Wednesday, January 21, 2009

     Earthship Communities Embody Answers for Gaza

     The airstrikes by the Israeli military have destroyed many buildings, homes and places of worship in Gaza. The loss of these structures and homes is causing suffering for many people. Some of the people affected are those whom the government of Israel feels deserve such retaliation for the rocket strikes against innocent Israelis, others however, are known to be innocent victims and simply deemed collateral damage. But when these buildings, homes, places of worship and United Nations facilities are bombed more than the buildings are lost. Entire areas of the cities have had their infastructure destroyed. 

     When a building is bombed there is a loss of electricity, sewage and water systems to all the homes, businesses and schools in the area. Just like here in the united states, when a power line or transformer goes down, in one neighborhood, we all lose power. The same goes for the bombing of sewers and city water supplies. Everything is connected. 

     The building of sustainable and independent housing and shelter such as the earthship can greatly reduce this suffering. If the people of Gaza were to adopt an infastructureless community model much like the earthship communities in and around Taos, New Mexico, the loss of one building which may be harboring violent militants will not destroy the ability for the other homes and schools and places of business and worship to lose their power, water or the ability to safely internalize and manage their waste. 

     Although i believe that the road to peace begins with the cessation of such violent retaliation as air strikes, the defensive adoption of an infastrucureless form of community planning could alleviate the suffering caused by the anihalation of a single building in a neighborhood or town. 

     Like many of our failing systems and habitual ways of life, our dependence on systems of infastructure must be addressed now for the security and peaceful lives of generations to come. We need to create new systems where viewing the loss of innocent lives as collateral damage will no longer be acceptable, tolerated or needed, but instead seen as an abhorrent crime against the family of humanity and abandoned. 

     If "collateral damage" is necessary to sustain our "way of life", then sustaining our "way of life" is no longer necessary.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Earthships in the Pacific Northwest

My brother, who lives in Washington State has asked me about what changes would one need to make to the basic earthship model being used in the South West.

When heating is the primary interestone would need to increase the south window face and increase the east/west width of the room and decrease the north/south depth of the rooms.In these areas of prevailing cloudy skies, cold and damp winters, warm and wet summers in northern latitudes and at low altitudes with a high water table the building would not be recessed into the earth, instead earth would be built up around it to create a burial mass.

 Built on a raised building pad. One would need to implement the use of plastic vapor barriers as well as a plastic skirt surrounding the building just below finish burial. Basically the building would need to be built of a mass that was insulated from the surface dampness and connected to the deeper more insulated earth with its stable temperatures.Window would be vertical instead of the angled windows to maximize the very low winter sun and still allow the higher winter sun to enter on cooler cloudy days. 

This is basically a paraphrasing of a section in Michael Reynolds book "Comfort in any climate" which outlines adjustments to be made for various world climates. An excellent slim book that opens up ones horizons to building these efficient homes anywhere.

An excerpt from my journal/workbook for my novel-in-progress "Earthship"

(below is an excerpt from my journal/novel-in-progress "Earthship" which is the sequel to my other novel-in-progress "Jam")

 . . . 

My trips to New Mexico two years ago found me driving west of Taos, just beyond the Rio Grande Gorge to the Greater World Community Subdivision which is comprised of several dozen earthship structures and homes.  I had read about them for years and had entertained the idea of living in one someday.  Driving through the community is not welcomed for this is a private community, however there is a Visitors Center at the entrance to the community which is actually an older earthship that you can tour.  There are attendants at the visitor center who will give you a tour and answer questions and it is also set up so that one can walk around on an unguided tour and read about the various functions of the earthship.  The staff is very friendly and earthy and are often interns of the Earthship Biotecture’s hands on seminars or construction crews. 

I fell in love with earthships and decided that I would build or buy one day.  The sustainable architecture as presented to me by the Earthship Bbiotecture people represented to me a form of liberation and an attainable means of realizing my desires to live a simple, peaceful  life in harmony with nature.

The next year while in Taos again with my friend Laura who was visiting from California we decided to tour the visitor center. When we learned that there were several earthships available to rent for overnight stays we decided to stay in one.  It was winter and thought it would be interesting to check out how well these earthships held up to the freezing cold New Mexican nights.  Also I had been trying to increase the clarity of my intentions of living in an earthship so actually spending some time in one would be good for me to actually feel it first hand and know what it felt like to live in one.

I remember that after we brought our few things in, we sat down for a simple meal of hummus, pesto, bread, cheese and apples before taking a nap.  Our plan was to head out after sunset to find some local hot springs.  When I awoke from the nap I walked to the front of the earthship with its tall southern oriented row of  windows.  As I stepped up close to the low wall which housed the indoor planter cell full of leafy plants, I was taken aback by the sight before me.  

The night sky was laid out before me like no other building or home I had ever been in.  The star filled expanse was visible to my left and right and above and, due to the 60˚ angle of the windows, over and behind my head.  

The Greater World Community sits several miles outside Taos so the stars were not washed away by the lights of the small city.  I could actually see the milky way from inside the earthship.  

I was in awe of the celestial heavens.  

I felt like I was in the nightsky.  

I felt like a starship captain at the helm.  

I felt like getting naked.

We left in search for the hot springs.  We had received directions to two different ones.  The first route we took down a dirt road brought us eventually to a cardboard box in the middle of the road that was weighted down with rocks and a message scrawled in sharpie marker read road closed.  It was kind of eerie.  After some deliberation we drove past this box with some trepidation in hopes of simply violating this handmade sign.  Shortly afterward the road ahead had been bulldozed with enormous gouges and mounds to prevent motorized traffic. We turned the car around, eyes scanning the dark for anything freaky and out of place.  

Like Texan cannibals with guns, chainsaws and hooks improvised from scrap metal.

The next hot spring suggestion took us to another dirt road along which were several houses, mostly cracker box style but a couple that seemed to be earthships, especially one which had many warmly lit sections.  This road ended at the edge of the gorge where we would have to climb down to hot springs situated along the Rio Grande . . . in the dark.  We hadn’t quite expected the severity of the hike down and had no flashlight, so we abandoned the idea of hot springs and headed back to the earthship.  

Outside it was freezing cold, but as we entered the earthship it was noticeably warm and comfortable.  It was amazing and we chatted about the warmth and how great the earthship functioned for awhile before retiring.

In the morning we made tea and had several peaceful meditative moments of soaking in the sun as it came in through the row of large windows bathing us and the plants growing in the planter cell with wonderful warm sunlight.  It was this very sunlight streaming in all day, even though it was cold and wintry outside, which would be absorbed by the thick thermal mass walls and floor and radiate back out into the living space at night to keep us warm.

This year my wife decided that we were going to get out of town for the holidays and suggested renting an earthship.  Our friend Laura decided to fly out and join us.

Due to our last minute decision making there were only two earthships available and on different days.  We chose to stay in the same earthship as last time.  It’s called “The Studio”earthship and is actually a duplex.  A woman who works from home resides in the other half of the rental.

This year it was even colder than before and had been snowing for days.  The snow had actually drifted a foot up the windows.  It was an interesting sight from inside the earthships  living space with its floor actually several feet lower than the ground level outside, to see snow crawling up the window beyond the copious pink blooms of the bouganvillia growing in the planter cell. Many of the plants in the planter cell were blooming.  It may be winter outside, but it was a kind of endless summer inside.

several successive days of overcast weather had limited the amount of power stored in the earthships’ batteries so even though there was power for the water pump, water heater and lights, there was little extra for the electrical outlets to charge our phones and the EtherNet router kept going out leaving us without internet service as well.  While we went out in the daytime a member of the Earthship Biotecture dropped by to check on the power, probably alerted by the tenant in the other half of the duplex, but we never really got an answer about the power problems nor did we get more power so we assumed it was due to the cloudy weather.  Wind power would have been a welcome addition to this old earthship.

Another aspect of the cloudy days was that there was little solar energy coming in to warm up the thermal mass.  This left the earthship at around 58˚, which is the constant temperature of the insulating earth below the frost line.  We kept a fire going in the fireplace which was beautifully sculpted into the wall for the first evening and night.  The next day we ended up getting some sun and it warmed up nicely inside.

I remember getting up in the morning to make tea, meditate and do some writing.  While writing I stood in the kitchen looking out the great windows. 

Outside, the cloud cover of the  overcast sky was breaking up a bit.  Far to the south, closer to the mountain the sun was illuminating a section of clouds.  This section was glowing, the sunlight behind them seeming to increase until suddenly huge beams of sunlight angled down and swept across the blue grey slopes of the mountains.  Because the beams of sunlight were illuminating the light snow falling in the air, they seemed nearly solid.   They appeared to have manifested directly from a child’s drawing.

The sky was enormous and as the clouds  began to break up and allow the sun to shine down onto the desert floor as well as into the earthship, large patches of blue sky were emerging.  

Standing at the large windows which stretched up over and behind  my head and looking up at the clouds had just as striking an effect on me as it had done a year before when I had observed the stars from these same windows.  

I stood there for awhile, mesmerized by the swirling morphing clouds.  Funny how I had never noticed how good a windy day was for cloud gazing.  I guess that I had mostly stayed in on windy days in houses and buildings with small vertical windows and usually poor views of the sky above our heads. 

These large over arching windows which had given me such a celestial vantage at night, now allowed me to cloud gaze in style.

"The Pod" and earthship habitat "Serenity" Merge

"The Pod" and earhship habitat "Serenity" merge

What i was working on last night was merging the two ideas, "The Pod" and "Serenity" into one idea, one structure with, like any cell or organism, the ability to evolve built into its design. 

"The Pod" is no more, it has been swallowed into the idea of "Serenity".  The basic starting point will be the first earthship "U" which will serve the purpose of "The Pod" while simultaneously being the first "U" section of the earthship habitat "Serenity"

This will be a simple "U" design with a short greenhouse hallway at either end and an "airlock" style double door at the West end.  Very cold, strong winds and much snow come from the West there, so this airlock/mudroom will be greatly beneficial to the comfort of the dwellers.  Also a large curved wall will wrap around this Western opening out to the West and South to shield the doorway area from the wind and drifting snow.

All subsequent additions to Serenity will be made to the East and will simply entail adding on new and larger, more elaborate "U" sections.  This first area will eventually become a large and spacious (with a loft) bedroom area.

I purchased this land nearly12 years ago, during my son Ravens first year of life.  It was a greatly satisfying move, one full of potential and hope for a peaceful, liberated future.  I always intended to build somekind of structure there, and have thought through adobe, strawbale, even A-fram and finally have settled on an earthship which will provide a habitat which needs no heating or cooling, will internalize my waste and harvest the rain and solar gain and grow a lot of my food.  It will be a wonderful shell to house the shell of my body as i continue to evolve spiritually beyond the shackles of economics towards my original purpose as a creator, a creator of life.  Life, life, and more life. 

It has been hard in the rat race to "get ahead" to the point where the earthship can be built outright and i have decided that now is the time, with the environmental and social climate at its current point, with a new government administration which touts freedom, ingenuity, innovation, sustainability and hope as it's goals, and the emerging blessings of teh events leading up to the 2012 shift in human/earthen consciousness expansion, the new Golden Age, thousands of years of peace.

We do not have to live shckled to the cruel game which is the current notion of economics.  This wicked game has us all in a snare and theree is suffering at both ends of its narrow scope and spectrum.  Current society with its poorly designed economic shackles and inefficient use of energy is a sinking ship. There is another way, one without a mortgage, heating bill, cooling bill, electricity or waste or water infrustructure, the way of the freestanding, earthburmed, solar gain and rain harvesting self sustainable non-polluting earthship.

I am building an earthship . . . i am learning to swim.

Winter & Earthships

winter and earthships

Winter: it's been snowing all day, a tiny granulated snow, like white sand falling and accumulating everywhere.  For a day when no snow was predicted, three inches is quite surprising.  The garden is all covered in thick  lumpy whiteness, the railing of the deck, and the even thinner railing down the deck stairs has a tall thin line of white rising from it.  All is silent in the house, the kids are at their moms restaurant making holiday cookies, the cats are sleeping somewhere, I am assuming they are in Sage's room which is the default cat room since she is here the least of us all, everyone else is silent, and since I  and  Raven are the only ones who meditate I'm assuming that they are snugged up in their rooms reading.

Through the kitchen windows I can see the studio blanketed with snow, I want to go out there, but it would be real cold, and I have only a few hours before I must attempt to get to work so I'd rather not waste the firewood.  There is a nice bottle of wine from  Argentina gifted to me recently, but alas, there isn't time for such a Dionysian pleasure today.   Smoke is rising into a sky as white as the snow on the ground from the few chimneys I can see.   Little winter birds are hopping about in the shelter of the cedar.  A few stubborn leaves hang brownly to the tiny twiggy branches of the oak trees. 

The snow has slowed time and it is a silent, timeless space, a serene blank page for the mind to rest in.  

There are small tracks in the snow on the roof of the carriage house and stables which adjoin the studio.  Probably squirrel, possibly cat or perhaps something more magical.

I have made myself some quinoa with edamame and shitake mushrooms, added a bit of curry powder, cinnamon, thyme (it was handy and always goes well with foresty mushroomses) and several squirts of Braggs liquid aminos.   I'd sprinkle on a tablespoon of nutritional yeast but the little ceramic pot which is its usual home seems to be empty.  I think this would be good together with cauliflower and put in a pan casserole style with a good helping of cheese (well, for me, it would be Soy Sation shredded mozzarella style cheese alternative) and baked till golden.

I have been working out a few earthship designs (two primarily) which I am intending to begin Phase I of next spring.  

The first is "The Pod" in which I am trying to create the most simple and basic space to meet the most simple and basic needs. "The Pod" initial purpose will be to provide shelter and create a peaceable place away from the elements (which include coyotes, rattlesnakes and scorpions) onsite while I work on the next main earthship which will be a larger earthship.  "The Pod" will be one room, (or is it one room with a loft, or no is it one room with hookups for several hammocks . . .you see my dilema ), but round or a classic earthship "U", 10x10 or 12x12.  I am debating about a storage area for supplies, as well as a simple small room to house a composting toilet.  The debate is over whether to go extremely stripped down on "The Pod" or have a modicum of toilet privacy and storage room (perhaps some shelving would suffice.)  After serving it's purpose during the construction phase of the next larger earthship it will then become a shelter for someone else to utilize while they build their main earthship or as a guest house or as a meditation/art studio/love-nest/private get-away space.

The next is structure will be Earthship "Serenity".  Earthship "Serenity" will be larger and able to accommodate several people comfortably.  I am debating whether "Serenity" will have the full scale rain harvesting with internal hydro system for interior use or simply rain harvesting to be used in exterior landscaping and greenhouse.  In the beginning I may even simply build a structure I have named a "LifeWell" which is a separate stand-alone structure, a simple cylindrical structure housing a cistern with a rain-catchment roof and drip lines feeding into its skirt of surrounding planter cells for gardening and/or drip lines out to several miniature fruit trees. 

Part of me wants "Serenity" to be a larger structure with several rooms (living, kitchen, storage, bathroom although I personally want a bath tub in my bedroom maybe in the planter bed right by the window, an maybe a couple more bedrooms for family and guests), rain harvesting system and all the comforts of home, well, if you're a simple and mindful, spiritual liberal hippie hobbit type anyway.  One who not only  doesn't mind, but actually holds a reverence for things like solar gain combined with thermal mass, harvesting  rainwater and using it several times over throughout the houses biology (yes earthships have a, ARE a biological system), composting and growing, cooking, cleaning, creating your own whatever.  A simple life, a life from scratch . . . anyway, I digress. 

Another part of me wants it to only be one large room with living and kitchen space, a bath room, a storage room and a large loft space for bedroom space, more like what you think of when you think of someone's family cabin or A-frame cabin.

I watched a movie called 2012: The Odyssey which has some very good ways to look at the changes we are going through as individuals, as humanity, and as a planet.  It was very inspirational and has really motivated me to continue my work in earnest towards changing my mind and body and energy and lifestyle to be more in tune, in line and in alignment with nature as an advanced spiritual human.  I intend to be living a very in-tune and simple, peaceful and serene, DIY life of physical and spiritual liberation in the coming years.  I intend to be ready to live without an infrastructure, and be self-sufficient.  

I envision a life with no heating or cooling bill, no water or electricity bill, no mortgage.  I will grow much of my own produce, some in "Serenity" or its attached greenhouse front and some in fields around me.  I have been thinking about a large quinoa crop.  Quinoa is an ancient grain of the Americas and is the only known grain which is a complete protein.  So, you have an indigenous food source, a delicious and versatile complete protein to create a healthy meat-free diet with.  It can be dried and stored like any other grain.  This could be grown in organic biodynamic rotation with other food crops.  

I also envision some animals such as chickens for eggs and fertilizer high in nitrogen to compost and most likely some alpaca for their wool as well as their fertilizer.  This wool can be utilized or sold in each of its many stages;  raw, spun into thread or yarn, made into hats, mittens, scarves, coats, blankets, shawls, shirts, pants, curtains, rugs, tapestries, art, pillows and cushions . . . you get the picture.

Due to the deer and elk of the area, I sometimes even envision that some garden space could be actually contained within a tall straw bale and adobe plastered wall, with a garden gate and all.  But this wouldn't be needed for simple fields of quinoa or other crop acreage, just the juicy tasty produce, but then again most of that should be grown in the greenhouse really, for security, convenience and efficiency.         

I have toyed with the idea of continuing to build small earthship units like "The Pod" on the land as well, and create a meditational retreat type facility.  This would be a good use of the land toward creating a serene sacred space for the advancement of human consciousness expansion, peace and understanding.

Or perhaps these smaller units could house others who have like-mindedly joined in the idea of living this way and are investing their time and energy into a means by which the vision will expand and grow and achieve greater and greater forms of expression.   There are many out there who want to stop living with dead time, leave the soulless corporate world of greed and pollution, slavery and usury to engage in a path with heart where one can live a life of purpose and intention in peace and reap the benefits of their labor, of all they sow and grow rich in a true form of prosperity.


What is an earthship?

(below is an excerpt from the notes to my upcoming article in P.U.L.P. Magazine) 

The earthship....

My current favorite evolution in sustainable architecture is the Earthship which was originally conceived and developed by Michael Reynolds who, after a much relational work with his state legislature, continues to improve upon this innovative form in New Mexico.   

His story can be seen in the recently released movie Garbage Warrior available online or at our local library.  There are also the many books he has written about earthships, their development and how to build and customize them to various climates.  He is more than an architect, he is a practical philosopher and charismatic futurist.

One of the essential defining points of the earthships’ structure is that it is an earth-bermed living space.  The average temperature of the earths’ interior is 58˚ so it takes very little to heat or cool the interior living space. The entire earthship is oriented to the south with passive solar gain in mind.  The walls of the earthship  are comprised of earth packed tires stacked like bricks.  These earth packed tires make use of a readily available resource, old tires, and turns them into  versatile thermal mass brick-like units to be used as a  building material.  These walls are load bearing and structurally sound and covered in stucco which can be stained or painted to create beautiful smooth walls.  They also collect a lot of solar energy during the day and release this energy into the living area at night.  

The rooms are U shaped with the opening facing south and a series of U’s are connected by a greenhouse like front.  Due to the earths’rotation on its angled axis, the low winter sun comes in through the windows and heats up the thermal mass of the walls and floor which is insulated by the burial berm of earth which wraps around the earthship.  The summer sun is higher and does not shine into the earthship and during this time the earthen berm  insulates the living space from the heat outside.

Earthships often utilize a unique water harvesting roof which collects rainwater in a cistern which is usually located behind the U shaped rooms or off to the side of the earthship and always insulated by the earthen burial berm.  

The earthship has had many incarnations throughout its development , each successive structure being more efficient and refined.  The earthship concept was originally born from a desire to provide shelter which addressed the needs of people.  To Michael Reynolds this meant a form of architecture utilizing passive solar and  thermal mass which needed no artificial system for heating or cooling and constructed using easily obtained materials which could feasibly be constructed by anyone of moderate means of labor with the simplest of tools.

His dream soon grew into a form of architecture which also embodied the concepts of rain harvesting roofs, internalized sewage and waste use and greenhouse food production.  Everything would be completely self contained, no infrastructure for electricity, gas, sewer or  water.

Then there is the addition of wind power and solar panels providing much more power than the simple minimalism of the earlier passive solar models.  

The latest innovation where all of these techniques come together most effectively and efficiently is embodied in an earhship known as The Phoenix. ....

The Phoenix  has a 6,000 gallon cistern for collecting rainwater harvested from the roof.  Greenhouse-like sections of the earthship  provide food production.  Temperatures inside the living area, due to the wise design use of thermal mass and solar energy harvesting remain at 70˚ year round.  Sewage is internalized and actually feeds the larger planter cells from far below.    It is an earthship which, as Michael Reynolds says in Garbage Warrior, “ . . . could totally support a family of four without ever going to the store.”