Sitting here under a starry sky punctuated by my bright MacBook Air in total contrast to the peaceful cricket background hum and dark outline of the pine trees against the Pyreneean night.
I have spent the whole day in a 36 round fut cob/straw hobbit hut complete with ochre sculpted fireplace and smoke pipe. I have spent 3 weeks sleeping in this humble natural home with no door, exposed to the spiders, ants and other flying bugs that make it their home too. Outside my hut is a 270 degree panorama of open field, lined with fir trees and farther off the Pyrenee foothills begin. The evening is a welcome relief from the searing 100+ degree days with no wind. I can sleep clotheless and comfortably at night without sweating or chilling. Perfect temperature.
Today was Decompression Day after my 11th Cob Workshop since I started my World Bike Tour in December 2014. I am proud of myself for keeping at it and continuing to spread the good word and the good deed. Each workshop is a new adventure and has its own sets of challenges and new discoveries. Apart from the new soils and sands and straw or straw alternative to work with, I have new people, cultures, settings, climates, students, projects, etc. I am learning and growing and realizing, little by little, what it takes to make a good workshop while remaining open to the fact that I can’t control all the elements all the time. And getting to know my own personal preferences in terms of my needs as well.
This last workshop was a smallish one with 5 lovely diverse students who worked very hard to complete a 12m2 structure in the 12 days we had. Always the hard work starts and breaks everyone in within a few days. We find our groove and relax into the earth work. As the wall grows, people feel happy to see their work show up clearly before their eyes. The first 2-3 feet are always the hardest…straight cob around and around. We insert rocks for some reprieve from the endless mixes. This workshop I made a goal of 4 loaves per person per day. Even that was always a push. Maybe I should say 6 next time so 4 seems less overwhelming. There’s alot of mental effort as well in this work. I am learning that people need to feel ahead of the game. Satisfied with their days’ work. I am learning to have smaller goals. I tried to keep the structure small and once again the owners wanted bigger. Deals were made that were not maintained and once gain the push to complete the walls was on.
It seems a part of me wants the students to have that great satisfaction of finishing the wall(s) and seeing the results of their hard work, and another part wants everyone to take it easy and have a good time. I am always between the Owners of the land and the students, trying to find a happy balance. However in alignment with my own driven personality, I tend towards encouraging the students to work hard to complete. Another reason I prefer the goal of completion and its intense time frame, is that once COB BUILDING gets rollin’, especially with a group effort, it’s good to keep it rollin’. Earthwork is heavy and effortful and done communally it all goes much more easily. These are the points I want the students to experience: the physical work, the pace of actually getting the walls up, and the importance of bringing in a community to work together in a more productive and enjoyable flow. This is how a cob house can get erected in a “useful” timeframe. Working alone you’re looking at 4-10 times longer. For me it took 4 years. It becomes a long building meditation. And that’s fine if you have the time. But if you want to move in in, or if you are hired to build for someone, energy management is key.
On the other hand students who pay to learn in one of our workshops also don’t want to feel like laborers. Thus it is important to have chunks of downtime, yoga, playing and other activities to nurture the energy for the building. So many things to fit in, and still have the solid fresh energy to make those mixes for a week or more. Each workshop gives me the opportunity to improve the experience, for myself, the client and the students. Yet there is always the unexpected, especially as one moves over the Planet into new realms. This is what I chose and why I chose it. I was yearning for NEW, SURPRISES, UNKNOWN, CHALLENGES. And with these I am growing myself, as graciously and gratefully as my 52 year-young self will allow me to. One day at a time.