Monthly Archives: February 2010

Tribal Introductions

Work on the house and garden ground to a halt again for the last couple of weeks.  It was roughly 15 degrees below average, but the thing that really stopped me is the snow and lack of sunshine.

I’ve used the time to get ahead in web work and explore Missouri.  In the last week I’ve gone to the Mardi Gras celebration in St. Louis, spent a couple days at Dancing Rabbit, and discovered a local organic brewery/restaurant in Columbia.

If you’ve never been to the St. Louis Mardi Gras celebration, I bet you’d be surprised how big it is.  I missed the formal parade, but I think the informal parade of revelers was probably more entertaining than the parade could ever be.

It was fun, but it reminded me of something from the documentary, Collapse.   Michael Ruppert makes an analogy that there were really only 3 kinds of people.  There are those that are completely caught in the headlights and don’t know what to do.  There are people who say, “ok, how can we build more life rafts?”  And then there are the people who say, “this is the Titanic, it’s too big to fail, I’m going to the bar.”  I felt like much of the Mardi Gras celebration fell into the latter category.

I’d been e-mailing back and forth with Liat, a member of Dancing Rabbit for awhile now.  At some point I was mentioning how I believed the most difficult aspect of community life is decision-making and conflict-resolution.  People are all different and can be very unpredictable. By comparison, it’s pretty straight-forward picking up some tools and materials and building a house.  She brought up the fact that they were doing some training on meeting facilitation, so after asking the other members if it was alright, I got invited up to attend it.

I really enjoyed meeting people, but I still felt very much like an outsider.  Visitor season hasn’t started at Dancing Rabbit and I certainly saw a look of, “who is that? should they be here?” on several faces when I first arrived.  After a sledding session immediately after I arrived and an introduction at the potluck on the first night that subsided.

I felt like I was seeing what it’s like to be part of a tribe.  Even the protective glances I got when I arrived spoke to that fact.  It was clear we shared many of the same values, however, I also knew that this wasn’t my tribe.  I saw the rhyme and reason for how they put those values into practice, and fundamentally I agree with them, but I have something slightly different in mind for what I’d like Maya Creek to be like.

That said, I had an excellent time.  It was interesting and insightful getting a close look at what others had done with these natural building techniques and whether or not their experiments were successes or failures.  What really sticks with me though is the feeling I got when I was in those buildings.  They were labors of love and have a level of character that I can’t really even describe because I’ve never felt it before in an inanimate object of that size.  Even when I look at ancient ruins I can’t help but think that the people building these temples were probably doing it against their will.

The training was extremely informative to someone who hasn’t even witnessed a consensus-type meeting.  It really made the point that it’s not just about making a good decision, it’s just as much about the people aspect and making sure everyone leaves the meeting with as much enthusiasm and focus, but hopefully more than when they entered.  I’ve got a couple of books on consensus and a big thick manual on how to facilitate meetings, but I haven’t gotten to them yet.  After all, since it’s just me right now, I tend to come to consensus pretty easily.

After the morning training Liat took me on a tour of the nearby community of Sandhill later that day.  We only ran into a couple people at Sandhill, but it was clear they have a very industrious operation going, making molasses, maple syrup, honey, and growing and brewing all kinds of things for sale and their own use.

All in all I think it was good trip to introduce myself and my goal at Maya Creek of a similar type of community.  I’d like to visit again when the weather’s nicer but that may not be this year because if the weather’s nice I really need to be working on my own projects.

Making Connections

It’s amazing how many connections I’ve found by just doing what I’m doing.  Jesse’s mom, Anne, raises alpaca only about 15 minutes away from here.  She’s offered to let me take her “alpaca beans” off her hands, some of which are already well rotted.  I’ve only gotten one small load so far since it was muddy and now everything is frozen solid.

While I was talking to her she mentioned she had a local guy who DELIVERED straw bales for $2/piece.  They’re not anything I’d use for construction, but for stacking around the camper and eventually becoming mulch, they’re perfect.

A nice guy named Charles delivered the bales and while we were unloading the bales I was just talking with him and the fact that I didn’t have a larger propane tank came up.  I tried to get one in town but they were sold out, and in any case they were pretty expensive.  Well Charles said they had a couple 100lb tanks(holds what 5 grill-size tanks do, which I was using).  So, I ended up getting one from them for about half of what they were going to charge me at the store in town.

Connections can be powerful, but you have to be open to them.  If I hadn’t talked to Anne about straw bales, I wouldn’t have met Charles, and if I hadn’t talked to him about stuff I wouldn’t have gotten the tank.  Even a few years ago I may not have been extroverted enough to just start talking to people.

I’ve actually talked to Charles a couple times now and shown him around the straw bale place.  He had a lot of questions and seemed kind of excited at the idea of being able to build like that.  He even asked me for the website address to find out more about it, so hey, what’s up Charles? if you’re reading this.

I had just enough bales to cover the trailer as much as I wanted to and also make a compost bin out of bales.  I’m going to put fresher manure in it to break it down.  The bales should keep it warm and I’m also thinking about putting some clear plastic over it to heat it up and speed it along, that’s why I left a few bales off of the south side for better solar gain. Oh, and the bales will give off heat as they decompose, adding to the heat generated by the compost which will be even hotter thanks to the bales insulative value.

I’ve also taken the chicken tractor and removed the door on one side.  I found a really cheap roll of clear plastic drop cloth and stapled a couple sheets over the run and the now opened nesting box.  I oriented it to run east-west, ie, face south.  I also put a couple inch layer of straw underneath it.  I plan on putting some bricks and bottles of water in there to regulate the temperature and hold the heat into the night.

Today was sunny with an actual high of 40F according to  I got two outdoor thermometers and set one outside the “solar coop” and one inside on the straw.  I checked it this afternoon and the thermometer sitting outside the coop in the sun read 60F, and the one in the house read 100F!

I’m actually hoping the bricks and water will moderate that high somewhat.  I’m going to use the solar coop to start my garden plants.  A lot of seeds are supposed to get started 8 weeks before the average last frost, which is April 15 here.  So, I’ll be starting several flats of seeds in the next 2 weeks.  I’m sure I’ll be checking on them far more than need be, it’s my nature.

I bought a couple of T-105 deep-cycle batteries a couple weeks ago.  I’ve got them all hooked up and now have juice in the camper without having to go out and turn the truck on and off.  I have a wall-charger and can take them to friends’ houses to charge them every week or so when they get a little low.

I’m excited about getting a wind generator set up and be truly off-grid.  I’d really like to build one, but I’m trying to prioritize as best I can.  The situation as it is right now isn’t too bad, and I think having a real roof over my head should be my top priority.

I can’t imagine that I won’t have the house ready to live in for next winter, but just the same I want to be sure.  I went and picked up some more of my favorite free used billboard tarps.  I’m going to use them to line the inside of the roof rafters and stuff the space between with wool and cellulose.  I’m taking it piece by piece since it’s hard to work with by myself and it’ll be easier to take down to fix leaks or run pipes and wiring up there later if I need to if it’s in smaller pieces.  I’m going to put pieces of wood on the outside of the rafters to hold the tarp in place better since it’ll be fairly heavy with all of the insulation.

Anne, who I’m getting the alapaca beans from has a bunch of rough wool she can’t use for anything else.  She said she’s been using it for mulch in her garden, but wool is an awesome insulator and even holds it’s insulative value when it’s wet, though I don’t intend it to get wet.  I’m thinking about asking other people with sheep and alpacas(I’ve heard of others) to see if they have wool they can’t use.   Connections.

I also continue to be contacted by all kinds of interesting people who find that what I’m doing resonates with them.  Keep on writing, I enjoy talking with all of you.  I’ve also gone out of my way and contacted several of the local universities.  William Woods University in Fulton has offered me as much horse manure as I want and a few professors at the University of Missouri have given me some good references about Native Americans that lived in this area, specifically ethnobotany(what they ate and used for medicine), but also traditions, rituals, etc.

I’m going to try to plant a lot of native plants in the garden here.  Hey, if they grow here already without anyone having to do anything, think how easy they’ll be to grow in the garden.  My kind of gardening.