Friday, August 15, 2008

Wigwammin' it

It was "only" 104 degrees today, after yesterday's 107. I spent the hottest part of both of those days outside, albeit in the shade -- yesterday, in the cob house doing plastering, and today helping Matt fill sandbags which we then used in the irrigation ditch. What's happening is that we are piping water from Yale Creek down a mile-long ditch that winds its way behind the farm fields, past our new irrigation pond and dumping out finally at our "old" pond (excavated last year). Anyway, this morning, while Matt was using the backhoe to excavate the last bit of trench near the old pond, I did some shovel work, leveling the trench and removing excess dirt. Then Matt and I added seven lengths of the 8" black corrugated irrigation pipe, bringing it all the way to the pond. After lunch, we went over to the compost/materials yard, filled up some sandbags, and then headed to the place in the trench where the pipe ends, carrying these heavy-ass sandbags over our shoulders for about 500 feet, which felt like forever because of the weight and the unevenness of the path. Anyway, once there, Matt placed the sandbags around the end of the pipe so that the water would be diverted into the pipe, not go around it. Then we drove over to where the trench meets Yale Creek. We carried more sandbags, and put them right in the creek, creating a funnel that diverts about half of the creek water into the pipe. We are waiting till next year to put pipe along the entire length of the creek, because we might be able to get a $10,000 grant to buy the rest of the pipe (we had to spend around $20K for the pipe we did buy, which covers most of the length of the ditch)

Our diverting the creek's water is the source of some contention with other local farmers, who also depend on Yale creek for their irrigation needs. We got a call the other day from a farmer named Judd who was having a hard time irrigating his fields, and wondered if we had been using some creek water (we hadn't). The fact that we are using pipe instead of letting the water flow straight in the ditch is saving tons of water -- apparently last year we used Yale Creek, but at a certain point in the day, the combination of leaks in the ditch (gopher holes, etc.) and evaporation from the heat made it so that the creek water never made it to the pond. Anyway, we have water rights to the land, but we have to be wise about conserving water, out of respect for our neighbors.

.....We have set up a date, August 26th, to talk about my future here once my six-month trial period is over (at the end of this month). So that's good; now that I have a date, I can collect my thoughts around my desires and needs for living at Full Bloom. To that end, I had a conversation with John Di Fruscia, a wonderful man who is the general contractor for the common building, as well as being deeply versed in wilderness survival/living skills. I've been thinking about what kind of structure I would want to live in, and Jo had mentioned a conversation he'd had with John about wigwams, which cost almost nothing in materials and are the most sustainable of buildings.

So I had a chance to get into the subject with John this afternoon, and I was completely enthralled. A wigwam is generally a circular structure, with flexible saplings set in the ground and being tied together at the top with rope (the only non-local material is the rope). The walls can be made of various materials, but we talked about weaving cattails together. There's an opening at the top of the ceiling, the very center, where the smoke from the fire (which is also in the center of the building), goes out. There's some kind of covering over that hole that allows the smoke to leave but keeps out snow/rain. ]The whole building is very low to the ground, for better insulation -- the only place one could stand up straight is in the very center, but since there's a fire pit there, there really is no place to stand up. However, since the building is only for spending nights in there, that didn't matter to the indigenous folks, who spent most of their daytime hours outside. Anyway, the opening to the wigwam is a crawl space a few feet high, insulated with animal skins or blankets, and you crawl through a short tunnel, through another set of skins/blankets, and then you're in the main building. It's small too -- probably 12 feet in diameter, something like that. There's no bathroom, and it's not a place you can store food except for a few things in glass jars, since the wigwam can be accessed by critters. The majority of time I would spend in there would be tending the fire, sleeping, and reading/writing.

It was an interesting discussion, because John brought up all kinds of things that I needed to think about, all relating to my having to make a shift in living standards in order to live in a wigwam:
  • The wigwam is a living, breathing structure, not built to keep out nature as much as it is to keep off snow/rain and retain heat. It does all of those things extremely well and efficiently, but it is a totally different living experience, because I wouldn't feel the separation between the inside and outside so much. I would be in nature, and given that I have spent my whole life in conventional, modern western housing, it could be quite a shock.
  • The traditional wigwam wouldn't have electricity or running water, or a bathroom. That means I'd have to read by firelight/kerosene, eat most of my food in the communal buildings, and poop/pee either outside (at least a hundred feet from the wigwam) or in the communal buildings (which would be pretty far away).
  • The lowness of the building, which provides insulation, means that I wouldn't be able to stand up, and it would basically force me to be in it only for sleeping times or times to read/write/reflect. Another huge change in lifestyle -- I'd probably be spending a lot more time outside.
  • The best-built wigwams last 10-15 years; being that this would be my first one, it would probably last 4-5 years.
  • John asked me if I wanted to be in a romantic relationship, and pointed out that very few partners would be interested in living this "off the grid".

.....Anyway, there's a part of me that feels a little nervous about living without so many of the creature comforts I've come to depend on, but much more of me is tingling with excitement and happiness about living this way. I've lived on the outside of nature, viewing it from the car, the cabin, the tent sometimes, on day hikes, etc. My whole life I've related to nature this way, and so has almost everyone in this country. And I have so many fears about living in nature, fears of the unknown -- what if I encounter a large predatory animal? What would it be like to live without electricity, to heat a small home by fire, to sleep where I can hear every night noise nearby?

On the plus side, if I really don't wanna hack it, or I fall in love with a person who doesn't want to live this way, I can build something else for myself that's more appropriate. And it will allow me to try out this lifestyle of living in nature.

We talked about alot of other things: hybrid wigwams that are taller, could incorporate electricity/bathrooms/etc.; where to best place a wigwam (east-facing edge of a forest, on a slight mound), materials you could use to build it; how to heat up rocks so that they radiate heat and keep the wigwam warm all night, etc. And we got into a short discussion about living the way of nature -- learning survival skills, hunting, tracking, etc. This is the direction I feel myself being pulled; John talked about living in a way where you are just living with the pulse of the natural world, responding naturally and intuitively to situations as they come up, and living a life full of deep respect and humility before creation. It was a wonderful, inspiring discussion. I asked him to start teaching me some of these skills, and he said he wanted to organize a day-long or weekend workshop for the entire full bloom community to learn the basics of how to start a fire from scratch, finding food, etc. He felt it was best to take a course like that and then spend a long time -- a year maybe -- honing the basic skills through practice before learning more advanced skills.

I came out of it feeling like I'd found someone who could help me transition into a different way of relating to the world, and it felt very satisfying.

....Well, I'm starting to poop out now, and I want to watch a film, so I'll end here. Comments are welcome!


sarah said...

Wow! What an interesting idea! I've always thought a yurt would be the way to go for me. I knew a woman who had a yurt in Marin, and on rainy nights, she'd bring her horse in.

Anonymous said...

Danny, I like how your blog is such a natural mix of practical and personal. It's also very nice to get some images of what's going on a Full Bloom. There are lots of ways of building small homes out of natural materials. I lived in a long-house made of reeds and strawbales (and tarps) in CT. And in a little wikiup in N. California. I recommend being able to stand up in your house! It is a drag to be in a dark, low place that is your only personal space, but not so fun to be in, say in inclement weather. Maybe look into a long-house model? It's taller.
Have you ever heard of the community River Spirit? I'll bet your new friend knows about it. It's a place worth visiting, esp. if you're interested in living way off the grid, and aboriginal arts. It's in Madd River, CA.
OMG - it's much hotter where you are now than here in GA! We're having a nice respite from the heat - it's only in the high 80's.