Jun 21, 201208:00 AMPoint of View
The Adventure of a Straw-bale Building
Since I can never really get into all of this, I resort to just talking about how my experience in Community Rebuilds felt [a nonprofit organization founded in Moab, Utah, which builds affordable housing in a tourist town and provides an educational opportunity to learn how to build with a sustainable, environmental conscience. The group is currently cranking out more straw bale homes in Moab, and has expanded to Durango, Colorado.] www.communityrebuilds.org. And not like finger-feel but from-the-middle-of-your-heart-way-down-to-the-tips-of-your-toes feel. It’s quick and meaningful and I can be passionate and pour a beer at the same time. Today I told Lisa about how the straw bale house I built feels. “Lisa, it’s like being in a big, safe, womb. You’re surrounded by earth from floor to ceiling, but it’s clean and warm. When you talk, the walls absorb your words like they’re listening...” and then her phone rang and she had to take it.
But I was on to something so I kept going in my own head: A handful of mud plaster is the most delightful and strange combination of rough and smooth, scratchy and slimy, liquid and solid. To be able to take that handful and then smear it on a bale of straw requires your whole body, you have to put your hips and shoulders into it. The brute force it took to make a wall and the delicate touch to round a corner...I felt like a true craftswoman. And beyond the wonderfully dirty and elementally tangible building experience, there was the fibrous quality of the relationships and bonds formed in that semester. Our instructors kept preaching the importance of fibers’ and how they are the structure of our cob walls, the strength of our adobe floors, the durability of our smooth ceilings.
It became very clear that what was really keeping that house together was our trust for and reliance on each other. Giving wake up calls, making a big pot of coffee to share, filling up water bottles, pulling mud clumps out of each other’s hair, riding brooms around in circles like horses or coming up with inappropriate names for equipment just to make each other laugh. I can still see our teachers lacing their fingers together and all of us interns moaning and groaning the word ‘FIBERS,” for the millionth time. Those were times I remember feeling deeply happy; that was community.
“Sorry, about that, Serah. Didn’t mean to interrupt you,” Lisa said and she took another Pico-smothered bite.“Oh, don’t worry about it. We’ll talk straw another day, I’m sure of it.” Lisa sauntered out of the saloon and while I bussed her spot at the bar my mind was still buzzing with memories of the fall of 2011 when I built my first straw bale house. One memory in particular... It must have been 5 a.m. in the Community Rebuilds house when I heard Kelly Ray Mathews, on of our natural building instructors, rapping on our dorm room doors saying ‘time to get up.’ Still bleary-eyed I heard the faint, smooth sounds of Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good.” This was our wake up call, because this was a big day: THE DAY THE BALES ARRIVE. By 6 a.m. we were all on site setting up palettes and waiting for the 18-wheeler to come barreling around the corner with our building blocks. The sun arrived when the bales did and in that dim light, we turned ourselves into an assembly line adding a bale at a time to the growing stack just inside the property line. I can’t remember exactly how many bales there were but it felt like 3,000. Even through the gloves I got little blisters from the baling twine, but 10 people on a cool morning makes for quick work. In just a little over an hour, the semi was completely cleared off and our beautiful bales were stacked high in what looked like a straw fortress. Imagining the house I was about to build and looking over this fortress confirmed that no huffing and puffing in all the world could blow this new thing down. Serah Mead, an artist, builder, and writer worked as a student intern for Community Rebuilds in the fall 2011. She now lives at the Oregon Country Farm.