Wholly Connected

Traditional people do things with care and deliberation, with no separation between work and play, life and art.  In everything is sacred action. Ianto Evans from the Hand-Sculpted House

The Hand-Sculpted House: A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage: A Practical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage (The Real Goods Solar Living Book): 10

These ideas are part of a presentation I made to the Farmington Unitarian Universalist Church in 2017…on Natural Building and connection with Nature. Deanne Bednar (search for Wholly Connected, the Thesis/Book soon to be available on-line)

The metaphor of a Tree, reminds us of many things:  First there is a SEED, and if the seed receives the things it needs, the nurturance of water and light and soil, it can grow. 

My life had a unique seed of connection that came from my father and mothers lifes who were still quite connected to nature and community. 

As I was growing up I heard about how my father, born in 1904 in a little stone house in Nebraska –moved with his family by  covered wagons in 1908 to live  in a sod house on the prairie of South Dakota! He quite school early to work in a lumber camp. Then a turning point came when he fell out of a hay loft and went blind.  A chiropractor brought back his sight, and my dad decided he would go into chiropractic,  which was in its early stages back then.  He pioneered Chriopractic by coming to Ohio and practicing in a state that didn’t license chiropractors.  I saw him do this with a kind attitude, a gentle spirit. Having studied the power of positive thinking, he proceeded to do what he believed in even though it was not legal in Ohio at the time. 

I also saw him love to hunt and fish, and make bows and arrows, working with his hands, creating from nature.  It was a joyful process, and again.  We camped, traveled, explored a bit of nature, and then eventually moved up to Southfield Michigan to practice with a larger clinic and be where nature was more wild than SE Ohio !  We also had a rough little cabin up north to stay at now and then.

Growing up in Southfield was really different from a small town, where I could bike everywhere, and was known by many of the people in town.  It was a disconnecting experience in some ways, yet also an expansive time of being in a new environment, learning music and art and theater in school, and finding out how different the suburbs were from a small town. 

I also was a teenager there who watched a lot of TV, wanted to have canned soups, not my moms homemade soup, and wasn’t the least bit interested in gardening with my parents. Over the years, through hiking, traveling to California for the summer, and many other influences, my connection to nature increased and became a more and more important part of my life. 

I taught school –  Jr high art for about 10 years, then in the late 1970’s took A SABATICAL year off to get a Masters Degree in Social Ecology.  In that program I  FOUND PEOPLE AND IDEAS THAT REALLY CONNECTED ME TO LIFE… There were 4 tracks which we could choose from…  renewable energy, organic farming, wholistic health, and feminism.  I chose renewable energy, which at the time was Passive Solar.  Solar Electric hadn’t been invented then !

We studied fro 12 weeks on a farm campus – my classes were literly in a barn. Then we each went off to our individual adventures. We would meet up as a group once a month, each meeting at a different site where a student was studying.  The most memorable gathering was the New Alchemy Institute where the beginnings of greenhouse and wind energy experiments were taking place, including the exploration of aquaculture and growing fish for food.  John Todd was also initiating experiments in making black water into potable water using natural microorganisms.  John is still working with this process which he calls “Living Machines” world-wide. 

After that year of finding ideas and folks with whom I resonated, after being part of projects that brought sustainable ideas into reality, I came back to Michigan, to my teaching job, and began teaching a sustainable futures class in addition to art classes.  The main project was envisioning a sustainable Ecovillage.

In my art classes I began the seed of sculpting the little clay houses, and when I retired in 1996 after 28 years…I went out to the Cob Cottage Co to take my first natural building course,  fell in love with the process!  It met so many needs:  EXPLAIN

When I came back to Michigan after that experience I  found a place where I could do some building the very week I returned.  Then 3 years later when the folks wanted to move, I was called to buy the land, and have continued the process of building and teaching, and trying out as many sustainable projects as possible.  The Strawbale Studio project was started 20 years ago, and I bought the land and have been coordinating the programming there for 15 years.    

Through the process I have learned so much.  Interns come and live on site for a month at a time.  Volunteers have been part of the process also from the beginning.  Together we are co-creating the structures. Through this process we have explored what I call“ temporary community”…where we have a chance to practice…being together, practice making decisions about the day or the project.  We get to practice getting along and co-creating.   I think this is as important as building. We also have a chance to have many conversations and share ideas and develop our consciousness. 

So this process is transitional toward a more beautiful future our hearts know is possible.  It is putting some of the pieces together, and adding more pieces and developing skills.  It is a nurturing process.  

I think we have come through an amazing process especially since the industrial revolution.  Through scientific  experiments the world has been taken apart to be understood, and recombined in new ways that never occurred on the planet before.  Oil molecules are taken apart and recombined to create plastics of all sorts.  The global communication system is in place with the internet, and Iphones.   As individuals we have left the tribe and village to living in nuclear families, we have individuated…many of us have left the structures of the past, we have left our religions and belief  systems, and created new ones. We have gone out, complexified, diversified, explored, individuated….

And now I think we are longing to weave things back into a whole, and come back home.  Come back to our home in nature and keep the best of what we have learned with our technologies and experiments.

I have longed for an Ecovillage, but didn’t feel like we have the skills yet to get along, so I am doing what I am doing with natural building and sustainability, teaching and learning, and also studying non-violent communication or compassionate communication which is about learning to connect with people around our common feelings and needs, rather than argue, attach or defend. 

I am doing what I can in my time and place to connect with and contribute to life.  I am not ready for the Ecovillage, but I am eager to help build a human culture that is able to be in harmony with the life and nature. 

And I am noticing that in our culture, in our current situation and life-style,  our deep needs for connection with nature and life, health and community are not met. 

Through our process of industrialization, we don’t have much reason or natural motivation to go outside like people used to….we are able to buy the things we need and want.  And these products, are likely to be manufactured, packaged, and transported  in ways that actually harm the environment.  We know this is a serious thing in so many ways. The costs of manufacturing are being externalized to future generations. We are also seeing the effects in our own lives and those around us.

And if we did have some motivation, we would likely not be able to walk out our door and find the meadow, the woods, the commons, so that we could forage or make things from natural materials.

AND we don’t have much time, because we have jobs to purchase our needs and wants, and after the jobs we have work do to at home.  So time is an issue in getting outdoors. 

We used to have community around us, and the children would be cared for by many people of different ages, and they would play and make up games from the natural world around them. 

There is I believe another natural instinct ..an instinct or desire to be COMFORTABLE.  Likely in the past we longed for comfort, but didn’t have it all the time, since we were more directly connected to the elements to get our needs met. Now we can live in a climate controlled structures, that have the stimulation of the internet. And we can get in another climate-controlled box , our vehicle, and move from one structure to another.  How much time do we really spend outdoors a day?  And how much of that is off a human-made surface? 

Regarding food, I think we are naturally drawn to eat fats and protein and starches when we can get them, because in early times it would take quite some effort to get them, but now we can have them all the time.  MY CAT is an example.  If she were in a natural setting she would hunt, and eat and if still hungry, hunt some more.  She would be getting excercize in the act of meeting her need for food, and would likely not hunt if she was full.  However, after I feed her and she eats, she immediately meows for more food.  She doesn’t have to exert any physical effort to get food from me, and she also doesn’t have the creative challenge of hunting and using her body and skills. Yet she meows for food.  I put her outside where she can explore and use her capacities. 

  There is a story about the Hawk and the Mouse.  If the hawk were in a cage, fed mice, the hawk would eventually loose its magnificence. In its natural state it is challenged by hunting, to use its sharp eyes to see so far, and its strong wings to dive from the heights to grab a mouse.   In the same way the mouse keeps its sharpness by having to be aware of and run from the hawk. 

In so many ways we have so much, yet we are essentially separated from nature, and from the support of community. And

And we have our needs met basically through the manufacturing process. So we work to create meaning in our lives and to make money to buy the things we need. We are busy, and what we don’t have so much of is TIME


 At the same time we are at a time where our products are drawing down the earths resilience in so many ways.  Resource use, pollution, carbon emissions.  

SO WHAT I SEE IS THAT WE ARE EMBEDED IN AN INDOOR, INDIRECT LIFE.  With almost 100% of our products manufactured, and almost 100% of our time indoors or on human-made surfaces.


Seeing nature as our matrix and home, and larger body.  BEHIND THE CURTAIN.

One of the main ways I see is LIVING LOCALLY.  If we look at food, we can see the benefits: we purchase local foods, we support local farmers, we see the results of  the way the land is farmed.  If an area is clearcut, or animals not treated well, we can see it.  It creates community, we get to know the folks in our community when we buy our cups from the potter.  Another ecological benefit is less transportation, possibly less packaging, fresher food.

A concept that is coming through the culture is PERMACULTURE.  It was started by Bill Mollison when he looked at the way nature functions and wondered how humans could create food systems that are as productive and resilient as nature.  Though observation people are exploring  the principles found in nature and applying them to food systems, and also to energy systems and economic and social systems.  For example “stacking functions”.  We can mimic a tree when we build or grow something, or in our life choices and interactions.  Like a tree that provides so many services, we can think about how to have our choices serve many needs.  Like a trellis could provide shade, grow grapes, create a transition between indoors and out.  There is a Permaculture Meetup in Oakland Co which meets monthly, and there is a skill-share each time, a potluck, and networking.  

PC MEETUP – JOY, PIONEERING ADVENTURE, COMMUNITY, SUPPORT. Growing our visions, talking, sharing…..

What I find is that even though I live out in nature, it is still a challenge to get myself out there.  Open the door, more out of climate-control…so what is helpful to me is to create a reason to get outside…to chop some wood, make a spoon, fix something.  And I schedule classes that I teach, and we can play and explore together. 

I imagine some of you are connected to nature in a variety of ways.  Maybe gardening, or hiking…

Growing up with a knowing that my dad loved to make things from the natural world.  Willing to practice chiropractic illigially without a license to help pioneer something he believed in. 

My mom wanted community and social life.  My dad died the day they were going to go up north hunting.  They couldn’t yet resolve the needs of making money, and being in culture, and also being in nature.  I feel my calling is to help reweave people and nature, back together, taking the best we have learned from technology, and from the individualtion and exploration we have made as a culture

That is a seed within me.  And the sculpting of the little houses.  That seed manifested into a life.

The image of a tree, with roots, the 3E…and trunk, One world, and the branches expressions of that.

Environment, Economy, and Equity.  Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share. 

Many ways to respond to this vision. 

Does it fit in the circle of life?  

All things are connected together, affecting each other. The living world is not just a backdrop, it is our living home, our matrix.  Connection and relationship.

Does it give back as much as it takes?  In nature all resources recycle.  Life to death to life again.  There is a dynamic balance.  Does the modern lifestyle give back as much as it takes out?   

We can look to the image of the tree, giving O2, taking in CO2, Leaves dropping, soil, new plants, microryzal fungi making it possible for roots to take up nutrients.

Are humans living in a way that is life affirming?

Does it shine with the radiance of love?  How can our choices our way of being in the world be radiant with love, caring.  How do we express that in relationship to each other and the environment?

We know we have challenges: We know that we buy things that are manufactured that produce toxins in their manufacturing.  We know we are living primarily in climate-controlled settings, where we buy everything.  We have jobs to pay for these things, and not much time left.  Our jobs our lifestyles do not usually combine using our bodies, being in nature, being supported by community. 

So it seems to me our challenge is to find ways to remember that we care about the future of the planet and want the joy that comes from connection…with each other,