I’ve been blogging a lot about sustainability and community–and this is for good reason. I’ve come to understand, as I worked my way through the AODA’s 3rd degree (where I investigated the relationship of druidry as a spiritual practice and sustainability, much of which I talked about on this blog), that community is a critical part of sustainability and that efforts in community building are critical to the success of such efforts. I talked about this a bit with regards to our Oakland County Permaculture Meetup; but I also wanted to talk about it in relationship to natural building and creating the sustainable structures of the future today.
When I was a child, I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. In those books, I was struck by her descriptions of things like “barn raising” and “community roofing” but never quite had a sense of what it would be like (as very few children growing up in the latter part of the 20th century would know). When our own family home was built at the age of seven, we hired contractors out to do the work, and came in nearly every day to check in on their progress. But after being exposed to natural building through the Strawbale Studio, I started understanding more about what these old processes used to be like–and how transformative and powerful they can be.
Let’s start with the first natural building project I was able to take part in, a rocket stove, built at Strawbale Studio through the rocket stove workshop. Each time I visit there now, I see that stove and think about the 4 of us who had the pleasure of designing and building it. I feel like I’ve contributed to something important, something that my friend Deanne and her many interns and visitors now get use out of.
The same is true of my garden fence. When I called in two friends to help me put up the fence, and later dig a trench around it and sink in chicken wire to keep out the woodchucks, the fence takes on new meaning because it was done with the help of friends. That fence continues to protect my veggies each day, and now, it also contains my two new chickens who are too young to be in my main flock.
A friend of mine recently hosted a timber framing workshop. They didn’t get as far as they wanted to get during the workshop, so the timber frames didn’t get raised during that weekend. In the last few weeks, he called a bunch of us (about 12 in all for the 1st frame, and 6 for the second frame) in to raise the first timber for his outdoor kitchen project. I’ll walk a bit through our process of raising the timber.
Prior to this, few of us knew anything about how to raise a timber. This isn’t a common skill these days. But we brought our heads together, took some guidance from the one person who had done it before, and set to work.
The timbers are prepped and ready to go. What we need is a bunch of muscle to lift it to attach to the side of the house (see the board below the window?). Four of us, myself included, went into the house and had thick ropes to help pull it.
We thought it was going to be difficult to get the timber frame up–we were kind of intimidated with the whole thing, since not a single one of us had ever done it before. We psyched ourselves out, thinking about how heavy it would be, how hard to lift, etc.
The timber frame went up much easier than we expected–we didn’t even break a sweat! Here we are holding it in place while my friend Mark drills it into the wall. Just this past weekend, we raised the second of three frames–I’ll report back when the outdoor kitchen project is a bit further along.
This idea of barn raising was again illuminated for me this past evening. I went out to Strawbale Studio for a Full Moon Potluck (I should blog about this sometime too!) and it was time to raise the frames on the Hobbit Sauna Project. This is an intensive natural building project….if I didn’t have to work, I’d be there! They realized they needed some additional hands to get the heavy timbers on top of the sauna. Again, you can see the value in this teamwork as a group of guys lifted the frame.
The value of teamwork, of community, and of directing human efforts collaboratively towards goals can be clearly seen in these photos. These are also quite sustainable projects–both are using local materials and human power (rather than fossil fuels) to get the job done. These are the kinds of projects that I think we will be seeing more of as fossil fuels become more expensive and scarce. Building knowledge now about the kinds of building that doesn’t depend upon heavy machinery and the kinds of communities one needs to build them is an important step in terms of sustainability.
There are other lessons in these kinds of “barn raising” projects. These projects would not get completed without the help of many hands. Through this work, those of us who work on them are transformed. I’m finding that when you participate in the building of a structure with others, doing the work with your own hands you really have a different relationship with the space. Each time you visit the structure, the object, you think about those who helped you create it, to bring it into being. You see its value as more than a structure, but as a site of collaboration and community. You realize how much we really do depend on each other for survival; how our relationships matter and should not be treated lightly.
I also think that this concept of “barn raising” can apply more broadly than just to physical structures. These demonstrate the force that community can bring to any project–be it transforming our communities, building a garden, or sustaining ourselves and our lands into the future. It is through this work of community that real transformation can happen.