Craft Weaves Together a Community Story
Through the haze of old safety goggles I struggle to read the fractions of an inch I was told to measure. When I look up to ask for the length again my voice is droned out by the grind of iron against steel, groaning like tectonic plates being forced against each other. I pull out my earphones to try and hear the number my friend is saying, but as soon as my ear is exposed the scream of dull blades splintering wood makes my ears ring like funeral bells for the death of hearable tone. We are here to build a natural home, a safe place for the community to gather and celebrate, but our means of getting there is through the dehumanizing technology of industrialization. Does community begin when the project is done? Are the projects ever done?
Construction has become a means to an end. There are customers who design compositions of geometric shapes on two dimension screens, and builders who are tasked to turn these teeny tiny drawings into voluminous structures which exceed the cubic area of many hundred year old trees, and preferably they should complete the task in the same amount of time it takes to simply imagine doing some of the steps. This impossible task can only be dared to be dreamed of due to the cunning bed-mates technology and globalization!
However, home construction also has potential to be an artistic celebration of the unique local environment. In fact, the architecture styles associated with various cultures of the world, are a beautiful expression of the dance between place-based resources, local climate, and the human imagination. On the other hand, building a Laotian bamboo stilt house at the 45th parallel north will look stunning in a picture, but a close up would show popsicle frozen homeowners entombed in their own dream house. That example sounds ridiculous because it’s unfamiliar, but there are innumerable identical architectural discords made bearable due to enough synthetic insulation, chemical wood embalming, and gently off gassing décor.
Turtle island (North America) has a rich place based architectural history. The indigenous cultures built migratory homes they carried with them, Lakota tepees, temporary shelters along their travels, Inuit igloos, and long-lasting homes to raise a family, Anishinaabe wigwams*. European colonists also established trademark style with the aid of hand saw technology to fell larger trees interlock them to create the signature log cabins. Even more recently with the fusion of ancient architecture and Anthropocene resources the earth ships design has become a hallmark of the South West. Each of these designs works best using the materials of the biome it’s in, because that is the region these materials, organic or inert, evolved to endure. Buried homes stay cool in the dessert but mold in humidity, and the forest appreciates the harvest of rot resistant sapling in regions known for benders (a general term for anything that involves created rounded structures using interlocking wood; sweat lodges, long houses, and wigwams).
With any of these homes, the finished structure is only a small glimpse of the true beauty that went into crafting it. Traditional building techniques also use traditional tools, which traditionally are about the volume of a loud bird (not a firing gun), and even more often require multiple people. From weaving the inner bark of Hickory to make Wigwam cordage, to collaboratively wielding either end of a large bow saw many “old fashioned” tools are meditatively redundant and quiet enough to get lost in conversation with your fellow crafts person. Without the screech of electric engines and unwieldy blades their use is also not restricted to the adrenaline hungry young men who surround me at conventional construction sites. My current highlight of traditional construction was working with a pregnant woman and young mother to peel Aspen bark while the year-old baby napped in the middle of the construction site.
When building community becomes the goal, instead of making a community building, there is less of a race to the finish, and more of a dialogue with local materials and people. Do you know the 5 most common trees that grow in your biome? Do you know which characteristics of them are equivalent to their modern synthetic mimics? Instead of exchanging money for hired time, have you considered luring your friends over for a building party with food and music (you’d be surprised how people who are deprived of hand craft in their profession are exuberant to get their hands dirty building your home).
At Rustling Roots in Central Virginia, we are turning back the wheels of time to weave community by weaving together a Wigwam. Over the course of a weekend we will all learn how to turn the sweet-smelling bark of springtime Poplar into wallpaper, and the overly abundant shoots of cedar saplings into a bedroom sized inverted nest. Not only will we be working with these materials for architecture, but you will learn about how to harvest them to appease the forest, and when they are most eager to be compliant to your construction whims. With simply tools a 1st year blacksmith could forge we will weave together a structure rich in indigenous wisdom, while weaving together the lives of every hand involved. Of course, we are planning to have a beautiful organic home at the end, but that is just the flower on top of community we’ll cultivate along the way.
* “Wigwam” and “wikiup” are both popularly used to describe Woodland nuclear family homes. In general reference, these terms work (like when we use the term “moccasin” to describe a type of footwear in general). But keep in mind there are so many uncorrupted terms for “a home/dwelling” from different Native dialects that are very appropriate to use, especially when describing homes of specific Nations. You might have noticed that we favor the term “wigwam” in our writings. This is only because the term “wikiup” is often an applied term to describe Apache dwellings (in poplar writing and some academic outlets), and because they are not similar, we’d rather stick to terminology that embodies Woodland traditions without the association of a very different Native housing tradition of the Southwest. But truly the term “wikiup,” just like the term “wigwam,” are born of the Woodlands region.
Come to the Wigwam Building Workshop at Cambia Community June 28th
Kristen/Kelpie here: Cameron Taylor was of the Scots diaspora and a friend of mine. He and I often spoke of his love of Lallans, the old Scots language of his boyhood. He tried to teach me how to roll my r’s, at my request. We would often tease each other in the hammock shop, and listen to music, and play guessing games. He was partial to tango. I’m partial to folk, especially that of the British Isles. Cam was a boy in the land where Robert Burns lived, near Dumfries and Ayrshire in Scotland. He was born Kenneth Taylor, and changed his first name to honor his mother’s clan. His father died in WW2, and he moved to Argentina with his mother. Now, of course, I wish I could remember more of what he told me. I’ve written here a short account of what I do remember.
Cameron had a passion for kayaks, and for the people of Greenland, who taught him ocean kayaking, fishing, and their way of life when he was a young man. He put together his memoirs of this time: [what’s the link?-ed] I enjoyed hearing about his times in Greenland. Several times he pointed out the young woman he loved there, and the wondrous times he had in the North. During his later years, at Twin Oaks Community, he built a traditional kayak, which he donated to a museum, [fact check: ask Kevin] after spending time traveling with it. He also spent many days kayaking on local lakes, especially with Kevin.
Before Cam came to Twin Oaks, he was an anthropologist. In addition to his time in Greenland, he spent time with the Yanomami in Brazil. He and his wife studied their culture, and he learned the language. I remember he brought a Yanomami hammock to our hammock shop, to show us. We marveled that anyone could balance on one of them, much less sleep! It consisted of strands of strong fibrous plant material, maybe bark, in parallel, knotted on both ends. One year, he asked to go to the Yanomami to help vaccinate them, as part of an interna because they were under immediate threat of disease. Twin Oakers were proud to help him on this journey.
Cameron was also our Dairy Manager for a while, and was responsible for getting the loafing shed built, so our cows could have a place out of the sun. He also found and brought Dexter, a border collie, who helped immensely with herding.
And of course, he made hammocks, and taught us how to make hammocks. I remember his infinite patience with this. I often had to ask him for help, and he was always willing to give it.
One of my most fond memories is watching a meteor shower with Cameron, camping out by the grapevines, drinking from a bottle, and listening to him sing a long funny song from his childhood. I tried to get him to sing it again, later, in the hammock shop, when we were sober, but he wouldn’t.
I don’t remember why we decided to celebrate Burns Night dinners, but I do remember Cameron being an important resource for verisimilitude and delight. We had three, I think, in a space of four years. Cam inspired us to make haggis, a delicious (no! really!) lamb and oats sausage, and a main ingredient of the dinner served usually Jan 25, celebrating the works of Rabbie Burns, and all things Scottish, which included whiskies, poetry, singing, and merriment, and a band. Cam requested My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose, so we learned it, as well as a few other classic Burns hits, like Green Grow the Rushes Oh. Thankfully, we didn’t record ourselves. Cameron read aloud a section of Tam O’Shanter, Burns’s funny hero poem, which needed translating for the modern American audience. Cameron, always the considerate teacher, obliged.
Thanks for reading this long ramble. I hope Cameron would be happy with it. I can still hear his laugh. Cameron’s lovely, always, in my memory. He’s stubborn, argumentative, caring and wise. A wit and always ready with a story. I miss him.
i name my months. It is a practice which comes from the time i spent in the Czech Republic. The Slavic countries do not use the same roots for month names which English speakers use, their month names are mostly inspired by natural events around them.
When i am feeling daring, i name months with predictions. I successful guessed the month when Mubarak quit as head of state of Egypt. And then got Qaddafi’s resignation wrong twice. Perhaps studying economics made me comfortable with getting forecasts wrong. But it is not just despots failing that i make predictions about. I also guess about nuclear reactors being shut down.
If you are following the endless cable news cycle, you know the “up” topic right now is the release of the Mueller Report, investigating the presidents involvement with the Russian government in the 2016 election. Very publicly, the new corrupt attorney general has announced that the report has no proof of collusion between the campaign and the Russians and at the same time has been unwilling to let anyone, including congress see the report.
I think the political pressure on the release of this report, which certainly shows that the president is not “fully exonerated”, is fantastically high. Every democrat in congress want this report that Barr is now busily redacting to hide all manner of things (including concerns for the reputation of the criminals written about, no i am not making this up).
So i am calling April 2019 “#ReleaseTheReport”. This is part a demand, but it is really a forecast. Some combination of subpoena and cyber hacking will get this document (likely with some redactions) into the hands of the public. I think this will happen this month.
Buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.
There was a time before the internet. Many of my younger friends have some difficulty believing this is true or at least understanding how it might work. There is a story i often tell about a particularly dramatic job offer i got and then arriving at work before i got my job offer by crossing the international dateline. To buy that airplane ticket, because there was no internet and because i was in a hurry, I went to the Sydney airport and walked around the ticket offices until i found the next flight out.
While it is inconceivable to consider how we would run small business these days without computers, but early in the life of Twin Oaks, the decision to computerize our businesses was internally quite contentious. These days we are regularly looking for ways to use software and hardware to reduce or simplify our human labor.
This year Twin Oaks Validation Day made the jump to automate the six creatures game. If you are unwilling to click through to these links, let me summarize these cultural constructs you are possibly unfamiliar with. One of the best parts of big complex full service communities like Twin Oaks is we get to completely redesign holidays. Valentines day is a horrifically flawed event, so we redesigned it. Specifically, we made it principally about affirmation (which can be given to everyone) and secondarily about romance. This helps make the event inter-generational and accessible to all. We create validation day cards, which are like love letters from many people sharing the same collage container.
While it hardly seems daring in the age of Tinder, the 6 creatures game is a way people who are attracted to each other to find each other without indicating their attractions. The way it used to work is the players would fill out ballots for which of 6 different types of dates you are looking for with the people on the ballots. The creatures/date types are:
1 ) Ants – work dates
2) Puppies – play dates
3) Kittens – cuddle dates
4) Fish – kiss at the party
5) Rabbits – Sex date
6) Doves – Long term relationship
After the ballots are all gathered a trusted member (named iron lips) finds all the matches and lets people know of only their matches. Iron Lips is selected because they are very good at keeping keeping secrets. This game has sparked quite a few new romantic relationships.
This year the person of Iron Lips was replaced by an app. The six creature ballots were never seen by anyone other than the people who wrote them, their shared matches were spit out and given to members who were excited to see what shared possibilities exist.
If you are a good parent, you are open to be learning as much as you might be teaching. So it has been with Willow from early on.
Willow had been home schooled almost all of his life. Some of his commune kid friends had gone to conventional school. They did not speak well of it. It would come up with some regularity, that their were people (like his grandmother) who really thought he should go to conventional schools. Willow was not having it.
A couple of years back my mother thought it would be fun for us to go to Cuba together. Willow thought it would be good to learn some Spanish before he went. There being no one at Twin Oaks Community who was willing to teach him, he decided to take a class at the local community college.
I was stunned. After over a decade of intransigence around the possibility of going to school he just suddenly switched. I asked him about it.
“Willow why did you decide to go to school?” I asked
“Do you know the difference between community college administrators and high school principals?” He challenged.
I knew I would not be able to guess, so i just caved. “No i don’t know, would you tell me?”
“Sure” Willow offered. “The principal is trying to keep everyone in high school. The community college administrators are trying to keep the customers satisfied. The difference is the principals are trying to keep the bullies in class. The administrators are trying to thrown them out. I don’t want to go to any institution that is trying to keep the bullies in.”
I had never considered such a thing, but clearly this made sense.
Willow is in his third semester of community college, pulling straight A’s, finishing his fancy Clonlara online high school curriculum early and thinking about summer school in video game design. I am pretty excited and feel proud he made his own decisions to get here.
[As with all posts significantly about him, Willow has signed off on this one. Thanks to Kelpie for proof reading]
You get to make some choices about how you grow old. If you work a soulless job, don’t get much exercise because you are either commuting to work or sitting in front of a computer all day, and are not excited about the people you spend your free time with – you will, i am guessing, age hard and fast.
Alternatively, if you love what you do, if you are active – running around doing errands or construction or child care, if you love the people who you are spending time with and they inspire you, then you run a better chance of aging gracefully.
Another one of my reckless theories is that if you are living ruggedly your body will adapt and be stronger longer. And that if you create a comfortable easy situation, you will become accustomed to comfortable circumstances and then require them.
I spend most nights at Cambia rather than Twin Oaks. Cambia is still working on its winterization and my room in the main house is heated at night by space heaters and electric blankets.
Or it isn’t.
For the last few weeks (when i have not been in Florida) i have been sleeping in my room without the aid of heating equipment. It is a bit brisk, i have heaps of quilts and blankets, and it is fine.
Most weekday evenings i watch youtube recordings of Rachel Maddow’s storytelling on the big screen in my Cambia room. I think she is very clever and i am quite excited about the current national news.
When i was explaining my peculiar anti–heater stance to my Cambia clan, Mar responded “It is like you are camping out with Rachel Maddow.”
First things first, we are running a crowdfunding campaign for Rustling Roots, which is the sustainability education project of my favorite small community and part time home Cambia Community. Please donate generously if you can. And so we know it came from this source please donate a dollar amount with a single penny added (so $35.01 and the like). Here is the link.
This is the lovely promotional video for the project which was made with some of my favorite kids (From Twin Oaks, Cambia and Mimosa communities).
These communities are all different and important models of sustainability. They have tiny carbon footprints, home schooling programs and a vision of a better world. In an often insane world, these places and projects are a ray of hope.
Please support us if you are able.