use an earthbag instead.  Since my son was going with me, he could hand me buckets of dirt to fill the bag in place on the roof, and then just lay it down over the opening and tamp it to seal any cracks. 

So that's what we did and it worked great. 

I did lay a plastic bag liner over the opening first for added coverage.

It worked so great, in fact, that we decided to go ahead and do it with the other two missing skylights as well.  Since they were boarded up only on the inside, they still leak when it rains a lot.

Halfway through filling the second bag. 
The ugliest of the three.  Notice my lame attempt from last summer to seal it by inserting pieces of a sleeping bag mat.
Next time I go out there, I'll paint over the bags to keep the sun from eating them, and I think they should hold up at least until next summer.

Another thing I accomplished yesterday was to bring a bunch of the bags home with me.  They've all just been sitting there in a huge pile under a tarp, so I want to eventually get all of them out of there.  One of the benefits of having them at my house is also that I can get them all inverted before I actually start to build.

We stopped to visit Brenda's building site on the way out.  They're doing a 20-foot diameter dome just like ours, but they're using mesh tubing and they've got this very interesting DIY barbed wire they've created.  And John has come up with a brilliant bag-filling device with wheels.  I can't help but feel a little jealous that they've accomplished in a month more than it took me two summers to do (they're now about three courses above ground level), but on the bright side, it's inspiring to see and motivates me to start turning those bags inside out!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Thousand Year Plan

I once wrote this article for the Taos News about a local artist named Thom Wheeler who, over the past three decades, has turned his acre of land into a magical melange of buildings and gardens.  He talked about further plans he has for the property, saying he's "on the thousand year plan."
Thom Wheeler's main house, image borrowed from

For whatever reason, that's what popped into my head this morning, as yet again I fretted about how slowly things are happening on my land and how long it's been since I posted on this blog.  I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself about all of that, and feel like I "should" be doing more and faster, but the truth is, I have other irons in the fire right now that come first.  I'm definitely a multi-iron-fire kinda girl anyway, but also being an entrepreneurial-minded single mother who doesn't like settling for less than meaningful work means that the irons I'm firing right now must be well-tended or the bills won't get paid.

Which brings me back to thinking about my land - the whole idea in the first place was to build a house and cut out a large portion of said bills, but it's just not that simple.  When I first decided to buy land, live in a bus off-grid, and build a house, I was excited by the prospect of no longer pouring money down what I called then "the black hole" of rent.  But after two summers of pouring money down the black hole of fuel and bags of ice and coffee shop food so that I could access the "free" Internet to do my work, not to mention the cost of moving back into town each fall, it was such a blessed relief to start paying rent again.  I realized that rent can actually get you something very valuable - a stable home base from which to live your life in a functional and harmonious manner.  I now happily hand over a check to my kind, generous landlady every month. 

Thus, here I am, still in this lovely funky sprawling adobe in town, enjoying my summer, working on my two new businesses (one of which you can check out here if you're so inclined).  But I think about my land every day, keep trying to find a time to get out there and do the little bit of work still left on the foundation trench.  That is realistically about all I can get done this summer unless these businesses take off in a big way because I don't have the extra money to put into building supplies at this point.

So waking up this morning hearing Thom Wheeler's calm, drawling voice in my head saying, "I'm on the thousand year plan" was wonderfully reassuring to me.  And I hope you understand me when I say that the fact that I (and perhaps the whole human race) won't be here in a thousand years makes absolutely no difference.