|Cob Cottage Company, Coquille - Oregon|
The four hours drive Southwest of Portland took us to a sign:
COB WORKSHOP park here, cross the bridge and go up the hill.
Stephanie, Michael and I gathered some of our camping gear, crossed a little wobbly bridge and after about 100 feet we came to a fork with another sign with an arrow pointing to the right:
"There are two ways to get rich; you can make more money or you can require less."
I glanced at the sign and made a casual mental note of the message on it. I wasn't sure I understood its full meaning then. It didn't matter; I was excited and full of expectation of my 10-day workshop at Cob Cottage Company in Coquille, Oregon. My mind focused on arriving and getting settled.
The first Cob building to greet us was the Myrtle with its nurturing round form and living roof blending perfectly with the trees in the background. This was to be our hang out place, to get warm, drink tea and browse the books in the library, Linda Smiley said as she greeted us. She had a big smile on her face that never faded throughout the 10-day workshop.
Introductions followed: Betty, Sol, Carrie, Pablo, Wran, Liuba, Kayo, Hops and Karyn. We were one of the first students to arrive. The people we were introduced to were a combination of teachers, assistants, staff, interns and visitors.
The sun was bright and warm on our arrival day. In fact, it was the first and last day we had sun. We had a light rain, typical Oregan rain, during most of the 10-days workshop, but we kept our spirits high in one of the most fertile learning and sharing environments I have ever been.
Sol showed us the grounds, we pitched our tents and meandered around cob land. Several buildings in different stages, some finished, some not, a temporary kitchen, the compost toilet that produces humanure, the bath area, the pizza parlor....It was like being in a fairy tale where the setting was composed of small, cozy, round buildings with sculpted walls, hand-made doors, windows, roofs and furniture. Being inside these buildings made me feel immersed in a bubble of harmony with nature - a rustic comfort that nurtured my body and soul. Maybe it is the mud and straw in them, giving out a sense of being cared by earth itself, or maybe it is the art, or the love in making them, inch by inch by hand.
After setting up camp, I walked around alone, taking pictures, inspired by the ingenuity of the coiled hose in a glass case under the sun warming the water for my shower, and still in awe to be in cob land in the presence of such interesting buildings. After crossing the little courtyard where the pizza parlor was, I stumbled upon a couple of men sipping their tea. I thought I had met everyone,but there they were, new faces. One was bald on top of his head with white hair around it, and a long mostly white beard, very much like a Franciscan monk. He was wearing a raggedy sweater with at least seven holes on it. The other man had a clean shaved goatee and just smiled. None of them said much,except for their names, and even so, with some reluctance. I started feeling I was intruding. They were drinking tea and schmoozing about something. For some reason I just stood there, in front of them with a nagging feeling that I should leave. I also only said not more than my name and maybe where I was from. The older man with the raggedy sweater and Franciscan face gave me quick looks as I stood there in front of them. Sometimes he closed his right eye midway, in a purposed squint, widening his left, and at the same time, biting on his lower left lip. I felt he was trying to make up his mind weather it was worth saying anything at all. He had large green eyes that seemed very traveled, very lived, very wise. The other tall man with the white goatee just kept smiling with a twinkle in his eyes, drinking his tea slowly. Finally, the old man with the raggedy sweater said something, this time with both his eyes wide open:
“We are trying to set an example here.”
I thought about this for a moment and decided that he meant he was showing me how to live life
slowly- taking time to drink tea and enjoy the moment. Later, I learned that he was our consultant for the course, trained as an architect, co-author of the book "The Hand Sculpted House" and a pioneer of Natural Building in North America. His name is Ianto Evans. The man with the white goatee was our carpenter consultant, Greg Lalish.
We were 21 students, some international, like me, from Brazil. One from Costa Rica, one from Bulgaria, one from New Zealand, two from South Africa, and the rest from different parts of the USA. During our Natural Building Workshop, Linda, Betty and their assistants taught us how to mix cob, build walls, arches, niches, dig trenches and build drenches on foundations to keep water away from it.
We also had classes on roofs, floors, plasters, siting and design. Betty never stopped building and showing us her tricks during the 10-days workshop; Linda passed down her extensive natural building experience and kept us nurtured with her smiles and care. Karyn never had a drop in energy although she was nursing a child, teaching yoga and assisting the classes. Sol never stopped making sure we had what we needed to build; Kayo filled all the gaps, from keeping the fire going in the dining room to preparing the rocket stove for our baths in the evening. Wran and Hops prepared amazing meals, not to mention several birthday cakes, breads and pizzas. Karen kept us entertained with her witty jokes. She also kept the compost bathroom smelling like roses. Greg, our carpenter consultant taught us how to work with wood, make entryways, windows and doors. It was a treat to go with him into the forest and have a private lesson on how to pick a piece of raw wood to build a roof.
We made cob models of our dream homes, saw horizontal rainbows in the sky and got cozy in the Myrtle for inspiring natural building videos and Ianto's slide shows and talks. He also led a walk into the exquisite forest behind Cob Cottage Company, a place untouched by loggers since 1989, brimming with magic and life, showcasing millions of insects and animals, plant growth, waterfalls and microorganisms. When we were asked to go bare feet, some of us anticipated pain on the soles of our feet but it was quite the contrary. It was very pleasant to walk on the forest, feel the softness of the earth, plants, moss and the trees dispersing naturally moist decomposing wood.
We passed around treasures among ourselves: moss stuck on sticks, green leafs of every hue, exquisitely shaped stones, insects of every color, shape and form, several varieties of snails.
We pointed to each other animal markings on the ground, a sharp stone on the way or a fallen tree that could hurt us, waterfalls that appeared out of nowhere. The silence reminded me of the sacredness of the place. The walk in the forest was much more than a walk. It was a return to our true essence, to presence, to beauty, to joy, to abundance, to peace.
There was a lot of rain during our 10-day workshop. Building with mud and staying in a tent was not very cozy. But Ianto kept squinting his right eye and widening his left while biting his lower right lip as he patched together decades of knowledge, life experiences and thoughtful insights that spanned way beyond natural building. And the group was melded together, in a playful state, like children play in mud and rain and don't care because they are happy.
Linda Smiley and Ianto Evans live the life that sustains and honor life. They inspired me to patch together my own instinctive knowledge that small is beautiful and how I make and spend my money is the highest political statement and life choice I can make. They walk their talk and they inspired me to downsize even more, build cozy homes and delve into permaculture - the conscious design of sustainable human settlements. They chose to be rich by requiring less and showed me how I can do the same.