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
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.
A couple of months back I learned of the shadowy plan in which the Louisa county supervisors had purchased options for several large tracks of land within the county for a proposed mega development.
Local citizens from across the county (not just the ones from the affected areas) started organizing, specifically bringing people to the supervisors meeting and demanding public input on this proposed plan. It was clear that the supervisors were expecting this proposal to not get much public attention and that they could simply pass it while no one was paying much attention. The supervisors, who normally have little public interest in their work, were surprised to find over 100 locals at their meeting upset about their proposal and decision making.
When pressed about why they were advancing this proposal, the answers the supervisors gave were contradictory and thin. They promised jobs, they promised the $50 million city funded water and sewage system would not raise taxes, they promised this would not be like the several other Louisa industrial park development projects.
These contradictory promises hurt the case for this development and the locals continued to organize and opposition to the development grew. At the same time the supervisor position on it seemed to harden. At the first vote on the project, 3 of the 7 supervisors voted in favor of the development and 3 against, and one was not in attendance that evening, but appeared to be in favor of the plan.
Cambia and some of the other local communities got involved. Cambia set up the Facebook page and made calls to the supervisors. One supervisor got 347 different people calling them and only 7 were in favor of the project.
This time, despite the odds, the good guys won. The county supervisors hearing for the fourth straight meeting how locals were furious about this proposal reversed themselves and voted unanimously to kill their own project. Now it is time to get locals together to talk about what type of development we do want, to help the supervisors do the right thing.
Bringing 10 people, all from out of state to Florida, to work on an ambitious political campaign for 3 weeks is a rich logistical tapestry. On the day after the election, GPaul (who was the flawless finance minster for the team) reminded me by text that I needed to send thank-you letters to our donors.
Shortly after this my cell phone started buzzing like crazy. “We are heading for a recount. We need to contact all the people who submitted votes by mail or provisional ballots and confirm these were received,” was the message we got from Organize Florida, the organization for which we had been volunteering.
Now it was not just Senator Nelson facing a close election needing a recount, but the Gillum/DeSantes governor’s race as well. And we were back to phone-banking. Our team, now spread across the country, were phone-banking from airports in California and collectives in Oregon, and folks at the Virginia communes also started calling. We helped burn through two lists of over 7,000 people in a few hours.
Normally, one would not know who had voted by mail, because one would not have their phone numbers. Hard Knocks was the group we canvassed with and it was set up by the very politically active labor-union SEIU. In the Tampa Bay area our canvass knocked on over 1.5 million doors. We helped thousands of people get their vote by mail ballots. We brought people to the polls for early voting and educated them on a number of down-ballot items, including those for the State Senator Janet Cruz and the initiative to restore felon voting rights. In the end our 10 volunteers, mostly from income sharing intentional communities, hit more than 7000 doors.
At each door that answered, we gathered information about whom they were planning to vote for, including what method they would use. When the recall became imminent that same database gathered in the months leading up to the midterms could now be employed to reach back to those voters and see if they were actually being counted.
At this writing both the Senate and Governor elections are being recounted. There is some chance that either of these Democrats will win, and if either does it will be further proof that we made the right choice to go to Florida to work on these elections. A couple of my anarchist comrades have written long essays about how it is wrong to be involved in these or any elections. Most of the crew in Florida self identifies as anarchists and is doing this work because the threat of staying on the sidelines is too large.
What of course would be grand would be for us to be the titanium feather which tips the balance. But even if we don’t I certainly feel good about trying.
“You live in a bubble, I could never do it. I need to be more connected to the real world.” People visiting the communes often say things like this. Often with praise for what they perceive as our prosaic and even idyllic life style. It is a completely understandable criticism and it still rubs me the wrong way.
But communards are often quite connected to the “real world” and some are working actively to influence local and national politics. I am proud to say many more communards have stepped up during the time of Trump.
I am happy to be traveling with a group of capable organizers all of who hail from intentional communities from across the country which are supporting this campaign to restore ex-con voting rights in Florida, to help maintain the Democratic Senate seat and elect the states first black Governor. Here is some of the key information:
If Florida Amendment 4 passes, it will restore voting rights to 1.5 million Florida residents. This represents over 10% of the states total population and over 20% of the African American voters. As a voting group, ex-cons are most commonly Democratic, African American voters are overwhelmingly Democratic voters. If this amendment passes it becomes extremely difficult for Trump to take Florida in the 2020 election. Without Florida, it is extremely difficult for the Republicans to win the Electoral College. Florida is one of only 4 states which basically permanently restricts ex-cons from voting.
If you want to support such an effort, please visit our GoFundMe page and donate to help cover our travel and living costs. Stay tuned to this blog for regular reports from Tampa and Orlando.
I have written here about Shooting Stars, members of community who come through for a while on their way to other adventures. The trick with shooting stars, is that you need to appreciate them when you have them close, and let them go gracefully, because you never really could hold them anywhere.
It was just this last winter that Thumbs joined Cambia and updated our notions of astrophysics. Thumbs is a peripatetic communard. A person with a mission (in his case the promotion and construction of yurts) who travels from place to place educating and demonstrating. When i told him he was a shooting star, he corrected me and said he was more like a comet, swinging back to the places he loves.
And he is coming back. To do two workshops for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference and the Cambia Labor Day workshops. At the Twin Oaks event, he is presenting on being a traveling communard and the sacred economics of it. Here is a description of that workshop:
I live a vibrant life of travel, adventure, and spend copious amounts of time working on my invigorating passions, yet I make almost no money and am figuring ways to move money out of my bank account. I would like to host a workshop educating others on how to use the unorthodox wealth of communities to liberate themselves from the drain of personal expenses and dedicate more of their time to their passion projects. Communities are a unique place to explore gift economics, MOU’s that don’t entail USD exchange, and alternate currencies. In doing this people will not only benefit themselves but may serve the communities movement by connecting communities and finding out in what ways each of them are abundantly wealthy and how they are in need. Movement Games, heart shares, and intellectual discussion will be involved.
At Cambia on Labor Day he will be doing his yurt thing, which is describe as such:
Forget everything you know about conventional western architecture, and prepare to learn the genius of ancient nomadic design. The lifestyle of traditional peripatetic cultures demanded the invention of structures that could endure the harshest climates in the world, both barren deserts and -40 degree winters, yet still be packed up on livestock and transported thousands of miles! The Mongol Empire, the world’s most prolific nomad culture once spanning the largest land empire in the world, designed the ingenious collapsible home known in the west as a Yurt.
This workshop is a comprehensive and experiential study of yurt building that you will walk away from with the skills needed to build beautiful yurts for any climate and out of any materials you have access to. The skills you’ll be learning to build these artistic structures like wood bending, mortise and tenon, dynamic knotwork, and textile pattern design will also unlock new creative potential in your other building projects. We will also be talking about how these structures are part of modern culture, from the current state of nomadic Mongolians, to how you can avoid building codes with small, collapsible yurts.
For many people in the West, who value sedentary homes that sit in place for hundreds of years and private ownership of small plots of land, the lifestyle and architecture of nomadic people is an invigorating new perspective on what it means to call a place “home”.
There is still time to register for both of these events. We may have lost some shooting stars, but this comet is coming back and shining bright.