The Art of Listening: The First Step to Building Naturally

Things happen incrementally, bit by bit we create, we build brick by brick and stone by stone. In the beginning there is just listening and watching, waiting and dreaming. We cannot rush this stage, for great visions come to us little by little. We rarely know it all at once, dreams don’t reveal themselves in a hurry they come to be known slowly over time. There is a place to start though, a first brick to lay as builders, one that is not so tangible. It is a choice to pause and witness, to stop and listen.
The creation of a home is a nuanced process that for me begins with listening. This important art is often bypassed by the conventional construction community, in that paradigm human desires are considered paramount to the needs of other beings we cohabitate with. But in order to create respectfully and in balance we must spend some time listening before acting. We must resurrect our capacity to hear those beings whose voice differs from ours but is there nonetheless.

When we wish to design structures upon a landscape we begin by listening to the land itself, the voice of the earth. We let go of our plans and ideas, just to be there for a while to begin forming a relationship to place based on attentive observation. To create in a place we must know that place, intimately.  Then we turn to those who came before us, giving thanks to the beings who have lived and loved here, to the ancestors of a land, to ask their permission and wait to hear the answer. Then there are those who are here now; the plants, the animals and the people. What are their needs and dreams? How can we find a balance that supports all who occupy a space?
When we have listened and watched, witnessing what is present, honoring the words of the earth, ancestors, animals, plants, people ect- we will know what is offered to us and what is not. From this type of deep inquiry a vision begins to come forth, not all at once but little by little. A vision informed by the understandings gathered in our experiences with the land. This type of process may not appear efficient from the outside, it takes time, sometimes a lot of it when we are unpracticed. However, what it offers us is a more consensual relationship with the earth we wish to create upon and more information on how to design a structure in accordance with the energies present in the space.  Not only does this allow us to act in right relationship it also supports us by showing us potential issues with the building site before we begin working. Listening is a critical part of the process of moving from an anthropocentric way of building into a way that considers the complex systems we are each a part of. By doing this type of deep work we practice not taking center stage, not valuing human life over other forms of life. We begin to see ourselves as just one piece of the larger ecosystem we are a part of and design around that truth.

The permaculture principle of observation and interaction constantly reminds us that taking time to witness and engage with any environment allows us to design systems that are sustainable and consider the immediate and long term effects of our choices on the ecosystem. How could this be accomplished without listening? By reconnecting this art we are able to move away from the damaging practices of the construction industry and adopt a new way to create that values all life. Even as natural builders we often miss this critical step. We come with our good intentions armed with natural materials but still impose anthropocentric designs on the land by not taking the time necessary to create the relationships that would inform our design choices in powerful ways.

So let us practice listening again to the earth, to the ones who are here now and the ones who have come before us considering the next generations as we build. May we each take the time needed to listen to the land and make informed choices in how, what and where we build. May we start with the first brick, the one of listening before we act and may it be the strong foundation upon which we create.

On The Local CBS News Sacramento

http://cbsloc.al/2sj5yYU

We where interviewed by Sacramento CBS local news. Here is the footage. Corrections needed to be noted: first of all this structure was not the first natural building built in Nevada County, (not sure where she got that info). And we haven’t had 50 students graduate and get their contractor’s license. Dozen’s of homeowners is a bit of a stretch. But overall we really just appreciate the coverage. Thank you Angela Musallam for interviewing us.

2014 Another Amazing Building Season

I want to first start by thanking all the wonderful participants that joined the Natural Living School in 2014! Completing yet another amazing building season.  We started this season by wrapping up last year’s greenhouse project. This included: adding windows, doors, greenhouse plastic and a finish plaster on the inside and outside of this cute greenhouse.  Thank you all who made this possible!

Highly insulated straw-bale wall on north side

Earthen Greenhouse

Earthen greenhouse - roundwood frame w/ cob & strawbale

Earthen greenhouse – roundwood frame w/ cob & strawbale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next we started the construction of the “Ash-Room”, a cinder bath for goats, chickens and “Lilly the Donkey” to roll around on ash, keeping the mites off their skin and the sun off their backs. A project sponsored by ‘The Yogoata” of Ananda Village

Lath and Plaster with light clay/straw infill

Lath and Plaster wall system

 This structure is our first round wood timber frame to include lath & plaster, and light clay all together. It was lots of fun to build.

Some of the participants

July Workhop celebrating progress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We continued our work on the Wright Family Cottage, AKA the Studio.  Working with the county was stressful, but in the end we were able to give them what they wanted, and we passed our foundation and framing inspections.  Just a few more, including electrical, finish plaster, and then we get our Final.  Wooo, we are so close….


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Roundwood plates and rafters can be seen!

The Loft in The Studio

 

Also at Melissa’s we built her a round bale-cob pump house that she will use as cold storage year around.  Thank you all who made this project a reality.

Big eaves minimize walls exposure

High School Boys Building a cob pump house

Foundation systems - French drain, earthbags and cob bond beam

Jeremy pinning re-bar through cob bond beam

 

Stay tune, we will be announcing next years project really soon……