Monthly Archives: November 2012

Passing Through Customs

It’s been said that the reason for the “success” of the human species is our ability to adapt to almost any environment.  We make clothes and housing to mitigate temperature changes, cook inedible foods to make them edible, etc…  However, in modern American culture and much of the industrialized world our environment is becoming increasingly homogenized.  You can walk into any Taco Bell, Wal-Mart, gas station, you name it and know exactly what to expect.  The seasons only moderately affect our daily routines as we go from an air-conditioned/heated home, to an air-conditioned/heated car, to an air-conditioned/heated office, etc.  Henry Ford’s assembly line ideology has been applied to our lives, it accelerates our interactions and reduces stress caused by negotiating unexpected situations.

Here at Maya Creek our environment is constantly in flux.  The weather and seasons have a much more direct impact on our lives and routines.  Newcomers have to be shown such basic things as how to use the bathroom, how the sink works, how to take a shower, how to use a rocket stove, etc.  In the future things like the sink and the shower may come to look and behave more as their common counterparts, but for the meantime the standardized environment doesn’t exist.  In fact, the environment that exists right now didn’t exist a few weeks ago, and has been constantly changing and evolving over the last 4 years.  We’re passing through customs on a regular basis.

Starting out here with nothing but wilderness and a tent forced me to start addressing immediate needs.  There was no outhouse there was just a shovel and roll of toilet paper, then there was just a bucket with some sawdust, and now the outhouse.  Every time we upgrade a system we have to learn new ways of interacting with it, and through that we develop new techniques.  Some of those techniques get left behind, but some of them carry forward into the next incarnation and affect our future plans.  In essence, we’re reacting to our environment and our needs, and the systems we’re developing are evolving from that.  Sure, we have some long-term goals in mind, but huge portions of my initial plans have changed and continue to change.

Living in an ever-changing environment has its challenges.  Every new visitor has to be trained on all the different aspects of life here, and even the people who live here full-time have to be trained once modifications have been done or someone figures out a better way to do something.  Things often get broken, misplaced, and none of our systems are where we’d like them to ultimately be.

That said, I believe the pluses drastically outweigh the negatives.  Because we’re constantly looking at our customs and how we do things with a critical eye we’re developing great problem-solving skills that extend to all aspects of our lives.  There’s a sense of self-confidence that develops when you figure out a better way to sift clay or empty dish water, and that too spreads to other facets of our lives.  When unexpected challenges arise, which they inevitably do even in the highly controlled mainstream world, we’re better equipped to address those challenges.

At some point I expect our evolving culture here to slow down, and while I won’t miss cold bucket baths for example, I know that the experience has made me a more adaptable and resilient person.  Passing through customs at Maya Creek may not require a passport, but you will certainly have an eye-opening foreign experience that may leave you a better person for it.  I know that’s been my experience thus far.

Battening the Hatches: September/October 2012 Newsletter

September was spent doing a lot of earthen plastering on the strawbale duplex. We managed to finish the 1st coat on the exterior and interior and got the 2nd, much more time consuming coat, on the interior of my(Tao) side of the duplex.

It would have been nice to finish the interior of both sides, and especially nice to get the finish plaster and floor in so that we wouldn’t have to move out to do that next year, but since the 2nd coat of interior plaster is still drying on my side there’s no way that was possible.  It’s been exactly a month and the 2nd coat is almost dry.

Anyway, that’s where we decided to cease major construction for the year and give ourselves a healthy amount of time to prep for winter. Prepping for winter includes taking down all of the tarps, tents, the pop-up camper, cleaning out the garden, spreading compost, and generally cleaning up and battening the hatches to stay warm.

The Common House

Yesterday I built some shelves for the pantry, and it’s actually being used for pantry-like functions for the first time in its existence. Having our food spread out in an easy to see and accessible way is probably more novel than it should be. I feel like I’m standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open.

Moving the kitchen in and out has become one of the dreaded spring/fall tasks. Until we finish the walls and the floor of the common house we have to move everything out to work on it. We were hoping this would be the last year we’d have to move it in and out, but we’ll have to do it all again next year as well.

We’re prioritizing the finish work on the common house for next year. The water system(hot indoor on-demand showers!) is the driving force. It’s also getting old explaining to every visitor that no, the common house isn’t done yet. We want to have at least one nice finished place to show as an example of what can be done using these sustainable techniques as soon as possible.

Rocket Stoves!

We’ve also been working on heating for the winter. I just finished work on the rocket stove in my side of the duplex. Jesse has the first phases of his complete, and John is gathering materials for his slightly more complex design.

The only thing I would do different on mine so far is to use 5″ flue pipe instead of 4″. Still though, it works remarkably well, and since it basically just burns twigs and small branches I can collect enough wood to burn for 4-6 hours in just a few minutes and I don’t even have to chop anything!

The draft created by the chimney effect and the insulated burn chamber are really exceptional. The sound it makes reminds me of the sound the space shuttles made(past-tense boo!) when they were taking off.  I find it very soothing.

I set mine up with a small cooking area as well as a platform to keep things hot.  I’ve cooked a couple batches of ramen(don’t judge me) on it so far, but I see a lot of tea being brewed in the future.

Harvest Festival

The harvest festival went well, although we’re contemplating moving it later in the year and using it as a time to celebrate our accomplishments for the year and to essentially close out the building season. We had a good turnout of friends and neighbors though, and I believe everyone had a good time.  The homemade hard lemonade certainly didn’t hurt!

Adventures in E. Coli

Many of our neighbors are hesitant to eat anything we’ve grown since word is out that we use humanure to grow our food. With that in mind I ran some tests for e.coli(Thanks to Sarah for acquiring the tests!) just to make sure we’re doing things correctly.

I tested our garden soil that I hadn’t added humanure to, some that I added humanure to last year, straight 1 year old humanure, and 1 year old composted alpaca manure. The results are in! The alpaca manure showed 4 e. coli colonies on the 2 tests, which is within safe limits, there was 1 e. coli colony on 1 of the tests that just had plain garden soil and there were no e.coli colonies found on any of the 7 tests that were done on straight humanure or soil amended with humanure.

Let me repeat that, despite doing more tests on the humanure compost and humanure-amended soil than on the other samples, we were unable to find a single cell of e. coli.  In other words, our humanure compost is totally safe!

We believe the alpaca manure didn’t compost as thoroughly because of how compacted it was.  The manure came from cleaning out the alpaca stalls in the spring and had been tromped on all winter.

While that should put everyone’s mind at ease I doubt the fecalphobes, ie most of society, will be too reassured. In order to utilize our humanure while still compromising with the fecalphobes we’re now only applying the humanure to the fruit trees and using alpaca manure on the veggie beds, despite it showing higher levels of e. coli than the humanure, although still within safe levels.

Winter Goals

We’re organizing ourselves for winter projects. Those include working on organizational aspects such as becoming a non-profit organization, restructuring our volunteer program, and getting training as meeting facilitators. I personally plan on doing more introspective work, meditating, reading, taking long walks, etc.  Oh, and I’ll also be working on editing together the video footage we shot this year into something presentable.