Brevity, Balance, and Bales

(Written by Jake Egelhoff)

Time has felt more or less elastic these past few weeks—stretching and shrinking depending on the day or week’s task. It moves on incessantly as my hands seem to work without inhibitions or commands, and is marked only by the mounting structure that meets us under a sun that creeps up later and later each day. It tears open over the La Sals as the first echoes of our tools welcome another day at the site. Sometimes I feel startled by our rapid progress—what time and effort combined can create. It’s a feeling that’s occasionally accompanied by some sort of nostalgia for what laid before us at the beginning of that day or week. It’s strange to think that we are nearing the end of our first half of this program—the first half of a project that has become a part of us, and us, it. It’s work, yea, but I’m feeling less burdened by it as the days wilt into fall. As I look back at these past three weeks, I’m confronted with snap-shot visions that are now preserved in our new walls, floors, and roofs. When I think of this month I think of dust, splinters, straw in the shower drain, a bleeding thumb, the pattern of rake tines on our dirt floor, the annoying soundtrack of a dog’s yelp initiated by the pop of a nail gun, the piercing twang of a chop saw, the rhythm of house music that echoes off our shaded straw walls, and the perfect morning silence atop our recently set trusses.

Photo by Mia Krakowski

Photo by Mia Krakowski

A few weeks ago our projects took a much-anticipated turn as we received a giant load of straw bales delivered in the back of a farmer’s semi truck. The scene was everything I could have hoped for; complete with two young farmers, probably 8 or 9 years old, who worked hard helping us unload the bales with rigor. They scaled up the sides of the golden stacks, climbing up the ratchet straps like a couple of spider monkeys, and kicked the bales down to us as fast as their legs could manage. Clouds of dust bellowed around a revolving swirl of people who took turns piling them up beside the truck.

Photo by Mia Krakowski

Photo by Mia Krakowski

We’ve done a lot in three weeks—We’ve finished installing our radiant heating units, set our trusses, secured our framing, attached the purlins, and fastened our skirt flashing with rivets and screws. We’ve sanded, stained, spragued, and stacked. We’ve dealt with inspections that have delayed our progress. We’ve learned to square our straw bales with chain saws and hedge trimmers. We’ve formed our bales into walls and shaped them into the necessary shapes and sizes with needles and twine. Consequently, as we near the end of our structural building and move forward with finishing details, our time spent here is displayed in form—a tangible, functional, monument that stands as a symbol of all of our time and efforts.

 

photo 1 copy

In many ways it is this process that helps me enjoy the work that I’m doing here. I enjoy the expedited lapses of time that occur while building something with my own hands. I like watching things happen. This work can be hypnotic, relieving, and rewarding. It has been educational beyond the conventional sense, and by that I mean that I feel more awakened by the processes required here than I have in recent memory. It has forced me to slow down, observe and feel the process, and equate that same process to any goal or task I seek in daily life. That said, the work is obviously not always as glamorous or romantic as I might make it sound. It is at times annoying, tedious, or unnecessarily dramatic, but focusing on these aspects of the experience only fuels thoughts of a similar vein and perpetuates future negativity that I aim to avoid.

 

photo 1

 

The culture of any working environment is almost always dictated by those operating within it—the attitudes, the tone, the rhythm, the overall outlooks, etc. We talked briefly last week about how constructing positive outlooks not only helps us at work, but in life as well. Since so much of our life consists of work, it seems like a reasonable place to begin practicing more positive, productive, outlooks. When I think of work, or a work ethic that I try to strive for in life, I think of a line from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness where he writes, “I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.” What I take away from this passage is pretty basic: Work, or any creative task that requires extended amounts of focus and effort, can provide an immensely valuable retreat, a place to learn, alleviate paranoia, attain calm, or develop a sense of pride that would otherwise not be accessible. While work, especially construction work, is often a group effort, it also provides a rare opportunity for self-discovery. This can be empowering when viewed from the right angle—a positive angle. Whenever possible I try to get lost in my work, to try and find my own reality…I feel fortunate to have found many glimpses of that here already.

 

Photo by Jake Egelhoff

Before

Recently, our teams converged to help us complete our roof and bale assembly. It was the first time since we began constructing our homes that both of our teams combined on the same project, and the results were significant. Within 8 hours the sheeting was completed on our roof and the bales were stacked into four walls around the house. What was a skeleton in the morning had filled out into an enveloped shelter in the evening. It was, in a phrase, a badass display of what many hands can accomplish in one day’s work. As fall approaches and we enter new phases of our respective builds, I hope there will be more opportunity to mesh the two groups within future projects.

 

After

After

As we work through our last week before fall break, I hope we can find the opportunity to reflect upon what we’ve accomplished in such a short span of time. Each layer of our build preserves a story, a phase, a part of us that is now lost in the past. It is satisfying, though, to know that as we continue to age and change, parts of these houses will remain here for us to revisit. Hopefully, something of us gets sealed within its envelope.

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