The First Straw Bale

Getting the bales tight against the ceiling

Straw Bale Workshop friends during
week-long workshop June 2010,
sitting on window seat and in dining room


The day has finally arrived.
The straw bale and mud hermitage
is welcoming its first retreatant.
Ann, Tom and I
worked on finishing details this week,
moved in furniture
and this evening
Ann and I welcomed
our first guest into the hermitage.
It is fitting
that one of the people who regularly
retreats at Turtle Rock Farm
is the first.
It is a happy moment.
A moment of profound satisfaction.
A moment of deep gratitude
and expectation.

Our hands have been working on this building,
building it as sustainably as we can
and with natural materials
(straw from our wheat field;
clay from just outside the structure)
for ten months.
We have shared the experience
with many people,
including Steve Kemble and Mollie Curry of MudStrawLove,
a group of 20 people who joined us for a week in June
and many volunteers of all ages
who continued to help us mud the walls.
There will be more to do
when the freezes are over next spring
and we hope to have an earth paint workshop too
next summer to color the walls inside.
But as of now,
the hermitage is a guest house,
a guest house like no other.
Thick walls sealed with clay
create an embrace,
and of the Earth.
A light-streaming cocoon.
A quiet place.
Prayers and peaceful intentions
have attended it
from ground-breaking
through straw bale wall-building
and mudding.
Peace flags on the porch
since June,
now frayed,
speak to hours and hours
of sweat and sore muscles
so that this be a place of healing and hope
for all who visit
and for Earth
which has gifted this building
and all who enter.
In deep gladness,
profound gratitude,
(and giddy joy)
we offer our welcome.


Saturday evening,
we finished mudding
the inside walls of the straw bale hermitage.
(but not),
in gratitude
for all those whose hands
and hearts
had made this moment possible;
in reverence
to Earth
for the materials:
wheat straw
And in abiding hope
that all who rest here
will know
the warmth and peace
of connection
with the vast Earth community.

It was a perfect day.
Our friends Doug and Nelda,
who are part of the community
that has been mudding the hermitage since June,
brought visiting brothers and their father
this Thanksgiving weekend.
Doug taught his brothers how to trowel the mud
and they set about earth plastering the east wall.
Four sets of city parents
arrived with their children
to meet chickens, guineas, rabbits, alpacas
and help with the mudding.
The parents’ intent laid the foundation
for a perfect day;
the weather
– cool, sunny, uncommonly still –
In a circle,
we introduced ourselves, all,
in a convivial, light-hearted way,
then met the Alpaca boys,
the rabbits,
the chickens and guineas.
There was one egg to collect
and we invited one of the older children
to gather it.
She held it with reverence and awe
and asked which of the animals had made it;
asked why it was brown instead of white.
Her questions warmed our heart
and we answered with reverence and awe
as she carried the speckled brown orb in both hands.

The children had been promised
they could make mud
and put it on the walls of the hermitage
and they set to these tasks
with enthusiasm
and care.
The work of their eager, young hands
will forever emanate goodwill and hope
from that wall.

We celebrated the day,
in the yard of the farmhouse
in afternoon’s long shadows
with hot soup,
Little Red Hen’s quiche
and the orchard’s apple cake and pear bread.
It was a perfect day.



Paul and Julie sifting clay

Beth, Ann, Debra, Karen, mudding the dining area wall

Mudding the walls
of a straw bale dwelling
is a long ordeal.
There is absolutely no way
to hurry it.
It forces one to slow down,
and because it’s hard work,
it can only be done in relatively short periods.
It requires a long, steady
And friends.

Last weekend,
they came,
Deb, Karen, Beth, Paul, Julie.
sifting sand,
sifting clay,
making mud plaster,
troweling it to the wall,
we finished the dining room area.

The hard work,
the community effort,
is creating somethings beautiful.
The sore muscles
will soon be forgotten.
The warmth of friends
and walls that live
will not.

Hermitage kitchen, progressing

This week,
work continues on our strawbale hermitage.
The kitchen gets its sink
and more cabinetry.
Ann’s been sifting clay
and mudding under the kitchen cabinets.

On November 20
we will have a group mudding day.
Depending on the weather,
we’ll add the last layer of earth plaster to
one or two of the last inside walls
and/or the last layer of lime plaster
on one of the outside walls.
Let us know if you want to join us
for a community mudding day.

We are hoping for this warm abode
to be habitable for guests
by the first of the new year.
our builder, Tom Temple,
has spent the night in this cozy one-room abode
and affirmed what we all have known all along:
it is an especially wonderful place to stay.

We expect it to be a festive day
when, on Earth Day 2011,
we dedicate
the strawbale hermitage.
Make plans to join the celebration.

Hermitage, northeast corner

We are learning a lot about natural building
and we have a lot to learn.
For one thing,
we know this is a beautiful, soulful way to build.
We also know now
how labor-intensive it is.
Saying that it is
a work of love
is putting it mildly:
it is work
and we do it out of and with love
for Earth
or we probably wouldn’t do it at all.
Every trowel of clay, sand and straw
smoothed on the wall
is a gesture of love
and hope
for the planet.

The results are beautiful,
and good for the conservation
of fossil fuel
which is great for the planet.
Visitors are surprised by
the coolness inside the hermitage
on a hot day.
(Come winter, we expect them to enjoy
the toastiness of the hermitage.)
They notice the earthy smell.
They can’t help but touch the walls
and run their hands over the
smoothed earth plaster.

It’s not finished yet,
but the north walls,
both inside and out,
are finished.
We have electricity and lights
and a ceiling fan.
The composting toilet is in
and the vault that holds the barrels
of compost is secure.
The porch ceiling is being installed today.

Composting toilet, installed in hermitage

Composting Toilet Vault

Truth Window

Truth Window reveals the strawbale and cob wall

The truth window is in.
It’s a tradition for strawbale construction
to leave a bit of the straw bales and cob showing
behind a small door
so people can see
what’s under the earth plaster.
Tom Temple
the designer and builder and our friend
made our truth door out of the wood of a cherry tree.
It speaks more truth
than we thought it would.
It speaks to the hard work,
radical changes
Earth needs us to make.
And it reveals
the possibilities,
the beauty
of truth.

Sifting sand for plaster

Applying the lime plaster

Last Saturday,
people gathered at the hermitage
to help with the lime plastering
on the north outside wall.
It’s the biggest wall
and the lime plastering is best done
when one wall can be completed at one time.
So we are grateful to those who came to help.
That wall is now ready for the coat
that will have the pigment in it.

we are applying the smooth,
quarter-inch-thick coat,
the final coat before the pigment.
The trimming and wall building
are in their final stages as well.
This is a fun stage,
as they all have been.
This stage seems artistic,
though every stage has been artistic,
because we can see the final look more surely.
Sculpting walls
by hand
with straw and mud
alongside friends
is a beautiful way to build.