Journal Entries

Currently I’m participating in an internship with a non-profit organization, Community Rebuilds (CR) in the small desert town of Moab, Utah. CR’s mission is to build energy-efficient housing, provide education on sustainability/natural building and improve the housing conditions through an affordable program. What is natural building? Natural building uses techniques and materials that minimize ecological impact. Natural building avoids industrial processed products and focuses on renewable, recycled, or salvaged materials. My current semester includes sixteen interns from all ages and backgrounds. Two low-income qualifying homeowners have their pre 1976 trailers demolished. The build includes foundation to framing to finish. These homes are energy efficient, naturally built straw bale homes. The interns live together at a campus home for the five-month duration of the program with home cooked meals during the week, a lovely deck in the garden, and easy access to nature.

The following is a series of writings from my journal during my time at Community Rebuilds:

3/14 – Had a solid workday today. I started off doing blocking where the future walls will go, so there will be a support system for them. After I shoveled dirt around the house to level the area in order to have smooth ground for installing straw bales. Then I worked on cutting foam to create a mini foundation where we will pour concrete in the bathroom. We had a solid music day listening to Destiny’s Child, Destroyer, Sean Paul, Vetiver, and more.

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This past Sunday I hiked Hidden Valley, which reminded me of a paradise. It is tucked away in the canyon rims, with a luscious green valley. We saw petroglyphs, which were gorgeous and mind blowing. They were carved into the canyons and this was my second favorite hike so far in Moab after Arches National Park.

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Last week was a rough one putting in foam boards for insulation on the floors. We had volunteers from a college in Virginia called ODU. I enjoyed talking to their group leader Latif and invited them to our house for the open mic we had this past Friday. I performed two songs with Jennica.

3/17 – Today I worked on the gable ends, which was a triangular shaped filled with sanded and stained wood. It took almost all day long and a lot of patience, but it looks really beautiful. It’s satisfying to know that I finished this specific piece of the house that will be on the exterior roof forever. Building is amazing that way, making structures that are permanent. Yesterday we made the first level of the adobe floor by shoveling in dirt, throwing straw across, and hosing it down with some water. We had a dance party since we needed to stomp and compress the adobe. The spirits were very high on the site and everyone was having fun. Then we poured concrete in the afternoon for the bathrooms. I’m heading to California for my spring break for the first time ever!

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3/22 – We finished putting up the straw bales today at the house! I thought it was a lot of fun. It is sort of like Tetris and I had a great groove going on finishing four walls of the house. I loved using our giant mallet, Thor. The bales act as a fantastic natural insulator rather than toxic fiberglass.

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4/7 –  Exhausted after an entire day of slip coating. This is the initial plaster we put on the straw bales, which includes clay, sand, and water. This makes the bales nonflammable. My face is covered with clay.

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4/8 –  Happy Friday! Today I sealed electric boxes with caulk to prevent potential fires. Then I worked on creating the next layer of floor in one of the guestrooms. The floors are made from reject sand, water, and straw. We got to use a trowel to smooth the floor. That was my last day at the Ball site and will be switching to the Thomas site on Monday.

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4/18 – I’m feeling much better after a much needed nap and a healthy dinner. Later tonight I’m dumpstering with Cody to get ready for dinner on Wednesday. I slip coated the interior at work today. We had free Wabi Sabi lunch today and I rode on Casper’s handlebars. Lunch was delicious and I had about five cookies. When we got back from lunch we had a discussion with Aja while 70s dance music was playing on the radio. I started swinging my hips side to side and so did Semra. This had a domino effect, with everyone dancing while still discussing plans for the afternoon.

4/23 –  I’m at a surreal viewpoint in Canyonlands National Park right now. I’m looking at ripples of canyons. I would tell everyone I know to see this specific view. There are mountains in the horizons in three different directions. It seems as if I’m on top of the world. Canyonlands is huge compared to Arches and we’re currently at the Island in the Sky viewpoint.

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5/31 – Today we began our tadelakt workshop week. Our warm instructor, Frank Wetenkamp, came from Colorado to teach us the traditional Moroccan plaster technique. We have been prepping the showers this past week, which will all include tadelakt. The morning included an informative discussion on plasters and the ins and outs of tadelakt. Frank was extremely down to earth and a pleasure to learn from. During lunch we visited a rock shop to buy stones to press against the plaster. We worked with different dyes, experimenting on small squares of tiles. In the next couple of days we will be applying this to the showers!

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Conclusion – Heading out to Moab has been a life change that has truly showed me the meaning of the word rewarding. In a consumer driven society where most of us are used to buying what we need or having others make products for us, CR refreshingly empowers individuals with a do-it- yourself approach in a sustainable fashion. Interns range from having past building experience to, having never picked up a tool before. There’s a special beauty in this program that is training the next generation of environmentally conscious natural builders. Every day we expand our learning. We are constantly challenged, which helps our character grow, going outside our comfort zones at times. Our home is established with culture, and us interns are surrounded by new opportunities, scenery, and good times.

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Michael Frank- Moab Spring 2016 Intern

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