Trying not to be The Big Bad Wolf and Destroy a Straw House

*Before I launch into my adventures I am sad to say that I had a technical “hiccup” and unintentionally deleted all of the photos off of the first 8 posts I have written. I hope you’ve all gotten a chance to see them as they’ve been published, if not, feel free to contact me and I’ll send you some photos*

You’ll never guess where I am. I’m standing alone in an unfinished straw bale house in the Santa Cruz mountains with music blasting in the background, using an almost finished windowsill as my “desk”. I just ate oatmeal with peanut butter and…avocado.

That’s what you guessed, right? I promise you I haven’t gone crazy after my second week of training with AVI. Maybe just a little bit? To fill you in, I’ve completed 1/4 of my yoga trainings on the track to be a yoga therapist, and now I’m on to my first workaway. I’m camping out in the woods at the edge of a property where my workaway hosts are building a sustainable, straw bale house. They live in San Jose so they’re only around during the weekends to work on the house.

Backtracking a little bit, the last week of the training was so great, everything that I learned in the first week had a little time to sink in and our group only go closer. On the last night we made a slideshow with various pictures from the weeks and showcased it in front of Gary and the rest of the staff. We shared some laughs with the photos and then the instruments came out to sing a few songs as people trickled out. I can’t believe how much more I have learned, I’m very glad to be learning a little bit of the science behind everything and how the body responds/reacts to different practices. I feel like I have enough knowledge at this point to actually put it together and understand part of the process. Of course, there’s always more to learn, but it’s nice to have a solid platform to start from.

When the training was over, it was time to pack up and ship out to my next adventure. My classmate Tom was super generous and gave me a ride into town where I met my first workaway host, Samantha, and her two adorable kids Theo and Kai. Theo is “three and a quarter” but he insists on telling me that he will be “three and a half next week”. I remember when I was a kid the quarters and halves meant a lot. There were two other workawayers already staying on the land so we shopped for some food to supplement what was already there and headed up the mountain to the land.

Samantha and her husband Garrick are awesome. They’ve equipped the tent city with a cute little camp stove and pots, pans and other necessary camping items. They supply all the food for a trade of a few hours of work a day. Other than that I am free to do what I want. Which at this moment is dance around the unfinished, empty house while I’m trying to think of things to write about. The drywall crew left some snazzy speakers.

It’s pretty cool how it’s all coming together, they’re building this house with the hopes of installing a water heating system that runs off of compost! Very cool. They left a book for me to read about compost heated houses, so I’m looking forward to reading that, but the information I do have and my general idea about the process is this: As you’re building the house, a piping system is installed that runs throughout the floor and somehow you connect your compost system to that. If you’re familiar with compost you know that when turned it releases a whole lot of heat and steam, so somehow this is connected to the piping system and heats the house from the floor up. My hosts were explaining that people prefer to have warmer feet and feel a bit cooler up by the top of the head. If anyone is more familiar with this heating process and wants to comment below, feel free!

Samantha made sure I was settled in, gave me the tour, then left to go back home. It was me, myself and I (and some squirrels) for the evening. My workaway companions, Ben and Eliza, were out for the night so I started to make some dinner. I started cooking rice in the little mess kit that my brother got for me when I graduated high school, along with two awesome camping knives. My family knows me very well I guess, and here I am using all of those things a few years later. Back to the rice. The stove suddenly went out and wouldn’t start again about halfway through cooking, and it was getting dark. I didn’t know where the extra fuel canisters were so I just kept the rice in the pot and saved it for later. I had to be creative with what I had so I decided to go for an avocado, which are much better in California, they always arrive in Maine a little too well traveled. I realized half an avocado wasn’t going to cut it, so I grabbed the other closest food item, a tomato. Mmmm, cold tomato on a foggy evening, that wasn’t really going to cut it either. So I mixed some raw oats with peanut butter and sunflower seeds and tried to eat that without gluing my teeth together with the peanut butter and dry oats. Needless to say it was an interesting dinner, but I kept telling myself the phrase “It always tastes better when your camping!!” It almost worked.

As you can tell, the dinner I just had was about the same, but this time the oats were cooked!! I wasn’t planning on having oatmeal again but we had a kitchen mishap this morning. When I woke up after my first night in the woods I finally met Ben and Eliza, a wonderful couple from England traveling through the states playing music and enjoying the redwoods. Ben showed me where all the fuel canisters for the stove were and I was able to finally eat my rice…for breakfast. Ben started cooking a huge pot of oatmeal and proceeded to burn it. This was after he told me he burned oatmeal every time, but was optimistic that this time would be different! It was pretty funny and soon Eliza stepped in a saved the day and cooked a perfect pot of porridge. I told them to save the burnt oatmeal and I’d eat it later after doctoring it up with some honey or something for dinner. I’m not sure why I decided peanut butter, avocado and sunflower seeds was a better option. After breakfast we started to work on a few different tasks. We built an awesome set of steps out of round pavers that Garrick had brought from the house in San Jose. I had a very interesting job today; burning the little bits of straw that stick out through the mud on the wall of the straw bale house. I wield a propane torch in one hand, and cross my fingers in the other, praying that I don’t burn the whole place to the ground.

Sadly, I arrived on Ben and Eliza’s last night so they were off after we cooked an awesome lunch (without oats!!!) and enjoyed it with Samantha, Garrick and the kids up in the woods. I was sad to see them go, they made my transition to the property much easier, and fun! In our short time together we connected very well. We had some very interesting conversations about yoga and music, they teach children’s yoga back in England. It’s always nice to meet like minded people, and share similar world views. They plan to head to San Diego around the time I will be there with Simon (to any of my AVI classmates or anyone else who doesn’t know, Simon is my lovely boyfriend) so hopefully our paths will cross again.

***

Day 2. It’s just me and the trees again. I’m very grateful for the camping trips my family used to take when I was younger. I learned all of my camping skills from my parents, so if it weren’t for them, I’d have no idea what to do with myself. It’s such slow living when you’re camping, everything is a ritual. After a meal, to wash the dishes I gather a few plastic containers and head down the hill to a spigot, then lug the water back up the hill to boil it so I can have warm water to wash dishes with. Everything is mindful and methodical, it’s very calming, although by the time I’m done cleaning up from breakfast I might as well make lunch! I am enjoying my time here, though it can be a bit quiet, but after the stimulation of the training I suppose it’s nice to let the information sink in and assimilate. I can sing and chant the sutras as loud as I want and no one will hear. I never thought I’d be one to talk to myself, but here I am in the woods mumbling as I cook “okay, salt, where’s the salt? Maybe this box, no, this one?” I feel like Jay Smith from The Dharma Bums. It’s a great book by Jack Kerouac about a guy who travels through California meeting quite a few characters and then has some grand adventures in solitude on top of a mountain. I read the book about a month before I left and could hardly wait to get going, though I don’t think I’ll be doing any train hopping on this venture.

It’s interesting, thinking about how being so close with nature was a way of life to the indigenous folks. For us, when the going gets tough, we can run inside to a heated house with everything we need right there, we’re so disconnected from the natural world. The progression of separation happened quite fast, now you can live up in the top floor of a skyscraper, how disconnected is that? No connection to Earth, and the skyscraper most likely isn’t sitting in the woods, it is surrounded by a concrete jungle. But it’s safe, it’s comfortable, and that’s what most of us know. Just my thoughts…

I did about 4.5 hours of work on the house today, all indoors because the weather has been very rainy. I worked on finishing the wall torching, with some added dangerous fun…ladders. How about ladders on top of already raised platforms? I made sure to have a fire extinguisher near by. I was hoping to make it to town somehow today to get a shower at a gym that Eliza and Ben told me about. Apparently you can sign up for a free seven day trial pass and use everything, which includes but is not limited to a sauna and showers!!! Which I am seriously in need of, especially after realizing that I have been wearing the same shirt for three days, yikes. I don’t have a way to do laundry at the moment, so I’m trying to conserve my nicer clothes for nicer weather. Unfortunately I ran out of time to make it to town, so it will be day four with this shirt before I get to the showers. It’s a good thing no ones around today.

***

So I finally have internet and can post, but it’s been a few days so I’ll update from where I left off. The work crew was back on Monday so I had some company. I’ve been doing some other various projects around the house, and getting to know the carpenters and painters. They’re all extremely nice and are always offering to bring me supplies or take me into town. In fact, everyone I’ve run into so far here has been so generous. The neighbors have offered me access to their shower. I’ve taken a few people up on offers into town, which is extremely stimulating after the stillness of the woods. It’s been nice to explore the area a bit though, it’s really beautiful along the beach. I went last night with one of the carpenters to watch the sunset, but I didn’t take any pictures. If I get there again I’ll make sure to take some. Santa Cruz is home to one of the oldest roller coasters in the U.S. and of course, skateboards. There were plenty of those along the walk I took last night, overlooking the ocean and lots of surfers catching waves as the sun went down. Everyone was out watching the sunset, it reminded me of the sundown parties in Costa Rica on the Nicoya Peninsula. People would crowd the beaches with instruments, flags, kids and animals to watch beautiful West coast sunsets.

It didn’t take me too long to get into a nice camping “groove”. I get up, wait until it’s light enough to exit the tent, make tea, most so I can thaw my fingers around the cup, do my practice homework for AVI, make oatmeal (never eaten so much porridge in my life) and go to work on the house. I’m only supposed to work an hour a day for a trade of food and a place to camp, but since I’m there, and I don’t have a car, I end up working most of the day. In the afternoon it’s either grabbing a ride into town or hanging out in the woods working on my various other writing pieces. When it gets dark I usually just end up in my tent, so I have a good amount of time to write. It’s a good environment for it though, no distractions.

Today I get to play college student for a bit. I made my way to UC Santa Cruz to visit Sarah, one of my friends from back home that I’ve known since elementary school. She’s been in and out of classes so we’ve only gotten to catch up a little bit, but tonight we’re heading into town for dinner, so I look forward to sharing some stories of home and seeing what she’s been up to! The campus is so beautiful, right in the redwoods, with views of the ocean. There are trees everywhere, and a nice trail system that I explored while Sarah was at class. I think I blend in quite well, I’ve even got a backpack to walk around with, and AVI homework to work on, no one would even know that I rolled out of a tent this morning!

 

-Bird

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