Category Archives: Experience

organized-workshop-2-26-14

Sputtering towards Spring

Organized workshop

In between the unusual arctic blasts that continue to pummel the area I’ve been quietly preparing for the inevitable coming thaw. We’re now back in another round of near record-low temperatures, but before that happened I got some much needed clean-up done as well as set up a really simple coldframe/mini-greenhouse for seed starting.

Ever since I brought my first load of stuff out to the property there’s essentially been an amorphous pile of stuff including everything from private affects and clothes to tools and materials all piled together with little rhyme or reason. It was under tarps strung between trees for the first 3 years, and then about a year ago it moved underneath the protection of the new shed.

Organized shed

Well, I finally went through ALL of the boxes of stuff and organized at least roughly. I can’t tell you how many things I found that I’d spent crazy amounts of time looking for.

The shed is a long way from done, and I’ll have to move some of the stuff again to work on the root cellar, but it’s so wonderful to easily find the tools and materials for projects and then know exactly where they go when I’m done. There’s an actual place for that kind of object now!  Also, I finally have space to pull in a vehicle to work on it when I need to.  Will wonders never cease!

Simple Coldframe

Hay and straw bale cold frame mini-greenhouseI made a rectangle from 8 old hay bales someone gave me and then stacked another 3 bales on the north wall of it.  Then I put down about 6″ of straw within a rectangle to insulate the floor and then draped a clear plastic drop cloth over a few 2×2 boards.  I secured the drop cloth with some of the scrap chunks of granite I have for various projects, mainly the footing around the straw bale buildings.

I also put a couple of the bigger dark pieces of granite inside of it, propped up against the back wall.  These chunks of granite are thermal mass that moderate the temperature, absorbing heat and keeping it from getting too hot during the day, and then re-radiating that heat back out at night.

Opened coldframe with onion trays

Today the outside temperature topped out at 26F, but inside the bale greenhouse it was 80F.  I’ve been bringing the seedlings inside at night since it’s been getting into the single digits and it gets below freezing inside the greenhouse, but soon it’ll protect against mild frosts and I can start getting tomato and pepper soil blocks started in there along with the onion trays I’ve already got growing.

Eventually there will be a greenhouse attached to the front of the common house and I won’t need to set a variation of this up every year.

 

Plaster party

2014 Call for Volunteers

Volunteers finish earthen floor base coatI am looking for volunteers to help on a number of different sustainability-related projects at Maya Creek for 2014.   I’d prefer volunteers to stay a minimum of 1 month, but I’ll consider volunteers for stays as short as 2 weeks. Volunteers staying longer will be given opportunities for more complicated work as well as preference on housing.

The work season starts at the beginning of April and runs through the end of October.  All volunteers will be provided room and board in exchange for 20 hours of work per week.

Canned garden produceGarden Help

I am looking for volunteers to help with the garden, food forest, medicinal and wild plant identification and harvesting, and food preservation.  This will involve weeding, watering, making compost, pest management, research, harvesting, canning, dehydrating, and fermentation. There may also be an opportunity to build an herb spiral for a volunteer staying a month or more.

Volunteers applying earthen plasterConstruction Help

The other main area of help will be on natural building projects, such as mixing and applying earthen plaster, helping construct the rainwater cistern, root cellar, and rocket stoves. Artistically minded volunteers may be encouraged to get creative with the finish coats of plaster, frescoes can be added with a little lime, and shelves and other sculptures can be incorporated as well.

Workload

You will be expected to put in 20 hours per week, weather permitting.  Cooking and doing dishes from communal meals count towards this.  There is a work log where everyone enters a general description of what we did each day and roughly how long we spent on it.   It will serve as a chronicle of Maya Creek and is useful for future planning, but it also lets you know if you need to find more to do or you can chill out and spend the day down at the lake or the river.

We will attempt to do most of our work during weekdays and keep the weekends free, but sometimes circumstances demand we work on the weekend, ie workshops,  weather, etc.

Strawbale duplexAccommodations

One side of the strawbale duplex with loft or a small 80 square foot strawbale cabin.  Both come furnished with full size beds, night stand, dresser, etc.  Each place is livable, but not totally complete.  If you would like to spend some of your work hours working on making your quarters nicer that would be more than acceptable.

The first construction project next Spring will be setting up the indoor solar shower system, but until it is working rainwater can be heated up on the stove and you simply pour it over yourself with a cup.  There is a composting sawdust toilet outhouse in the campground.

Meals

We will rotate through cooking duties.  After dinner each night we’ll discuss plans for the next day as well as who will be in charge of the various meals and dishes.  Often breakfast and sometimes lunch may be on your own, but there will be plenty of food to choose from.  Everyone is in charge of washing their own plate, glass, and utensils.  Pots, pans, utensils and other equipment used for preparing common meals will be done after dinner by whoever’s turn it is that day and put away by whoever has the first meal shift of the next day.  All reasonable grocery requests will be filled, don’t expect filet mignon or other junk food, at least on a regular basis.

Transportation

I would like to find volunteers who have their own vehicle.  There will certainly be local events and chores that we will carpool for, but you’ll inevitably want to take your own excursions, as will I.  This is in now way an absolute requirement.

How to Apply

To apply please fill out the Volunteer Questionnaire. If you have any questions feel free to e-mail me.

My Summer at Maya Creek

*Written by Sydney

My summer at Maya Creek is drawing to a close. The past three months have been an amazing opportunity to do things hands-on, experiment, and explore. I have had fun attempting a wide range of tasks at Maya Creek, and (of course) have had a similarly wide range of outcomes. Some projects have definitely turned out better than others.

Peeling a cedar trunk for a postOne of the more interesting projects I attempted was to tan a deer hide and then use the hide to make moccasins. I had this over-the-top vision of walking around in really cute moccasins, and when someone would ask me where I got them, I would casually say, “Oh, these? I just threw them together after curing and tanning the hide.” One of the early steps involved soaking the hide in a solution of wood ash to make the fur and outer layer of skin easier to scrape off. However, after soaking the hide for the allotted time, I found that not all of the hide was properly drenched and some of the fur wouldn’t come off. Even worse, some sections were overly-soaked, and those parts of the hide would basically disintegrate into a disgusting mush when touched. At this point, the hide was ruined. Tao had tried tanning a hide earlier, and had gotten similar results, making me think that the book that we both followed recommended using a solution that was much too strong. So, the super cute moccasins were not to be.

Another thing I have attempted, with much better results, was building a large shelf for the shed. Currently the shed is a huge jumble of different items, and as Tao isn’t sure where he wants to put everything, there is not a lot I can do to help. However, this shelf should help organize some of the smaller building supplies and tools. It was my first large construction project (its bigger than I am!) and I am pretty pleased with how it came out. It’s not perfect, but it should do the job.

Canned garden produceI have also been doing a tremendous amount of canning. Almost anything that the garden produces in a large enough quantity I have canned, and the canned produce should be a nice alternative to dried foods in the winter. So far, I’ve canned potatoes, tomatoes, tomato sauce, soy beans, green beans, and carrots. While I have been really careful to follow the directions exactly to avoid improper sealing or improper sterilization, the overall process is not too difficult.

The time I spend in the garden is particularly rewarding. While I arrived too late to do much of the early plantings, I have watered, weeded, and tended those plants throughout the summer. Each day brings subtle changes to the garden, and it is a really good feeling to be able to notice them. The constant rotation of what crop needs to be harvested, what bugs are currently doing damage and need to be killed, and what needs to be weeded keeps things interesting. Looking at the garden now, in the middle of September, is a very different sight from when I came here in the middle of June. Of all the things I have done at Maya Creek, I think it is the evenings spent listening to music and puttering around in the garden that I have enjoyed most.

Wild chanterelle and oyster mushroom harvestDuring my stay here, I also had the opportunity to visit two intentional communities, and soon I hope to visit a third. At the end of July, two friends and I went to the Possibility Alliance for an afternoon. We got to participate in a Sunday morning Quaker Meeting and took a wonderful tour of the place. A month later, I had the chance to stay at the East Winds community for three amazing days. Both of these communities are proof of what great things can be accomplished when people work together to meet their needs. While the two communities were very different, they were united in their general goals of living simply off the land, sharing and cooperating with others, being mindful, and empowering people to live outside of systems of violence.

Similarly, while Maya Creek is not a full-blown community like the Possibility Alliance or East Winds, it too shares these main goals. Visiting the intentional communities helped me see the bigger picture of what motivates Maya Creek. After coming back from those visits, particularly after coming back from East Winds (probably because I stayed there longer), I felt a renewed dedication towards Maya Creek’s goals and general inspiration towards living life in a positive way.

Overall, Maya Creek has been a really cool place to spend a summer. The lack of running water has been difficult at times, and the limited number of people around means it can get isolating (I just spent 10 days without seeing another human being!). However, I think these downsides have stretched my comfort zone in a way that makes me a stronger person. The idea behind Maya Creek is so powerful, and is physically realized in such a beautiful way, that I will leave this place in awe as to what people can do if they really put their minds to it.

Catching up with myself

It was four years ago on April 15th that I landed at Maya Creek.  I was asked recently about my personal state of being now after this much time pouring my everything into my work here.  So this post will be a little different from my normal updates on projects, observations, and whatnot. I’ll post about more external affairs soon, but this is a personal audit of sorts.

I’ll start with the easiest aspect to describe, that of my physical condition.  I lost 15-20 pounds that first summer on the land, but gained back about 10 over the winter.  Since then the pattern has somewhat equalized so I gain 10-15 over winter and lose 10-15 over summer.  I spend about 2-3 weeks every spring being pretty sore as my body gets back into shape.

I haven’t noticed any permanent wear and tear on my body apart from the injury I got in October of 2011 when I cut my wrist badly.  My flexibility and strength has returned in the hand, but the nerve sensation is only slowly returning as is expected with that kind of injury.  I’ll probably never recover the sensation fully, but it should continue to return indefinitely.  It doesn’t hamper me for the vast majority of tasks.

All in all though, I eat better than I did, feel better, and at any given time I’m in some of the best shape of my life.  As a side note, I’ve noticed that I have a much broader comfort range than I had before when it comes to things like temperature, pain, cleanliness, bug bites, etc.

The first couple of years on the land I only had a couple people helping me, if any at all. I was so eager to see my dreams come to fruition that I worked hard day in and day out.  I started to wear down and so took in some friends and more volunteers to help out, but instead of keeping my goals small I expanded them and ultimately made more work for myself and felt less able to regulate my work schedule around my own personal energy levels.  On top of the larger project scope there was significant amounts of energy going into managing volunteers and even just maintaining relationships of all kinds to the point that I began to seriously burn out.

This year I’m scaling my volunteer help back to what it was the first couple of years and am taking my time; working on things when I feel like it, and taking time to relax and recharge when I need it.  As the zen story goes, “When hungry, eat.  When tired, sleep.”  I already feel like I have significantly more control over my life and I’m finding a pace that I can keep for the long haul.

It’s been VERY easy to bite of more than I can chew and then spend large amounts of time stressing about getting everything I’ve started to  a satisfactory conclusion.  It’s also been VERY easy to get overwhelmed when I start to break down the bigger picture into all of the steps.  My vision for the future has changed so drastically that having more than a rough outline for the future is almost waste of time in it’s own right.  Setting realistic goals in a general direction and focusing on taking things a step at a time is certainly the path to maintain sanity.  It may sound obvious, but it’s been easier said than done thus far though I’m certainly taking it to heart now.

I’ve become better at recognizing when an emotion has arisen in me and examining it for what it is rather than letting it control my thoughts and actions.  I still have a long way to go in this regard, and regularly say things or behave in ways that don’t reflect the person I want to be and who I know is still buried within me.  Yet, that person comes closer to the surface as time goes on and any progress in that direction is welcome.

The word “spirituality” brings to mind new age ideas, which don’t appeal to me.  Still, the more intimately I entwine my life with the natural world the closer I feel to something sacred.  I often feel like a child while closely examining insects, reptiles, birds, mushrooms, plants, or watching the interactions between any number of participants in this natural web of life.  It’s awe-inspiring and a large reason for slowing my construction pace down is so that I can spend more time connecting with it.  It makes me feel more alive.

Altogether, I’m happy and optimistic.  The enjoyment and satisfaction I get from completing even small tasks and projects keep me motivated and excited to continue my journey.  There are certainly pitfalls to this lifestyle, and I’ve skirted dangerously close to their edges at times.  I now have the sense that I’ve found stable footing and though there’s still some rough patches ahead I feel well-equipped to handle them while still appreciating the view.

Balancing Autonomy and Community

Brian, John, and Dan

Despite getting 9″ of snow yesterday we’re already plowed out here at Maya Creek.   Dan and Brian graciously liberated us today when they came over and cleared off our driveway.

I have a fascination with being snowed in out here in the woods with plenty of food, water, and warmth.  I like the idea of putting this self-sufficient setup to the test.  Not to mention just being snug and nestled away in my den peacefully waiting for Spring.  Without the ability to leave, my world suddenly becomes much smaller and in some ways that simplification is comforting, assuming I don’t really want to leave in the first place.

However, the world seems to reach out and pull me back even faster than if I lived in the city.  Instead of days or even weeks spent alone in the woods, neighbors I haven’t seen in months stop by to make sure I’m keeping warm and offer to plow the driveway.  I gratefully accept their offer and I’m reminded of how important it is to be a part of a community at large.

The toughest part of living in a community is balancing the needs of independence with the need to feel connected to each other and share in something larger than ourselves.  The balance that’s right for one person is often not the same for another, and so the boundaries become compromises.  The larger the difference in preferred balances, the harder the compromises are to make.  The compromises can certainly be made more likely to succeed with increased mindfulness, openness, and skill.

Anyone can attest to these challenges that has ever moved in with a friend only to find that even though you love them, that living so closely with them is not the best way for your friendship to work.  So it’s with a heavy heart that I tell you that I’ve disbanded our burgeoning community of permanent residents here at Maya Creek.  Jesse will be moving out within a few weeks, and John will follow suit later this year.  We are not parting on bad terms, and our friendships I hope will be better for it in the long run.

As for the future of Maya Creek, I intend to continue pursuing a healthy, self-sufficient, and sustainably-minded lifestyle here, but rather than building a permanent community on the immediate property I would like to see it become a temporary retreat for those needing to take a break from mainstream society’s onslaught of consumer-driven wage slavery and gain some perspective by connecting more directly with their real needs and the natural world.  I would very much like to see this place become a venue for workshops, skillshares,  potlucks, meditation and organizational retreats, and other events that are in-line with the goals of improving ourselves, connecting with each other, and integrating with the natural world.

Common house after thunder snow storm.

The main difference now is that I’ve recognized my need to have a certain level of control over my home, as I’m sure both Jesse and John can relate to.  Visitors are still invited to come stay and participate in life and projects here at Maya Creek, but any visit will have a beginning and an end.

I still want to be a part of a community, but I’ve recognized that I need a level of separation between myself and the community that’s physically impossible here right now.  I believe my ideal community is relatively autonomous with people sharing meals a couple times a week, coordinating on issues that affect everyone involved, lifting each other up in times of need, and sharing certain tools and resources that make sense for large groups of people but not individuals.

In some ways the local community that already exists here in the surrounding area could meet many of those needs for me and I hope to connect more deeply with it in the future.  The influx of visitors and helpers drawn to Maya Creek will certainly have its own transient communal culture and will help connect me as well as the local community to the larger global community.  I also hope that Maya Creek can act as a beacon for people seeking a similar situation and perhaps draws in some new like-minded neighbors as well.

So that’s the latest update.  There’s been some hard lessons and big changes here, but I’m optimistic about the future and in many ways relieved at how events have unfolded.

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.

Counter-Camping Frisbee Fun

The Yard

What a wonderful Memorial weekend it was.  While the typical American was camping, boating, floating, and/or backyard BBQing, We decided to sneak into the mainstream for a day of icy cold drinks, running water, air conditioning and  television.  A friend of ours was out of town for the weekend, so we “camped” at his place for Memorial Day.

The weatherman said it would rain that day, but the clouds parted especially for our retreat.  The sun shined so bright that I’m still feeling it!  The day began early in the morning setting up the outdoor kitchen, Frisbee golf baskets, and determining the Ultimate Frisbee zones and hazards.  There were random games of  Frisbee Golf and Ultimate separated by good food and meditation.  Some went inside the to absorb the air conditioning and Lord Of the Rings, some sat to relax by the lake.

Memorial Day 2012 Tony and the bounty.

Janice, Tony, and I went fishing.   It started a little slow at first, until Tony brought out some magical plastic worms that the fish seemed to crave.  We only kept a fraction of the fish we caught, but it was just enough for dinner.   Janice caught the  biggest bass of the day and Bobbie cooked them all to perfection.   The mood was playful and relaxed.  Our bellies were full.  Some of us were even napping.    What a great day.

Zones and Hazards...not the best place for Ultimate

Paul suggested we have another Ultimate Frisbee game.  The competitive spirit began flowing again…I could feel it.  The sun was down, everyone cooled off and rested. This was going to be an epic game, I imagined.  The game was indeed epic, a shutout even.  The rematch was turning out to be more of the same merciless torture.  Suddenly I smashed my thigh into a tree stump hazard.  I wanted to ugly cry, it hurt so bad.  I was out for the game and the rest of the week as it turned out.   Our team was now outnumbered, and minutes later we had another injury.   Tao twisted his knee keeping him out for the game as well.  We were riddled with bad karma.  It wasn’t looking good for Paul either.  He was our last man standing facing a determined team of three.  Luckily, Janice mercifully volunteered to change teams.  She certainly picked up the slack from Tao and I.   It was another epic win!

Black Rat Snake… under my covers

I found this guy under some blankets on my bed while I was cleaning up the tipi this evening. For a few seconds I was terrified until I recognized that it wasn’t something poisonous. It’s one of the black rat snakes that we see relatively often around here. They’re great for keeping the mouse population down, but less great to sleep with.

Every night I check under my covers, mainly just looking for spiders and ticks, but snakes have made it up onto the list now too. I’m hoping I won’t have bad dreams tonight…

Fundraiser Launched!

We’ve tapped out our savings and we still have a ways to go before we can make Maya Creek financially sustainable. We contemplated starting a Kickstarter campaign, but we wanted to avoid as many fees as possible. So like the resourceful people we are we’ve set up our own DIY kickstarter-style fundraising page.

There you can learn more about what we need the money for, and what’s in it for you, apart from the sense of well-being you’ll feel from helping a worthy project. We’ve also put together a short video as well.

Foraging for Breakfast

Mallard Duck Eggs

 

After a long weekend of cleaning barns and making compost piles, I woke up with a craving for eggs.  Luckily we introduced 4 Mallard ducks into Mom’s pond a few years back.  4 ducks soon turned into 50, then their numbers began to shrink gradually through attrition (and the families of fox that moved in).   These days we try to keep the population around 15.  With 8 ducks producing eggs, there are plenty to go around if you can find them before the Great Pyrenees do.