We began plastering
the walls of the straw bale hermitage
in June of 2010.
The first coat of lime plaster
was applied to the outside north wall
and the first coat of earth plaster
was applied to the inside east wall
the week of our natural construction workshop.
Pretty much every day after that
one or two of us would
apply more earth plaster inside,
mixing more clay, sand, straw and water
as we needed it.
Sometimes friends and volunteers
came to help on a Saturday,
and we did the lime plaster on the outside,
one wall at a time
on days when we had helpers.
By January of 2011,
all three layers of earth plaster
were finished on the inside
and we welcomed our first overnight guest.
We still had the last coat of lime plaster
to apply on three outside walls.
Lime plastering can’t be done
when it’s too cold
or too hot.
We finished the east wall
last April, just before
our Earth Day celebration
when we named and dedicated
the Sallie McFague Hermitage.
The temperature last summer
was too hot to work on lime-plastering
the last two walls,
and then winter came.
As spring came,
we put out a call for help,
and ten friends and volunteers
signed up for last Saturdays’ Lime-Plastering Day.
Thundershowers were predicted,
and we got to work early
under threatening skies.

Ann and Doug confer
about mixing the first bucket of lime plaster

Plastering the south wall


Working on the west wall

By mid-morning
we were working in heavy mist—
perfect conditions for lime-plastering.
Using their rubber-gloved hands,
these amazing people—
why would anyone sign up
to work hard in a chilly mist?—
pressed lime plaster onto
the south and west walls
and by suppertime,
it was finished. Really finished.

Jay and Trenton, the new generation,
spread the last patch of plaster

Once again,
we are reminded
of the gifts
of using natural materials
for building,
of being in touch with the elements—
earth, sand, water, straw, lime, mist—
of building with our own hands;
and we are reminded of the gifts
of community,
of young and aging ones
working alongside
helping, cooperating, teaching,
sharing a common concern
for a sustainable planet,
celebrating at table.

Our heartfelt thanks
to Doug (who was with us
that first week and hardly missed
a plastering day, and who created
the turtle on the northeast corner
of the hermitage)
Nelda (who also was with us
that first week and has come
repeatedly to quietly pitch in
wherever she sees a need—
and is our expert sand-sifter)
They brought Steve, Pat, Elaine and Kiem
last Saturday—dedicated newbies.
Dorothy (who was with us
that wonderful week in June 2010
and, a member of the Green Connections Board,
is one of our most faithful volunteers)
Jay and Tanner (who have spent many days
of their youth on this farm
with my son Will)
Erin (who will marry Jay
atop the farm’s hill
in a couple of months)
Grace (who lives nearby
and is committed to sustainability
on her own farm)
Trenton (a young man
who is learning the permaculture way)
Frank (who is a constant help here)

At table, for a celebratory supper

We began this building project
in the winter of 2010,
with Tom Temple.
Just after the site
was graded and before the first
work began,
we stopped and prayed
that it be a good work.
In June of 2010, when we held
the workshop, we gathered
with Tom, Steve Kemble and Mollie Curry,
our instructors,
and 20 others
on a rainy morning under the new roof,
prayer flags flying on the porch,
and prayed with a smoking smudge stick,
each in the circle
offering their hopes and intentions for this place.
A couple of days later,
before we put the first coat of mud on,
each person wrote a blessing on a wood shim
and stuck them in the bales.
Last Earth Day,
on the front porch, we prayed—
in a beautiful dedication liturgy of word, song, dance—
with all who had come to celebrate
The women of First United Methodist Church
of Perry, made a quilt for the bed.
Each person in the congregation
knelt at the altar rail to tie a knot
and say a prayer for all who stay in the hermitage,
to retreat and re-connect.
And on Saturday,
when the last piece of plaster
was spread—
sealing the walls for good—
weary, chilly and exultant,
we raised a glass of champagne
one more time
in gratitude and blessing
for and of the Earth,
for and of community,
and for all who come
to connect.