mud and straw
It's been a long project; my experience with natural building methods thus far tells me it will be as long as it takes. But this gorgeous outdoor kitchen started as a "cob pizza oven" workshop led by Larry Santoyo, aka El Santoyo permaculture teacher y maestro de métodos naturales, and hosted by the Anneliese School of Laguna Beach, Ca.
The first few weeks enjoyed a rotating crew of participants, most of them from Larry's following of permacultural students. But as the volunteer force waned, it became apparent to me you wouldn't truly learn this method unless you Showed Up and realized every troubleshooting step of the project. So, I've shown up three days a week for the last three months, working as a two man team with El Santoyo (sometimes three, thanks to Salvador). And, Larry has entrusted me this past week to complete the wood-fire grill and stone work counter while he's teaching in Detroit.
Building with cob, building with any natural materials, is labour intensive and downright hard work. Would you believe, in the first month or so I was actually paying cash money to work my hands raw (RAW); thus the workshop, as everyone was paying to work and learn. Eventually, Larry graduated me to Free Labour, as I'd paid my dues. And, finally, Larry's now paying me to continue working while he's away (will I be relegated back to Free when he returns?) On that note, a funny story: I helped recently at "Swan Song to the Lawn" a food-not-lawns project led by Larry in Eagle Rock. As I was invited (+1), I got to work for free (hey, it's a privilege you'll only appreciate if you've ever apprenticed or had a mentor in your life). So, at the end of the first day the participants hung out around Sangria and beer, and chatted, and I was explaining my background with Larry and someone asked, "so you work for Larry and he pays you?", I laughed and replied, "Pay me? I just stopped paying to work. Pay me!!??". And yet, here I am, actually getting paid. I'm really quite proud; proud of the good work on a good project over three months; proud that I showed up consistently, earned Larry's respect and finally his trust; proud to be paid now; and rather proud of this last bit I completed that came out quite nicely.
... more to come. we're not done quite yet.