Saturday, August 7, 2010

NBCNY 2010

I usually hedge my bets when committing to do something; "I will try to make it" or "I plan to be there", never guaranteeing outright that something won't come up (you parents out there know that something unexpected always does). When it comes to the PeaceWeaver's Natural Building Colloquium however, I am more categorical: "I will see you there, definitely". It has become an important tradition for me, supporting both my practice in building and my practice in being human.

The week starts with an opening ceremony where we all come together and the sacred fire is lit. Supper and evening presentations follow, with lots of conversating whenever possible. Mornings begin with a gong (!) at 5:45a, a sunrise ceremony, and a hearty breakfast. Then we all disburse to get involved in the various projects, stopping for lunch, the occasional nap or presentation (sometimes nap and presentation) and 5 o'clock swim (the pond is longer when you are in the middle of it than what it looks like when you are on shore). A kick-ass vegan supper is followed by more presentations, with a fire circle afterwards for those who can stay awake.

As usual, there was a whole pile of projects to get involved in.

Last year, the straw bale sauna was erected down by the main building. With a tarp-covered roof held up by a gorgeous and complex timberframe, it was just crying out to be completed. The single coat of lime plaster that coated the exterior had not fared well over the winter, so the first task was to knock about half of it off to expose the bales, leaving that which was stable enough to remain. Clay slip was applied to the bales, and then a couple coats of earthen plaster, bolstered with Ed Raduozo's shredded government documents, went on over top. The Thunder Mountain crew will likely finish it off with a finish coat of lime before the weather turns. Jim Luckner oversaw the whole operation.

Inside, Deanne Bednar led a crew of enthusiastic plasterers in laying on two coats of tawney earthen finish plaster over a base coat of lime. Ready for benches and a fire in the stove!

Eric Hempstead and Jim Luckner devised a clever canopy to shade the roof, and then installed battens over the roof substrate. Then crews went to work installing white pine shingles, getting the whole roof done by the colloquium's end. In spite of my intense fear of working with wood, I did succeed in spending a whole entire day nailing shingles onto the roof (and sneezing), and I ended up having a blast. Thanks, John, for your patient teaching.

Ceremonial building
Frank Meyer and David Eisenberg were among those leading the charge to spruce up the plaster on the ceremonial building. Flaky lime plaster was scraped off and new cement stucco applied and coloured. The building's exterior wall plaster also got a face lift in parts, covering over the mottled green exterior with a smooth and sophisticated plaster/fresco combination. Can't wait to try that at home.

Inside, Steve Paisley and Kevin Connors went to work, cutting out a hole in the strawbale wall to make room for a Rumford fireplace. Now at last the building will have a heat source and be usable year round.

Birdhouses and tree people
Ed Raduozo mixed up his sumptuous clay plaster which owes much of its richness to the high paper content: shredded government documents procured from the US patent office. Wattle and daub birdhouses and tree people ensued, much to the delight of children and adults alike.

Ger making
Kylie Baker, fresh off the plane from Mongolia, spent the week leading up to the NBC, and the entire week of the colloquium engaged in building a "ger" (the Mongolian word for "yurt"). She made it all, from the lattice walls and rafters, to the door frame and the smoke hole. Dedicated helpers kept the ger going and it was finished in time to raffle it off on the colloquium's last day. At the same time as she was constructing the frame, Kylie was also leading felting workshops and managed to create several large pieces of felt that will form the door of the ger when they're stitched together.

Timberframe barn
Sarah Highland designed another treat for NBC-goers: a timberframe barn. I spent a couple sessions using Sarah's ancient drills and chisels to form mortises in a post. At the end of the week, we had a barn raising, installing two of the five bents that will make up the form of the barn. This work requires many hands and lots of focus, and Sarah led the raising with clear instructions, calm demeanour and a sense of humour.

In addition to all that work, we enjoyed a number of sessions and conversations including:

  • The high art and subtle science of scrounging: Jim Jutzak
  • Zero energy housing in Buffalo: Kevin Connors and Dave Lanfear
  • Green Maps: Deanne Bednar
  • Process-oriented worksites: Erin Condo
  • Codes update: David Eisenberg
  • Building and travelling: Sarah Highland
  • Desperately searching for gers in Mongolia: Kylie Baker
  • Music and open mike: Frank Meyer

I am so grateful to the PeaceWeavers for creating this space that I where I can be every summer, and to my family for supporting me in having this time away.