2020 Fall, Winter, & 2021 Spring Term

During the fall of 2020 we will be finishing a 900 square foot straw bale home with a loft, in Paradise CA. We will be working on the straw bale infill, the heavy clay infill, window installation, living roof, rough electrical, rough plumbing, leveling coat, scratch coat plaster, finish plaster, and installation of light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, and finish plasters.

After the Paradise project we will start construction on the combo garage / greenhouse with an apartment above the garage. All these projects will be built to code and will use conventional building techniques along with natural building techniques.

The 1500 sq. ft. greenhouse, 900 sq. ft. garage, and the 900 sq. ft. apartment above the garage will be built using natural materials such as sustainably cut cedar, local rice straw bales, local clay, sand, and other natural materials. In this project participants will have the opportunity to learn about natural geothermal ventilation systems that can be used to heat and cool the greenhouse using minimal solar power. They will learn how build roof trusses to support snow and wind loads. The greenhouse will be plastered with lime on the inside and out to protect the straw bales and the cob.

Participants joining us on these projects will have the opportunity to see the whole construction process, from foundation to finishes, depending on when you join us. Other learning opportunities include volunteer days and monthly workshops. We will also be offering an online course that details the entire construction process, a great option if you can’t join one of our onsite programs. The online courses can also be paired with our monthly workshops to create a cohesive learning experience.

We are excited to offer many opportunities for learning natural building, for those with or without building experience. To find a program that fits your experience level and availability visit our programs page. Join us to learn everything you need to know about building a natural structure to code.

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….


IMG_1585IMG_1588

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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……

An Apprentice’s Experience

Dayla Carlson, spent 3 months as an apprentice with us last year, and so kindly wrote down her experience to share with all of us.  Thank you Dayla, it was a true honor having you join us.  You are an amazing soul destined for greatness.

“As someone who suffers from the burden of too many expectations, being with the Natural Living School was some serious medicine. First of all, it fundamentally reshaped the way I think about learning. Having been raised in the institutional education system, I had come to expect my learning experiences to fit into some sort of formula, and to be largely directed by some forces larger than myself, forces which somehow claimed to know the best way for me to learn. In direct contrast to this, the Natural Living School introduced me to voluntary, consensual experiential learning, that responded to individual needs and openly addressed the spiritual nature of being alive. This form of learning quite honestly intimidated me at first, almost created fear within me. But that fear was stemming from the discomfort of confronting the individualism/complacency that society had planted within me. After three months of learning this way, I can say that it was the most empowering experience of my young life thus far. Suddenly, I realized that I have power over my own learning and also the power of the cosmos within me.

Chiseling joinery on round wood cedar timbers
Chiseling joinery on round wood cedar timbers

It was empowering on a self-confidence level, but also on a skills level. I gained literal survival skills, i.e. the ability to construct shelter for myself. This empowerment opened up an intimate connection with the earth, and it will now be one of the reasons I am able to live life according to my own set of ethics, rather than living my life according to broad standards and cultural expectations. If I can make my own shelter, what else can I do on my own? Can I feed myself from the earth’s bounty and the sun’s energy, rather than feeding myself from a series of artificial packages? These are the types of questions my experience as a natural builder encouraged me to confront. In a sense, participating in this program woke me up from the passive slumber of mere acceptance that I had been living prior. No more figurative identity boxes, no more literal mass-produced boxes (“homes”) for me. It felt like…liberation!

Water and Shade breaks are a must wile working on a Cob Greenhouse.
Water and Shade breaks are a must wile working on a Cob Greenhouse.

The fusion of natural building with spirituality also benefited me greatly. Even if at first I was reluctant to participate in classes and meditations, simply being hosted in such a peaceful and mindful environment (the Expanding Light) generated peace within me. I eventually found myself being moved to meditation at every sunset, and sometimes even being awake to meditate for the sunrise. I did not think of it as meditation at first, simply watching and appreciating the sun. But it took on serious ritualistic characteristics and I began to derive much of my daily strength from my daily meditations. In this way, being with the Natural Living School connected me with my passion for meditation, inner reflection, and then sharing those feelings with others. Overall, I came away from the whole experience with the overwhelming feeling that I wanted to radiate the positivity I was feeling to all beings surrounding me!

Its hard work waiting for others to finish chiseling their part.
Its hard work waiting for others to finish chiseling their part.

I still harbor these passions for earth-based spirituality and teaching others the skills I have acquired. I sincerely love the experience I had with Pablo, the Natural Living School, and Ananda Village.”

by Dayla Carlson 2013 NLS Apprentice

An Apprentice’s Perspective

My name is Wesley Jobe, and I spent the summer of 2012 at Ananda Village to learn about natural building, and much more. This is a summary of my experience.

Wesley mixing some plaster for the cob classroom
Wesley mixing some plaster for the cob classroom

When I applied for the Natural Living School apprenticeship I knew very little of Ananda. Only the sheer drive to get some hands on experience with natural building fueled my decision. Before arriving in California, I had already been practicing yoga and meditation, and was keen to find out more, so this was a perfect fit for me. Turns out it was more than I imagined.

Never before had I been away from home that long, or alone, yet I did not feel nervous or uncomfortable. Since my pickup at the Sacremento airport I had begun an adventure I will never forget. Everyone I met at The Expanding Light where I camped was so welcoming and helpful, some even interested in what I was to be doing there. The following morning I met with Pablo and Miguel (the other apprentice) to go over some design plans for the project. We met like that for the first week or so, and I even got to help finalize the plan by making some architectural drawings and elevations. This was a perfect initiation time for me to get comfortable with the new surroundings, establish a solid yoga and meditation practice (daily classes made that easy), and settle into the peaceful feeling all around. Observing how the people there live, work, and interact with eachother was a heartwarming inspiration alone. Like one big family, not just selfish individuals. I felt for the first time in a while that there was hope for this world, and that I had found a place that is a shining example of how we can all work together to improve current issues in society.

community Blessing the site.
Community blessing the site.

Turned out the original plan we were discussing and fine tuning had more time consuming restraints due to obtaining the counties approval for building permits. Though the set back did not hinder our spirits and was a good learning experience. Because first of all, modern building codes are one of the major blocks holding back natural builders from full creative freedom, and thus, influence on a larger scale. Secondly, it was a good reminder that no matter how much planning has been done, sometimes things just don’t work the way you’d hoped, and that is where the creative changes are made. So it turned out to be a blessing for us. We scaled down the size of the building just enough to not require a permit. This was more appropriate for the time we had, then we were able to learn and practice all the techniques and problem solving from foundation to roof. Problem solving and being open to change are two of the most important skills I developed for natural building, coupled with the confidence to take ideas and turn them into reality.

Wesley working out the joinery for top plates
Wesley working out the joinery for top plates

After those kinks with design were massaged out, we got right to work. Starting with sustainably harvesting trees for the round-pole timber frame. As we went through each phase of the building, I see now that an analogy was taking place within me. I learned more about myself than I did about building, and I learned a lot about building! We searched the forest for just the right trees to fell, with the right size, shape, and location, so as not to harm the forest ecosystem but enhance the old growth already there. Simultaneously I was searching within myself to find strengths and positive qualities I had almost forgotten. 

Then we went on to begin the foundation. This begins with a whole lot of digging, but lucky for us, and with the magic of community, a wonderfully helpful man dug the hard part for us with a tractor. Stacking rocks for the stem-wall proved to be quite labor intensive as well, and very fun, like three-dimensional tetris. So I was learning the importance of making a solid foundation by taking the time to do it presicely and accurately, which was very gratifying later on, and at the same time looking inward once more. I wanted to change myself and the way I was living, so it was good to relate my physical task with a mental one. Looking for the right rock to fit with the others made me ask myself, “what is my foundation?”  I needed to find what made me strong, and who I was at the core, which all of my identifications were built off of. I must give thanks here also to Pablo, for inviting me there and encouraging me to do whatever I needed to do. Positive reinforcement is the basis of his teaching style, and it is completely sincere, and extremely effective.

Conner posts going up at the same time as the balecob walls go up.
Conner posts going up at the same time as the balecob walls go up.

Next we started the walls and the frame, at the same time, because with natural building you are free to do such things. Around this time a large group of campers came to experience Ananda for a three week program called, “Living With Spirit,” and stay up at the building site where some of the villagers set up an awesome outdoor kitchen and living space. Miguel and I got our first chance to teach a little, I prefer the term guide, because natural building techniques are very simple, and achievable by anyone. There help made a great impact on the progress of the structure, and it became very clear that working together is really what makes natural building practical and successful, and far more fun, too. If playing with mud and experimenting with friends can eventually turn into a beautiful home for perhaps some of those friends to live in, then modern construction has it all wrong. I have worked in construction in the city where I live, so I have seen both sides, and of this I am convinced.

We also spent some time each week helping out at the Ananda Permaculture Gardens. This is a whole other part of the apprenticeship that focuses on growing food, flowers, and herbs, where we learned a lot just by being there, and asking questions. It gave us a bit of a break from building, no break from the sun though, haha, and really piqued my growing interest for sustainable living.

The Expanding Light Yoga and Meditation Retreat
The Expanding Light Yoga and Meditation Retreat

Staying at the Expanding Light was a phenomenal contrast to the daily work. The food there was amazing, it was very nice to get well balanced, healthy meals whilst doing so much physical labor. Another of my favourite points of my stay there was the amount of wildlife I saw everyday. The gardens around The Expanding Light are very well kept, with many bright flowers surrounding the main temple and dining hall. Gorgeous mountain scenery with a symphony of birds to wake me each morning (far more peaceful than an alarm), and crickets and frogs to sing me to sleep at night. That really made me feel more connected to earth, and everything I was doing made perfect sense.

While the work was physically challenging, occasionaly puzzling mentally, we never pushed too hard. Pablo definitely helped us make the most of our downtime also with stops to the market for ice-cream after a hot days work. One day that was especially hot we stopped work early to go for a swim in a nearby pond. It was more like being at summer camp, where you can just be yourself, and better yourself if you so desire. The lasting relationships I made there, with people from all over the world, was a remarkable enough experience to make it worth more than just money. Added on to that the massive amounts of knowledge I have gained and the confidence to make my dreams a reality have made that summer more than I could have hoped for. As my memory allows, it was the best summer of my life.

This is not a natural building apprenticeship, it’s a natural living school, true to every word, complete with laboratory and playground combined, and I hope that one day I too will inspire people to live in such a way.

Natural Building with Spirit

To us building with spirit means working selflessly with joy, love, and intention.  The spirit in all of us, is co-creating with the spirit in nature, and working in cooperation with each other and those that will use the building.

If you have been lucky enough to be a part of working on something joyful, meaningful, and uplifting, you likely know what we are talking about.   I have spoken with artists that create from their heart and describe the experience like being in a deep meditation.

Kid are great natural builders, and they help bring joy and love to work site

With Kids at the work site, you will away have laughter and lots of positive energy

During the creative process, one of the most important things to consider is our state of consciousness.  Just like when we are cooking, if we are in a bad mood, angry, or just not enjoying the process, our food can absorb that energy, and can affect the taste, or even pass that negative energy to those eating it.  Similarly, when we are building with natural materials, our state of consciousness can be absorbed by the materials like clay, wood, and straw.  These vibration can stay in these natural materials and affect the energy or feeling of the building.

Have you ever been in a building that just felt cold, not in the literal sense, but in the energetic realm?  It’s not that it doesn’t look beautiful, or that it’s physical presence is intrusive.  These buildings at some level just don’t feel right.

In contrast, if you have ever been in a natural building or a building where the homeowner, builder, or architect put a lot of their joy, love, and intention into the building, you can feel the positive energy in the dwelling.

The Laughing house kitchen, an example of an uplifting building.

At the Natural Living School, we help the participants understand how important their consciousness is during the building process.  Not just during building, but during the whole process, including site location, design, and sourcing materials.  One of the ways that we help the participants, is by practicing meditation, yoga, sharing nature activities, and other uplifting activities to instill the principles of building with spirit.

You too, can join us this summer, and participate in a joyful, meaningful, and uplifting workshop.  Take a look at our programs page.

A Student’s Perspective

I remember I arrived to school after a warm three-month summer off.  Not expecting anything extraordinary, I met Pablo and three students at the door of the cob building ready for a day of easy work.

I mean what should I have expected. I have never worked with mud and straw. And here were a bunch of people building something with it.

Kayla, one of the students that's helping build the Balecob classroom

I wasn’t very enthusiastic to work with a part of the earth that makes you look like a child playing in the mud, but I had an urge to see what the buzz was going around about natural building. So I put on my dirtiest clothes and jumped in with rocks in one hand and mud in the other.

After a couple hours, the buzz of natural building got me a little intoxicated—I was finally understanding the benefits of building with the earth. Yes, at first I was hesitant of even putting my hands on a cob house, but that was because I was afraid of getting my feet wet—literally and metaphorically.

Four of the the students plus Ken installing the windows

As I gained the courage to dive in, a fascination and curiosity arose in my mind— I had as many questions as there are stars in the sky—and the people I worked with left an answer for every one. As my relationship with the cob building deepened, so did my friendships with fellow students. While working we laughed, learned and made mistakes as a team; there was not a moment where I thought I had too much responsibility or not enough. We started as a team of students and ended as a team of students.

I didn’t think I would value any of the moments I had playing with cob, but I will say I was completely wrong. I learned more than I imagined. I learned about nature and the way to be a part of it rather than fight with it. I learned sustainable living.

Kamran and Sam, two of the students laying straw for the natural roof on the Balecob classroom.

I am glad that I was part of such a project. I am certain that future students will laugh and learn from natural living too.

Best wishes to all who are interested,

Bardia Behmard

Natural Living School Student

Fall 2011

Living with Nature

Last week I had a great conversation with one of the most amazing men I have ever met.  His name is Joseph Cornell, founder of the Sharing Nature Foundation and author of several renowned books on Sharing Nature®.  I wanted to talk with him about using some of the Sharing Nature activities to help our students understand what it means to live with nature.

One of the first things he talked to me about was Flow Learning

Flow Learning™, “gives the teachers a simple, structured way to guide students into their own, direct experiences of nature. Through playful games that awaken the students’ curiosity and enthusiasm, learning becomes fun, immediate, and dynamic, instead of static and secondhand. The students emerge with a living, fresh understanding and reverence for the natural world.”

There are four basic stages of Flow Learning™ ; Awaken Enthusiasm, Focus Attention, Direct Experience, and Share Inspiration.  “Flow Learning™ is based on universal principles of how people learn. It provides a simple, natural framework that sequence nature activities for maximum effect.”

Joseph Cornell’s  Nature Activities™ are great for teaching kids, teens, and adults how they can perceive nature in a new and exciting way. These activities lift the spirit within us to new heights, in a way that isn’t possible to explain in words.  It’s best to try them yourself, and feel the difference.

At the Natural Living School, we will be using some of these Nature Activities™ to help participants understand the process of finding and sourcing materials for their buildings.  These activities can also be used to help participants locate a building site, and to stay connected to nature during all phases of the construction.  Many times we disconnect ourselves from nature, to focus on the building process, and end up removing trees, damaging natural landscape, and clearing animal habitat unconsciously.

Living with nature means understanding your surroundings.  Using all your senses to feel what is happening, and what needs to happen.  Believe it or not, nature spirits can talk to you, if you are willing to listen, and respect them.  Nature talks to us through our heart feeling, which is like a radio station, that needs a little help tuning in.   These Nature Activities™, that Joseph Cornell created can help us fine tune our radio station, so we can live with nature, build with nature, and live a more natural life.

the view from this year's building site

Thank you Joseph Cornell, for your inspiration and support:  the text in quotations above is from his website

What is Natural Living?

In a way, one of the most basic understandings in eastern philosophies has been lost in the “Age of Energy.”  As a result of all our technology, we spend more time on cell phones, the internet, watching TV, and in cars running around like high tech chickens with our heads cut off.  The art of slowing down, taking time to enjoy the moment, and being present is pushed aside in the name of efficiency.  Why?  One answer is; because we think this will lead to our happiness.

Sunset in Los Padres National Forest

Some of us think that if we are more efficient with our time, then we will have more time to do the things we enjoy.  But at the end of the day, with all the time that was saved, how many of us actually did something joyful, or self-fulfilling?  Yes, there are some exceptions, but over all many of us think that our joy will come from outside ourselves.  I used to think that I would find joy once I had a little more money, which would give me a little more time.  Not so.

The Cob Cottage where we stayed while we worked on natural building projects at Spirit Pine Sanctuary

Our experiences these past couple years have truly shown us what it means to have quality time.  For months at a time we were without cell phone, internet, television, or any basic communication with the outside world.  Our time was spent in nature, sourcing natural materials from the land, the forest, and neighbors in order to build natural buildings that would be enjoyed by all.

At community meals we all took turns cooking for each other, Thanksgiving 2010

When we were not building, or sourcing materials, we spent our time in community taking turns cooking for each other, having great conversations, and playing with our children.  It wasn’t that we weren’t busy, or that we had surplus time.  In fact we were easily as busy as when we lived in the city, working all the time, driving the kids around, and doing endless errands.  The difference was that we were busy doing something that was fulfilling to our spirits.

Community Cob Building at Spirit Pine where we shared meals, cleaned together, and hung out playing music

The idea of simple living doesn’t mean to give up all your possessions and move to the country, or to the wilderness, it simply means to evaluate your time and expenses so that you’re doing something that feeds your soul.   It helps to lower your expenses,  to grow some of your own food, and to have a low housing cost, but it’s not a requirement to be poor.  Some of the happiest people I know in South America are looked upon as poor, but in my eyes, they are rich in spirit, love, and joy.  They were always willing to share what little they had, with joyful abundance.

Thank you Betty, Tatacho, Levi and all the friends we made at Spirit Pine Sanctuary.  It was wonderful working, living, and playing with you all.

The Natural Living School

In this day and age, where the answer to many questions are just a click away, people are still having a hard time answering the age old question, “why do I feel so unhappy?”  Most of us, who have tried to answer this question, have come up with several logical answers.

“More money,” if I had more money than I would be happy. 

“Better job,” if I had a job I liked, or if I had a job that paid more, then I would be happy. 

“More time,” if I had more time to do what I wanted, then I would be happy. 

The list can go on, and on, but these are some of the most common answers.  At the Cob Cottage Company, as you walk up the trail to the main building, there is a sign that says, “There are two ways to get rich, you can make more money or you can require less.”  The truth to us is in the second statement, “to require less.” 

Oliver and Esme's Hands Making Natural Plasters

The Natural Living School is a place where people can come to explore how to live simply and require less, to gain experience so they can construct natural buildings that are affordable for themselves and their families, to learn how to grow their own food so they can lower their food costs, and to gain the confidence to change their lives forever.

"Joy is within" sign at Ananda Village entrance. Hansa Temple in the background

The Natural Living School is an organization, focused on examining and co-creating new and old methods of sustainable living and natural building. Come and study with us, the art of natural living and higher thinking.

The View from Sunset Ridge. I like to think of these trees as old friends holding hands