Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Pace of Ecovillage Life

At first glance, much of DR looks like a smattering of construction sites. That wouldn’t be an inaccurate description. In my short stay thus far, I’ve begun to learn that the pace of ecovillage life must be understood through a different lens than that of conventional, industrial-scale life. For example, the house I’m currently constructing, when complete will be comprised almost completely of locally harvested materials. The walls, which will stand sixteen inches thick for thermal mass (a concept I’ll explain in a later entry) are made of clay and straw from the DR property (or very nearby) and the supporting beams are made either from the branches of an osage tree (the hardest, toughest wood I’ve ever worked with) or recycled 2x12 boards. This makes for very unconventional construction. While standardized soft wood framing could be easily harvested from far-off-istan, and purchased by a contractor from Home Depot, osage branches from Scotland County, Missouri are twisted, variable, abnormal (as in not ninety degrees), and did I mention, very very hard?

When Ted cut these branches, he had to carefully select segments that were “straight” enough to serve as support beams. Not all were the exact same length. The construction process, therefore, had to adjust to what nature supplied.

I think this is an important distinction between ecologically-conscious living and conventional Modernist lifestyle: the former works with nature to every extent possible, while the later attempts to dominate and engineer nature to abstract standards. This simply concept- working with nature to achieve your goals- can be applied at any scale.

Yesterday, while resting in the shade, Sean, one of my workmates, mentioned, “There are no right angles in nature.” Aside from one counter-example I’d learned in physics class, I agreed with Sean completely. The "right angles" and straight lines we place on zoning maps and architectural plans rarely have any basis in nature.

The pace of ecovillage life, therefore, is determined by nature to an extent I have never experienced before. Most residents go to sleep shortly after sundown, and begin work when the sun rises. Mail takes a long time to arrive, and the most proximate “convenience” store outside the village has a relatively limited selection. Local construction materials are imperfect and the residents opt to build their homes by themselves and with the help of worker exchangers instead of importing the materials and labor.

I certainly wouldn’t consider the pace slower. Speed, of course, depends on the unit of measurement. If DR measured its “pace” as number of homes constructed per year, indeed, the pace would be “slow.” But this description would be an injustice to what I’ve experienced as very arduous, thorough, and very satisfying work. Ted, my host and patron, mentioned to me, “There are few feelings as satisfying as building your own home. People in this country don’t do it very often anymore” I believe it. If you consider that residents here also generate their own energy, process their own waste, harvest their own food, collect their own construction materials, and help each other along the way, I can imagine that life here could be very satisfying, and strenuous at times.

Tonight I prepared a meal for myself and the three other members of my food cooperative (there are normally more, but they’re out of town). Lentil and mushroom stew, kale salad, some borrowed venison, and tortillas (actually ended up more like corn cakes, but still delicious). With the exception of the barley flour in the corn cakes and the lentils in the stew, all the ingredients were grown on DR property. I picked the kale for the salad from the garden at 2PM and worked from 3PM to 6PM to complete a meal that was the epitome of freshness. Hard work? No doubt. Slow work? No way. Rewarding work? Absolutely!

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