Mile Markers

Today was the beginning of the end.

The adobe floor has always sat as the final mile marker. The last big thing that had to be done on the straw bale home that we have spent the last 4 months building, and we started pouring it today.

It’s fitting that the adobe floor is our last major step. It will make up a significant portion of the house’s thermal mass, in the winter sucking up the sun’s energy and providing the heat that the straw bales and plaster will then insulate; the heart of the house.

There have been many mile markers that we have passed over these last months. Foundations, posts and beams, stacking straw bales, plastering, but for me the major markers have come once a month, each time my parents come out to Moab and visit the site.

Looking back at each of these visits puts things in an interesting perspective, one in which the speed of our creation becomes clear. Working at the site everyday, it is easy to lose yourself in the routine and the flow of the pieces of the house falling into place. It’s easy to forget the big picture, and that after a mere 4 months, we have almost finished a house!


The first visit my parents made to the site came in February. They followed me around the site, smiling as I explained in excited half-sentences what had been, and was now in front of them. We had turned an empty 0.11-acre lot into a mound of very level dirt with a concrete foundation sitting atop it. Seeing the foundation we finally had an understanding of the footprint of what we were building. It was off the pages of the building plans and in front of our eyes, but to see the full house still took quite a bit of imagination.

The end of March saw my parents’ second visit. Where there had been a foundation and a presumption of what would become a house, there was now a superstructure. The walls were in place and filled with bales and the roof trusses were up. All the lines of what would become a house were there, they had only to be filled in.


When they came to the build site for the 3rd time the first thing I wanted to show my parents was the vine and metal leaves we had installed in the plaster around the outside backdoor. The three-dimensionality of natural plasters affords the builder and homeowner a huge amount of creative potential. Though Steve, the homeowner, wasn’t too excited about our idea for a giant dragon covering two exterior walls, we were able to convince him that a wreath of vines decorated with homemade metal leaves, made from the extra weather flashing, would look pretty cool.

But though the outside the house looked fairly complete, the inside was still a long ways from done.


Fast forward a month to the latest visit just a few days ago, and the house is, but for a few final details, finished. The limewash color coat is on the exterior; the kitchen and bathrooms are built and installed; the interior walls are painted; the lights are up; and the adobe heart of the house has been oiled and is beating, holding in the cool from the nights and emanating it against the heat of the day.

The feeling of seeing the house ‘working’ is something akin to finishing a major computer or car repair. After hours of tinkering, pulling apart and putting back together, and of unavoidably finding that the process was far more involved than you originally thought, you finally think you have everything in place. The moment of truth arrives, and you turn the key or hit the power button.

For us, these last few weeks have been that moment. The moment of seeing all the pieces fit together and work. The moment of seeing all the principles we had been taking on faith put into action. Proving to us that they do, in fact, work. The second to last mile marker on our journey.

And in two week, when Steve moves into his brand new, beautiful straw bale house, we will move, bittersweetly, past our final marker in Community Rebuilds and off into the rest of our lives.

But that adobe heart will keep beating inside its earth and straw bale body, heating and cooling a home that will standing for decades to come.



Travis Holtby


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