Written by Spring 2019 intern, Fran.

Every morning I wake up at 6:20 and go downstairs at 6:30. By the time I’m up, Carson, Morgan, and Nicole are already sitting in the kitchen. I make oatmeal in my favorite pot with bananas, cinnamon, walnuts, and flax seeds, and use Morgan’s leftover coffee grounds to refill the French press. Carson goes upstairs while Morgan and Nicole and I begin my favorite ritual of the morning – dream sharing. Today, Nicole dreamt about train hopping and Morgan didn’t remember her dreams but knows that she had a lot of them.

Our lives in Moab are full of little patterns, both on and off of the site. Some are prescribed (like putting a drop of oil in the pneumatic tools before use) while others are invented or learned (like Nik riding his bike to work even in the pouring rain). Some are personal, and some are shared. In the building process, there are patterns which are instantly intuitive, especially when it comes to working with mud and clay. What fascinates and amazes me though are the little details shown to us by our lead builders which a first time builder would never think of on their own. Who would ever intuit the fact that a vent needs a way to stop back drafts or be able to spot all of the tiny little places which need to be sealed off from water?

Even though from the outside, the concept of a straw bale house sounds so against the grain of the building industry standard, I see more and more that the homes we build are an evolution of conventional construction, an improvement (hopefully) on the pattern through continuous iteration. With thousands of years of building behind us as a species, we’ve picked up a thing or two about how to keep out drafts and drips. We’ve figured out how to size and angle a roof to allow sun in in the winter and keep it out in the summer. We’ve made progress in many areas, but have also caused problems for our own health and the health of our environment. Some good ideas, like building with local and non-toxic materials, have often been left behind. The way I see it, the homes we are building here look into the future by looking into the past and taking our favorite parts from the ways humans have learned to build homes, both in the last hundred years and in the last thousand.

My morning oatmeal and coffee look identical to Morgan’s, but over time I’ve learned exactly at what point to add the walnuts and bananas so that they have the perfect balance between flavorful and squishy, and only she knows when to mix in her chocolate chips and which brand of coffee makes her perfect cup. We learn through our mistakes and through our successes, both on an ancestral and a personal scale. We share what we’ve figured out. The build results in a house which is outwardly simple straw and mud, but in it are years of human experience on how to make a structure livable, sustainable, and suitable for the climate in which it exists. Being a part of this process feels incredibly human, a glimpse into the way we have figured out how to make homes for ourselves, how to improve them, and how to pass that knowledge down.

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