After spending a little bit of time visiting my parents, it was time to head back out of the road again. I was having a strong desire to learn more about natural building and to get more hands on experience, so I contacted Deanne Bednar of the Strawbale Studio to set up a work trade arrangement. She replied back to me asking me for a lot of information about myself including a resume if I chose to send one and references. I was a little taken back by this at first, because I very much didn’t want to go through the absurd task of updating my resume, something I haven’t done since my days in the engineering world. I decided to just answer her questions and tell her about myself in an email letter and include references with that. My first reference was Wayne Weiseman, Permaculture Instructor extraordinaire and as it turned out, Wayne had done some consulting work for Deanne a couple of years back, small world. Deanne was satisfied with everything so we agreed that I would work trade with her for 3 weeks.
I arrived one night just after dark and her front door said to just knock and come on in, so I did. Deanne was having a meeting with her neighbor and co-owner of some land and they were about finished with their meeting so they offered me some food, which I gladly accepted and we chatted for a while and then Deanne showed me where I would be staying after her neighbor left. The next day I got a tour and was very impressed with the natural buildings that she had on the property. As I’ve been traveling around, I’ve seen many examples of many different types of natural buildings but I’d never seen a natural roof. The closest thing to a natural roof that I’d seen is a living roof, but that sort of thing requires a plastic or rubber barrier to seal out moisture. The roof that she had on the big natural building, which was called the Strawbale Studio, was a thatch roof. The thatching was bundles of Phragmites reed laid down in a manner similar to shingles, but lashed to the wooden roof purlins instead of being nailed or screwed to sheathing as in shingles. Phragmites reed is a water-loving plant that grows wild in much of the United States and in many parts of the world, growing in similar conditions to cattails. In some areas, the plant is considered invasive. I guess we could stop its invasion if more people used it as a roofing material. The next three weeks we settled into a rhythm of planning, working, cooking, learning, and hanging out. During the time that I was there, the number of people work-trading or stopping by for a short working visit ranged from just me to around 7 other folks. I learned a lot and the community atmosphere that was cultivated was really great. We had fun, and got a lot of work done. Things that I learned and got some good experience with were earthen plasters, earthen floors, cob, straw-bale construction and plastering, thatching, timber harvesting, hunting bow-making (this was something that I got started with in my free time), rocket stoves, earth ovens, and harvesting local materials for use in natural building. Deanne is a really great woman to work with and is very knowledgeable, is a great teacher and genuinely cares about other people and about the earth and caring for it. I had a wonderful time at the Strawbale Studio and may be back there sometime in the future to teach Permaculture.