Raising the Roof
I’d never done anything like this before. A passion for building things...check. A strong need to create something unique and meaningful in the world...check. A healthy respect for safety, but a history of riding on the edge of dangerous...check. Asking not “what could go wrong” but instead, “what could go right”...check. And then, after much planning...and then more planning...and yet more planning...I did something I rarely had done...I started.
Two years later, and one year from when the first shovel of dirt was dug, fourteen people on the volunteer squad raised a conically-shaped roof frame made of Ashe-Juniper tree trunks, each weighing over 100 pounds and going up 24 feet in the air. No forklift, no front loader, .just human strength, ladders and a rope or two with pulleys. After the 20th rafter was in place, the Google Sketch-up design started two years ago really began to jump off the page and into real life. The “Hobbit House” was taking shape. This is how our adventure in reclaiming an old rock quarry started, with an experimental house design, little money and a lot of enthusiasm.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve most enjoyed life when I was building something...a fort in the backyard made of Dad’s storage shelves and blankets...a primitive shelter made of sticks on my hike through a local park (with kids walking by wondering who the weird adult building a home in the woods was)... and eventually all kinds of furniture and structures made out of reclaimed wood. All this, with a growing appreciation for the treasured green spaces in my neighborhood (often times just adjacent to the highways, housing developments, apartment complexes and shopping malls) and an insane desire to build things out of natural materials (tree trunks, dirt, rocks) as well as “trash” or materials that had been discarded or found to be no longer useful (bottles, cans, scrap wood). “Someday,” I would say ”I’m going to build a house on my own land and invite all my friends to build houses on it too.”
My initial vision of how that might look honestly didn’t have a lot of imagination to it. More like a suburban neighborhood look to it. Just a neighborhood of my best friends. But as time passed with every walk in the woods of both urban and wilderness green spaces, and more importantly with my growing appreciation for how I, as a human being, interface with our natural environment, that suburban neighborhood look became something much more vibrant, inspirational and… alive. Instead of a design to replace nature, a design to interface with and respect it.
I imagined that I would someday buy a 10-acre piece of land somewhere within an hour or so of a big city (I’m not a recluse...and still enjoy restaurants, movies and shopping after all), and then start building my dream community. How far in the future really would be determined by my ability to afford to buy such property, and that end of things wasn’t looking very promising at the time. In the interim, good friends of mine who owned a 45-acre property that used to be a rock quarry and on which they taught their Wilderness Survival classes near San Antonio, invited me to come build my first “experimental” home on their land. I accepted the offer with no hesitation, moved from my apartment in Austin to a trailer I parked on the property and began designing and building. Fast forward five wonderful years and my friends approached me with an offer to sell me their property. Something I had never imagined was even a remote option. But there was something more to it because they weren’t just looking for any buyer. We shared the same love and respect for this “discarded” piece of land, most of it quarry-scraped in places down 40 feet from its natural, sloping grade to the adjacent creek. Together we had watched nature reclaim it over the years and grown to appreciate the multiple micro-environments that had developed as it recovered. We appreciated it like it was part of the family. Like we were part of it and it a part of us. I was the only buyer on their list for this reason. For me, it was an absolute, appreciative and enthusiastic “yes!”
The Vision becomes Real
Now, two years later, we are taking that original “community of friends” design and building an ecologically-oriented event center with adjacent farm homestead next to what is now our 39 acre Nature Preserve to include the following features that embody the vibrant natural environment-human interface that is now our plan:
- Organic herbal, vegetable, and greens gardens
- Rainwater harvesting, potable drinking stations
- A regenerative food forest
- Green energy solutions
- On-grid & off-grid power generation
- Natural/sustainable building structures to support residents and guests
- Off-grid compost toilets
- A rainforest-style outdoor bath house
- Garden/ greenhouse water-efficient irrigation systems
- Local, wild edibles harvesting (Agarita berries, Texas Persimmons, Mesquite beans, other wild medicinals and edibles)
- Local community interface programs, including an annual pumpkin launching/trebuchet building competition, a green space “protectors” program with schools, native plant walks and our annual Winter Solstice Celebration;
- A regenerative systems “lab” to ultimately become a thought leadership and collaboration space in regenerative systems experimentation
We’re still designing, still building, and still pushing our imaginations for what this place could be to all the stakeholders it supports (plants and animals...including humans) and those who support it. Still asking the persistent question not of “What could go wrong?” but instead, ”What could go right?”