October 29, 2003 - Wednesday
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October 29, 2003 - Wednesday
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October 27, 2003 - Monday
I finally saw the much-praised (and so very justly so!) Blue Vinyl last night at the Hooker-Dunham Theater, screened as part of the Frugal Environmentalist's Brattleboro Environmental Film Festival. Tremendous!
The film's been nominated for two Emmys (Best Documentary and Best Research), and was the Documentary Award Winner for Excellence in Cinematography at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.
The filmmakers also have a consumer education and advocacy website called My House is Your House, which links to my Natural Building Gallery. I couldn't be prouder.
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October 26, 2003 - Sunday
How many jack-o-lanterns is enough? 28,952?
We went to the Pumpkin Festival in Keene, New Hampshire, on Saturday. Keene is about 20 miles from here. After over an hour—much of it sitting traffic—we squeezed into one of the shuttle buses for the last leg of the journey into the pulsating center of the madness.
Pumpkins. And people. People and pumpkins. Lots and lots and lots of both of those things.
There were half-a-dozen towers like these full of jack-o-lanterns.
There were piles of jack-o-lanterns on street corners, boulevards, medians.
Occasional glimpses of racks and racks and racks of pumpkins could be seen occasionally in spots where the crowd was inexplicably sparse. (They were probably in a feeding frenzy on a nearby sidewalk, consuming a fallen festival-goer.)
Did I mention the horde? It was a crush of people, a maddening throng. There are those who enjoy crowds, who find being squeezed on all sides by inconsiderate, elbowing, obnoxious, loud people invigorating and thrilling. I'm not one of those.
It wasn't entirely without merit, however.
There were 28,952 lit jack-o-lanterns, breaking the old world record of 23,727—which was also set in Keene, in 2000.
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October 23, 2003 - Thursday
Preparation vs. improvisation
Ever-thoughtful Jeremy, on his website, said, "Mark notes a debate in his blog that I think is one of those fundamental things—preparation versus improvisation," and then goes on to talk a little bit about that worth-mulling-over quandary.
I replied—not arguing a position, but clarifying my words and contributing to the discussion:
I agree with Michelle that almost anybody really can do almost anything. Whether they think so or not.
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October 21, 2003 - Tuesday
Waiting for that generally happy routine
Boyhood chum Bert Eidukat, some years ago just after he moved to North Dakota to be a geology professor, said that he was "waiting for a generally happy routine to establish." I've always been about twenty developmental years behind Bert; while I'm not any closer to becoming a perfesser than I ever was, I do find occasionally that I'm walking in his footsteps—this time, waiting for that generally happy routine to establish.
Not that I haven't been doing anything. I've been busy. We both have.
The Dearest One has joined me here in Brattleboro now, having mostly finished building a tree of mud in Ithaca... which really isn't as weird as it might sound. It's actually really amazing, especially in person. See here, this is a photo of it, mostly done:
It runs along the wall, up some stairs, which will be replaced with nicer-looking ones when the construction is done. The rocks are rocks; and in the back of that niche where it looks like straw, that's straw. (It's a straw-bale house, and that's a "truth window".) There's an actual wooden tree, too, which you can't see here except for the trunk; and there's a stained-glass sun as well, way up on the right. I have a more complete photo waiting to be scanned, but this will have to do for now.
The rest of it is "cob", which is kind of like puddled (or monolithic) adobe: clay, sand, and straw. "Cob" is a European term, but the basic technique developed in just about every part of the world with an earthen building tradition, perhaps most notably in England and Yemen.
The sculpture is in a strawbale duplex in the Ecovillage at Ithaca. Unlike most bale houses, this one has wooden siding to blend in with the rest of the community. (Before the siding was installed, the bales were sealed with a direct-applied wet plaster; in this case, lime-stabilized clay and sand. Sealing the bales is very important.) The cob sculpture is on the inside of the nearest, most visible wall in these shots. The round window provides the light for the stained-glass sun.
It's the house of Graham and her son Ollie:
One thing we'll miss in Ithaca is the casual monthly meetings of local natural builders. There's a different topic every month—like water systems, working with stone and other materials, dowsing—and they meet at a different place each time. They meet at somebody's log cabin one month, then somebody's strawbale house, then somebody's straw-clay building site, then somebody's timberframe barn. Anybody who has some experience or knowledge in a given subject shares it. Good stuff: plenty of talking and laughing and learning. The last meeting we attended was about solar water heating; this is Shannon holding an evacuated tube for solar water heating, which I didn't know anything about and is way intriguing:
A couple-three weeks back we went and visited some lovely building projects of Clark Sanders in and around East Meredith, NY. This is a strawbale place at what seems to be a sort of a combination school-and-park. Outstanding, just gorgeous:
There's also a cob house going up there, but I don't have a picture of it that isn't ugly.
This next one is also strawbale, an earlier project way up on a hill off a dirt road in the woods; part residence, part meditation hall, built around a small courtyard:
Back when I was the editor at The Last Straw, he sent in a bunch of moisture readings he'd taken, months apart, at that place. It was fun analyzing the results, and illustrative. It's all published in some back-issue, as are a number of his other interesting experiments and valuable inquiries.
Way up on another hill, he's finishing work on a spec house.Yep—if you got money, it's for sale. Loaded with handwork, charm and character, the place seems like it's been there for ages. The concentration of care and talent that's gone into it almost makes the place glow.
This is the staircase in the center of that house; and there's Clark.
His own house, however, is stone. He started building it when he was 19, about three decades ago. It took him three years just to lay the walls of the main house. The place isn't that big—but the attention to detail is staggering. He didn't know what he was doing when he started... he hadn't laid stone before, or built a house. He taught himself as he went. I asked him if he'd recommend that approach for just anybody, and he said that he absolutely would. "Just start building—and then it's too late to back out. When you run into a problem, go figure out the answer."
Personally, I'm more of an advocate of preparedness; but I have to admit that it's terribly hard to know how much knowledge is enough, and suspect that it varies from person to person. Buildings fail, perform awfully, and people lose money and time and sometimes even lives because they didn't inform themselves enough to know what they were doing beforehand. The needs of the materials and the climate are also just as variable as each individual. Ultimately, each person makes their choices, and the hope is that they choose wisely. Clark, I think, has innate understandings of how to build appropriately, along with a tremendous design sense.
I didn't think to ask him if he'd build with straw or stone if he had it to do over. And I don't think it's that important of a question. They're two different things, both equally good.
Clark's stone house:
Last weekend—or was it two weekends ago?—we went to Wing's Castle, in Millbrook, NY... another stone place started by a 19-year-old in the early '70s. He and his wife are still building. They figure it's something like 97% recycled material.
This stone circle is in their front yard—what a view!
The stones in that circle are from the foundation of the old family farmhouse; the land has been in his family for generations. He came back from the war in Viet Nam and started building the castle off in a back corner of the large property; like Clark, he didn't know what he was doing, either. "I was a farm boy, not a builder."
Peter Wing, with his wife Toni, built the castle.
We went on the local Sustainable Homes Tour recently, too, hosted by the likes of ASES and NESEA. One of the places we went was the Earth Sweet Home house. I'd met them before, but had never been there. This, too, is strawbale, as is the little round battery house (photovoltaics and wind) with the living roof.
A local museum sponsors walks every Tuesday. Or at least they did until last Tuesday, when there wasn't one. Tuesday-before-last, though, we went on a walk in historic Guilford, one town over from here. This is the Guilford Free library:
and this is the sign in its front door, which came from librarian.net:
We're living for the winter in the fifth-wheel, in a trailer park on a hill overlooking the Connecticut River, across the river from Brattleboro. Which is not to say that we can see the river from where we are; but we can if we go to the edge of the hill. What we see from our windows are trailer houses.
The other day we figured out how to get down to the riverbank, to an abandoned railroad right-of-way. Nice...
... but not perfect.
The new job continues apace. Come on up to the third floor and visit me in my office down the hall when you're in town.
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October 20, 2003 - Monday
It's been over a month, really?
Well... I've been busy posting comments at Jeremy's site. Yeah. Not my fault.
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