On amalgamation and gravitation

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Amalgamation: the action, process, or result of combining or uniting.

Gravitation: movement, or the tendency to move, toward a center of gravity; movement toward or attraction to something

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There is so much to learn from the desert. It is a landscape that uniquely requires intention, moderation, and cooperation – values I have come to hold paramount and that attracted me to Community Rebuilds. Moab is know for the ecological phenomenon of cryptobiotic soil – the foundation for all life in this desert. One of the foundational ingredients of “crypto” are cyanobacteria, which are suspected to have been among the first organisms to proliferate across the planet, helping to transform and oxygenate the atmosphere, making the Earth hospitable to life, and that continue to be a major component of fertile soil across the globe.  “Crypto” forms when cyanobacteria grows ever so slowly through wet dirt, creating a sticky, fibrous web that bind the dirt particles together. These conditions protect the dirt from erosion and facilitate water and nutrient absorption, creating an environment that encourages the establishment of lichens, mosses, fungi, and other bacteria. From the slow, but ever-expanding foundation of crypto, plant seeds are provided conditions where it is possible for them to stay, sprout, thrive, and contribute new functions to enhance the ecosystem even further.

CR, in a sense, is the crypto of the community. It exists within a foundational network of nonprofit organizations, government entities, homeowners, and incredible alumni which makes it possible for interns to land in Moab as seeds, and to grow as they contribute to the amalgamation of symbiotic community.  CR helps bind institutions and organizations through working alliances and encourages retention and resilience through the development of interns and apprentices who might choose to stay and by developing affordable housing for Moab’s existing community members.

Myself and the other interns and apprentices have all converged to this place from as far as Portland and Tampa, offering wildly vast experiences, backgrounds, interests, and motivations. The week before interns arrived, my fellow apprentices and I experienced the most significant storm Moab has had in decades.  It was humbling to watch as individual droplets united to become a raging force through canyons and town streets alike. The gravitation of water is what shaped this landscape – the depressions that have given way to become arches or that form our favorite swimming holes are testaments to the power of falling into place. Being with this particular group of individuals holds the same kind of powerful, invigorating potential.

The desert landscape of southeastern Utah translates the metaphorical, ethereal, and existential into living, tangible form – it is a physical expression of change. Every boulder underneath an arch, every canyon curve captures a moment in a constant unfolding. That boulder will continue to crumble, the water in the canyons will continue to erode until one day, an inconceivable amount of time into the future, the boulder becomes sand and the canyon deepens and widens. 

At CR, projects slowly develop over months or sometimes years during the initial phase of design, land acquisition, homeowner preparation – a process that CR artfully works on so that the timing of breaking ground and intern arrival coincide as closely as possible. However, once interns arrive, change happens on a far more expedient, palpable scale. This semester – despite delays on permitting for CR’s future office building – we spent the first three weeks preparing for the office build by working on smaller-scale building projects and cleaning up and developing new organizational systems around campus.  

We built desks from scratch out of salvaged wood, following designs created by our very own ingenious tinkerer and assistant builder, Jess, as well as the window bucks (the part of the wall supporting the window), learned how to set up batterboards and string lines, laid out the sill plates, built the forms and installed the rebar. Meanwhile, subcontractors prepared the land and inspectors gave the okay for next steps incrementally along the way. After weeks of tucking our finished projects away under any somewhat dry nook and cranny, everything fell into a rapid rhythm as soon as the concrete foundation was poured. By the next day, the pieces we had prepared in advance became the skeleton of a first floor, and a few days later, frost-protecting insulation and half of the tongue and groove flooring for the second floor has been installed. By the end of next week, we may just have the whole building framed from foundation to trusses – a mind-blowing timeline of accomplishments when reflecting on the past month of learning, working, getting established in a new town, and growing relationships with new people.

It feels as if I am tangentially evolving alongside this place. As I offer my time, attention, and body to play a part in Moab’s resilient, relational, healthy, locally-oriented development, not only do I feel myself palpably growing, but I have the great joy of witnessing and learning as the people I work and play alongside grow, too. The amalgamated crew that trickled here is proving to mesh as synergistically as the most enduring crypto or the mushiest plaster. The energetic flood of newness is trickling into a sustainable flow. In essence, I am happy to be here catching moments of awe while stargazing, skating, swimming, cooking, feasting, and, of course, constructing a whole dang building.

Written by Sara “Smo” Ozawa, Apprentice

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