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Youth from St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in Broken Arrow
came Friday evening,
settled into the strawbale hermitage
and put up cots in the tipi
then checked out the moon and planets
through the telescope.
By early morning,
they were up early,
good scouts they also are,
and helped us set up
for the fifth annual Green Connections Earth Day Celebration.
They stayed all day,
and joined other guests engaging
in the events and activities,
meeting the animals,
touring the strawbale with Tom Temple,
and the solar shower,
which he set up again for the season;
walking the labyrinth,
sitting on the porch,
climbing trees,
visiting the high tunnel garden…

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The Transition OKC team
invited guests to make their own toothpaste
(mint or cinnamon)
and make bookmarks
using flower petals and other natural materials.

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Green Connections board members
Tom Temple, Bruce Johnson, Barbara Hagan,
Dorothy Gray volunteered all day.
Bruce cooked granola in the solar oven
and he and Barbara demonstrated
how efficient energy can be produced.
Our friend Deb Blakely taught
about wild bees and how to make a wild bee home.
Transition OKC team member Josh Buss
stepped up to build fires for the bison hot dog cooking
and grilled the corn on the cob.
Dave Conrad led a drum circle
that brought everyone into a zone
of relaxation and connection with Earth.
Patty and Bill Cummings and Matthew Hill
played fiddle music that heals the heart
and buoys the spirit.
Lisa Piccolo demonstrated the gentle art
of spinning alpaca fiber.
Tulsa Sierra Club members shared seeds
and Loblolly Pine seedlings.
Some walked the timeline of the creation of the universe,
the “Cosmic Walk.”
We joined together in a liturgy thanking all our Earth kin.

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The sun shone.
The breeze settled.
Late in the day I stood,
a bit apart,
for a moment
and reflected on this little scene:
People came to the prairie,
to a place where they could
for a day
spend time outdoors,
under a big sky,
learning, celebrating, being together,
being healed in the wind and the sun
and the quiet
alongside others. I’m not sure why
everyone made such an effort.
It is amazing that they did—
a glad moment,
sustaining all.

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alyssa and potatoes
Alyssa with Potato Crop in 2011

Alyssa Armstrong was the first
WWOOFer to come to work
on Turtle Rock Farm.
She quickly became
a friend.
Since her time with us
in 2011,
she has worked on organic farms
and natural building sites
and trail management projects
from Massachusetts to Utah.
Her education
is extraordinary.
And she is extraordinary.
In fact,
she is one of the reasons
we carry hope
for the planet.

Twice she has returned
for visits.
We enjoy getting to see her,
hear of her experiences,
learn from her.
And she always digs in
(literally, this time)
and helps out
while she’s here.
This trip,she dug carrots
(“You all grow the best carrots
I’ve ever eaten.”)
and taught us how to keep them
without refrigeration:
in a box filled with soil
in a dark, cool place.

We wish you well, Alyssa,
at your next farm.
And we thank you
for your friendship,
and look forward
to seeing you again
soon.

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Alyssa digging carrots in the high tunnel…

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…while chickens search for bugs.

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,
soulful
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,
commitment,
radical changes
Earth needs us to make.
And it reveals
the possibilities,
the beauty
of truth.

Tulsa’s New Haven United Methodist youth group
didn’t go on the mission trip to Mexico
they had planned.
Instead, they took a trip around Oklahoma
to learn about sustainability.
They visited John and Kris Gosney
at Cattle Tracks near Fairview
to learn how they grow organic wheat and cattle.

A couple of afternoons and evenings,
they joined us at Turtle Rock Farm
to learn about sustainable building and gardening.
They entered the pit and became mud stompers –
mixing clay, wheat straw, sand and water with their feet –
and applying the earth plaster to the walls of the
straw bale hermitage.

In the heat of the day
they watched the movie Food, Inc.
and learned about the current state of our food system,
then they went out to our garden
to pull weeds and harvest food
for their supper.

On day trips they visited the Glass Mountains and Great Salt Plains,
some of northwest Oklahoma’s amazing natural sites.
In Oklahoma City they visited World Neighbors
where they learned about sustainability projects
in other countries.
By the end of the week,
they had been to the far southeast corner of the state,
to Poteau
and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture,
leaders in the state in changing farming practices
from conventional agriculture.

Their last evening at Turtle Rock Farm,
we hiked up the hill
just as Earth was moving past the sun.
As the huge bowl of sky turned pink
and the dragonflies flitted all about them,
they walked the labyrinth.
It was an exquisite evening
and, as always,
the labyrinth,
gave its gifts to each.
One young man said,
“It cleansed my soul.”
Walking the paths of prairie grass and wildflowers
under that huge pink sky,
sitting together in the center as community
in quiet and reflection
and walking out as night fell
gave them time and space to put their week in perspective
and helped make the connection
between how to live sustainably
and the reason we must;
the connection between our helping Earth heal
and Earth healing us.

I’ve been on mission trips
during which a team
constructs a building.
It is a profound experience in several ways.
Working together
as a team
is a community-building experience –
not only with the team
but also with the people who live in the area.
Constructing a straw bale and mud building together
as we did here last week
definitely builds community.
We were mostly strangers on Sunday afternoon.
The youngest who came are in their 20’s.
The oldest, in her 80’s.
They live in far eastern Oklahoma,
western Oklahoma
central Oklahoma,
central Kansas
and southeastern Kansas.
Occupations include university professor,
library technician,
acupuncturist,
outdoor recreation worker,
internet technician,
college teacher.
Working together,
sharing meals together,
dancing, playing music, singing,
watching the stars,
sharing reflections about the experience
were bound to bring us together
as community.
But there is a deeper level of connectedness
with this group
because of the kind of materials we used
to do the construction.
Every person here last week
had felt drawn to straw bale and mud construction.
They had read about it,
attended other workshops
and want to build their own buildings
using natural materials.
They care about the environment
and see natural building
as the best practice.

So we came together,
strangers,
instructed by Steve Kemble and Mollie Curry,
who are deeply committed to natural building
and living sustainably in all ways.
Tom Temple, Oklahoma City designer and builder,
who is also deeply committed to sustainable living,
constructed a foundation, frame and roof,
around the principles of sustainability.
Then, we took rectangular bales of wheat straw
(grown on this farm,)
cut them and stacked them
in such a way that they formed a wall –
a strong, thick wall
to keep a building’s temperature steady
amid outside extremes.
We took various mixtures of clay
(from right out in front of the structure,)
sand, water
and, for the outside walls, lime
(because of Oklahoma’s sometimes horizontal rain)
and we began the process of covering
those walls with layers of
well, mud.
We sculpted the straw walls,
we stomped the mud.
We made a house of straw and mud
that is more beautiful with every lump
of cob spread,
with every wall caressed
into its curves
and undulating surface.
It is an earthy experience
in profound ways.

All of us walked away
from the week,
from each other
knowing that there are others
who believe as we do:
that there are natural ways of building
that community is essential
that slowing down and seeing the stars
and camping in the rain and wind
and showering outside with water heated by the sun
and eating local, fresh, humanely-raised food
and sharing that food in community at one table
and dancing and singing together
and reflecting on our experience and sharing it with others
and doing work that sustains Earth
rather than depletes it
is our Greatest Work.

To see all the photos, click here.

Mixing Mud

View of the Mud Pit

Rolling the Mud into a Walrus shape

Team inside the Hermitage listening
to Mollie’s and Steve’s Earthen Plastering Instructions

Writing prayers and messages on shims
to be inserted in bales

Window Seat made of cob

Inside east wall with first coat
of earthen plaster

Mollie sculpting a niche in an inner wall

Mollie Curry and Steve Kemble
Mud and Straw Teachers Supreme

The Team
Sitting in front of the north wall

The last day of the Straw Bale Workshop
was another day
when we got to see the beauty
that’s going to be the hermitage.
We mixed more cob mud
and then earthen plaster to give an inside wall of hay bales
their first coat.
By the end of the day,
the east wall had its first coat
and it’s beautiful.
Mollie sculpted a niche on the north wall.
We all wrote our prayers and best wishes
on wooden shims
and stuck them into the bales
before the plastering began.
This building
is made with love.
I will never see it as just a building.
And I imagine
it will be a place of healing
and rest for many
for many, many years to come.

The team has gone,
at least for the time-being.
We will always be connected,
for we not only built a building,
we built a community.

The plastering will continue
for some weeks.
Let us know if you want
the experience of getting your hands and feet
in mud
and helping create a thing of love and beauty
that stands strong
and in harmony with the land on which it rests.

To see more photos, click here.


Day Five
was the turning point.
We started with
cobbing the window seat bench
and the east window sill.

Mollie taught us about lime plaster.

And we went to work lime plastering
the outside north wall.

To see the plastered north wall
as it was finished and the evening cast its golden light
and deepening shadows
was a quieting moment.
We saw the week-long
hard but happy work
of about 25 people
create something beautiful.
We were amazed
and humbled
and drawn closer.

Our supper on the shady lawn
was a time of celebration
laughter
and intimate conversation
that took us into the night
and then
beyond our little neck of the woods.

To see more photos, click here.