There was some deep and perceptive poetry by a woman named Amber Wiggett. She spoke a bit about the beauty of natural building materials and how it is good for the world, sustainable, safe, healthy. Mostly she presented the work from its spiritual basis. How working with the raw and basic elements of the Earth, transforms the people themselves.
In a world of surface appearance, deception, and complexity, there is something so basic and honest about working with clay and straw, sand and water that touches the person, that calls to that spark of natural being that is covered up today by many layers of false complexity. As one slowly builds up the cob into beautiful and aesthetic structures, something else within is uncovered, slowly revealed.
Such process of spiritual alchemy is not much understood or accepted in the general society. The quiet power of being, which is ever beyond the grasp of the mind, brings fear to the mind, because it is used to attempting control, trained to control.
Working with these natural materials, is a cooperative effort. Try to force them according to the patterns society has taught, and it will not work well. However, by working with them, getting to know them, wonderful structures appear. Working with these materials, quietly unwinds societies discordant patterns and straight hard lines and reveals the natural patterns of Life. Living in rythym with natural patterns blurs the hard boundaries between inside and outside and brings the opportunity to recognize, not through any ideology, but through the living of it, ones place in the world.
After Ambers poetry, David Eisenberg, the director of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology gave a slide presentation. David is an unusual combination intelligent intellect, and joyful, at times childlike exuberance. David is considered an expert on Straw Bale construction, though it must be added that David is quick to describe an expert as someone who asks good questions, not who has all the answers.
His gentle humour and playfulness is especially worth remarking on because he spends alot of time interacting with building inspectors, code committees and other groups where it is easy to imagine losing those qualities.
His slide presentation gave alot of background on straw bale construction, and its advantages. His presentation also clearly described how resource intensive current building methods are, right from extracting materials from the ground, to all the energy it takes to process and ship them and then all the maintainence they require. Finally, they are toxic and take alot of energy to recycle and clean up. Then finally, with all that, current building methods create buildings that will not last long at all.
There were some slides of buildings in Europe that have been standing for hundreds and hundreds of years which is in sharp contrast to the short life expectancy of todays buildings.
Natural building materials are considered "alternative" yet they are the materials used for millenia, and still are by a large portion of humanity.
The energy and enthusiasm of everyone in the room was inspiring, and you can see the results in the beautiful structures that are being built around Portland as part of the Natural Building Convergence, the first of its kind in an urban environment. Do take a tour and look at the various sites.