To Whom it May Concern

Dear Design Build,

Six months ago, I was determined not to have a Friday class and definitely not a 3 hour Friday morning on North Campus class. As you can see now, I did not hold myself very accountable to that determination. Now, I would not hesitate to click that sign up button.

I remember the first day walking into the classroom wondering if I made the right decision. I knew nobody and other people seem to know each other. Of course, I remembered nobody’s name from the first day. The only thing I did remember was that I was the only freshman in the class. Even in the beginning of this month, I was nervous that we would get along since we did not even know everyone’s names. Now looking back, that worry was unnecessary. Now I know all your names: Courtney, Ethan, Fiona, Hana, Jake, Jarbed, Jessica, Joey, Kathleen, Kingsli, Kristen, Lauren, Lianne, Livvy, Marg, Maya, Rachel, Sarah, Siena, Sonya, Teggo, Will, Zoeyy, Lady and Lisa.

I love hearing about the everyone’s life story, experiences and feelings. Every time I wish that I met all of you earlier. I love hearing all your great opinions and plans, talking about the universe, poop, our house and complaining about everything that hurts. Being the youngest in the class, everyone was a role model to me. I had so much to learn from all these wonderful and thoughtful people.

This month turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. It was the first time I built a house, the first time I wanted to be friends with everyone in the class, the first time I went canoeing, the first time I woke up at 6:30am six out of seven days of the week for a month, the first time I felt like I was exactly where I wanted to be, the first time getting to know people so well so quickly, the first time being sore every day and still pushing through, the first time….

Words cannot express the experiences and feelings that I had this month.

Thank you for taking care of me. Thank you for staying up late at night with me. Thank you for encouraging me when I’m down. Thank you for giving me a hug whenever I need it. Thank you for giving me piggy back rides. Thank you for massaging my sore back. Thank you for accepting who I am. Thank you for listening to me ramble. Thank you for taking part of my little jokes. Thank you for baring with me when I messed up all the zip ties. Thank you for accepting that I fall asleep every car ride. Thank you for having my back all the time. Thank you for building a house with me. Thank you for just being you. Thank you Joe for making this experience possible and teaching us everything!

This month we experienced friendship, love, teamwork, laughter, tears and so much more. This month we experienced being a part of a big family.

We all struggle with the fears of the future and problems the past. We all worry about judgements from others and not being good enough for ourselves. We all want to be the best we can be as soon as possible. The most important thing is we are all here for each other.

I hope you all had as much fun as I have and got as much out of it as I have. I’m not the very best at expressing my feelings but you all are the best and I want to hang out with everyone. I hope this experience does not limit us to just this month. I will always have your back whenever you need me. Next time any of you want to build a house, I’ll be there, you know where to find me!



Your little freshman



We built a house.

I think the word of the day is 

o v e r w h e l m e d.

My body is overwhelmed from the late nights we have spent pushing and pushing to finish the house on our deadline; nights when we had to use headlamps to apply adobe in the dark.

My mind is overwhelmed, thinking about how four weeks ago today, we put four orange stakes into the ground on a hill overlooking Douglas Lake and said, “Here.”

My heart is overwhelmed, knowing that now there stands a 400 square foot building with a full deck (go deck team!) and a completed porch and roof, all made with human hands, creative resourcefulness, mistakes and sideways nails and cuts that had to be made and then made again and then made again. A building forever imbued with our love and generosity and forgiveness and patience and lack of patience; the music we danced to and the curse words we swore and the endless laughter we shared will always live within those walls.


Our house is indeed finished today (alright, ‘finished’ might be a strong word. Many of us are planning to pack up and drive to the UMBS over Fall Break to paint the gable ends, install a porch swing, install the ceiling and add wood to cover up the all-thread in the windows. Oh, and the front door doesn’t quite close). 

But it really is finished. We have created a building that we can walk inside. We can hang out on the porch under the fairy lights. We can sit in the windowsills that have been sanded and stained. It has four finished walls; it withstood a downpour yesterday. It has beautiful handmade tile ready for the installation of a wood stove. It feels warm. It has a sun-shaped truth window to reveal the straw bales underneath the three-inch thick adobe. It already has the ability to run on the solar power that we are generating ourselves. We have created, in the process of an entire month, a space to exist in. How many people can say that? Not to mention, it’s not just a space – it’s a beautiful space, full of tiny details, from the micah flakes that shimmer in the walls to the fairy door on the backl that pays homage to Ann Arbor. 


What we have done here – we twenty-two undergraduates, a graduate student instructor, and a professor – is see a project through from beginning to end. We have taught each other and passed on knowledge in the most organic way possible. We have spent every day outdoors, earning callouses and bruises. We have, in our small way, restored harmony between ourselves and the Earth, and we honor that harmony in so many ways in this building and in our lives. The sand from the trench we dug in the first week now glues our walls together in this final week. This final workday. We designed the building with the place in mind; the same way it is unnatural to eat a pineapple in Michigan in January, it is unnatural to build with certain materials or create poorly insulated walls in the Midwest. It goes against the Earth’s natural cycles and processes. But here, we started with place, and built with it in mind the entire time.

I can count hundreds of times my teachers, parents, coaches, relatives, and friends have told me I can ‘change the world.’ And then you grow up, and realize that you’re small and the world is big and fixing all of its problems is hard and exhausting and defeatist. 

But this time, Joe Trumpey said, “You can change the world.” And we did. We changed our small corner of the world. We created something that will outlive us. And sure, it might just be a small corner of the world, but as Krysten would say, we are indeed at the center of the universe.

I think gratitude might be the other word of the day. We are so thankful for this opportunity; for the people who believed in us and the people who didn’t but gave us the chance to try anyway. For the gifts of the Earth – the fallen trees that became our posts, the clay and straw that became our walls, the water from the hose, the energy from the sun. For the friendships that we built alongside the house. For the generosity of all of the people at the Biostation. For Joe, for embarking on his biggest student project yet. For the hot water in the showers that restored us, for coffee, for the feeling that comes with looking at a building that you literally built.

When I was looking at the house yesterday, someone asked me, “So what part did you do?” And I pointed at a few details – the baseboards I installed, the adobe I plastered, the rafters I worked on – but it doesn’t seem like much. That was the real beauty of the project. It took all hands on deck, every day, for the entire month of May, to bring this house into existence. We all chipped away at small details, fighting over the power and the measuring tapes and the speed squares, and then, both suddenly and slowly, a house formed before our eyes.

Tomorrow, we are taking the day off to celebrate our enormous accomplishment on Sugar Island and coming back to the site to clean up our tools and admire our building. Wednesday morning, we’ll be caravanning back to Ann Arbor, and it is challenging and saddening to imagine not walking up the stairs from hell every morning at 7:30 am, not hearing Will barking at someone, not hearing the resounding chorus of “JOE?” or the whir of the saws and drills and the dreadful planar. 

But thankfully, this is something that no one can ever, ever take away from us.

We built a house.



Never Have I Ever

Before coming up to the Bio Station, never had I ever…

– been to Northern Michigan

– visited the UP

– roasted so many perfect marshmallows

– made up multiple versions of “the first cut is the deepest”

– sang karaoke in public

– eaten Cheerios with fruit juice

– eaten oatmeal almost every morning

– been consistently covered in mud

– mixed adobe for hours

– listened to so many podcasts

– felt the muscles in my fingers and hands ache

– gotten so many black fly bites

– heard of, seen, or eaten a morel mushroom

– learned so much about mushrooms and lichen

– played Settlers of Catan

– played Hammer Schlogen 

– been surrounded by straw

– shoveled hundreds of pounds of rocks

– had such a strong hatred for a set of stairs

– dried work gloves over the fire

– watched Peace Love and Basketball

– used Arnica or Tiger Balm

– broken my computer screen

– been in temperatures below 60 F during the month of May

– seen a slab of concrete be poured

– mixed concrete or lime

– cut so much lumber 

– done intense manual labor for more than 12 hours straight

– used solar power to play the Beatles

– broken up so much clay with one hand (Sondra)

– listened to Serial (Jared)

– planed wood for three days straight (Livvy)

– eaten this many Cheerios (Maya)

– found a morel mushroom while nature peeing (Maggie)

– fallen asleep at 7 pm (Rachel)

– built something (Corey)

– set tile (Tegwyn)

– liked this many people in such a large group (Lian)

– seen robots in the woods (Jack)

– applied adobe for 12 days straight (Kingsli)

– accidentally invaded a loons nest via canoe (Wendy)

– looked at moss and lichen so intensely (Laura)

– blown dust off a jig saw (Will)

– talked about farting so much (Hana)

– been harnessed to a roof (Krysten)

– been jumped over (Zoe)

– comfortably talked about poop (Fiona)

– stood on the roof in the rain (Siena)

– planed wood for three days straight (Livvy)

– been so exhausted; mentally and physically

– gotten close with so many people in such a large group

– built a building 

Today we had our open house, and had a great turn out despite the rain. Friends, family, people from the BioStation, even people that saw us on the news came to see all the work we have done this past month. Sadly, everything is coming to a quick close, but we are all so incredibly proud of all the work we have done and grateful for the friendships we have gained.

Many thanks for all the help and support that made this project possible!



Day 27 (Recap)

It was an awesome day friends! The entire crew was working hard and putting in some long hours. I left the site at 10:00 pm, and there were still people in the housing working. We finished placing almost all of the porch roof on the front of the house, and we got started on the other three sides. We also had an awesome group sanding the windowsills on the inside of the house. Also, tiles are in!!


I spent the day working on the deck with a solid crew—Hana, Maya, Jennifer, and Zoe. It was definitely a struggle in the beginning, but once we figured out how to cut the angles to best fit our other boards, we were cruising. By diner time, we had finished the decking on the entire right side of our building. Then, after diner, we cruised through and finished a solid chunk of the left side of our building. Tomorrow morning, hopefully we can finish the rest on the left side!


I do want to take a moment to appreciate how amazing all the girls on this crew are. They are some of the strongest women I have ever had the privilege to be around. There is nothing they can’t do. I have seen them operate power tools and hammer in nails with ease—oftentimes better than the guys on the team. Also, they are the masterminds behind all the amazing designs on the house. Even today, I saw Katie and Rachel hammering in galvanized nails with no problem—while also paying attention to the plum and levelness of the joists. And there is absolutely no way the deck could have gone in today without the amazing people on my team. I love each and every one of them, and I couldn’t imagine building a house with any other group.




P.S. Stay tuned to the social media accounts, tomorrow is our big open house!


Meet our little friends from the Biostation

After a morning of mixing adobe, the last thing we usually want to do after lunch is mix more adobe. But when our three favorite helpers – Addy, Elliot, and Rose – come running up the hill to help, we know that the afternoon will actually turn out to be filled with games and laughter. Over the past few weeks, these guys have helped make mixing adobe so much more bearable and we’ve loved getting to know them. Here’s a little bit about them so you can get to know them too!

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Age: 10

Favorite subjects in school: math, science, and writing

hobbies: writing and making art

Favorite book: Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

Favorite part of the biostation: all of the nature, being surrounded by woods, and learning about the nature of northern Michigan

Favorite biostation memory: biking all over camp with the other kids that come up for the summer

What she’s looking forward to most this summer: going to sleep away camp and swimming in the lake

Favorite part of helping us out with adobe: playing games with us!! (we played mafia, picnic, and a one word story game!)

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Age: 8

Favorite subject in school: math

Hobbies: mindcraft, legos, and he loves starwars!

Favorite book: Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Favorite part of the biostation: exploring in the woods and going to the gorge (he says we all should check out the gorge if we have time)

Favorite biostation memory: running away from the other kids at the biostation and locking himself in the bathroom with a few friends to hide!

What he’s looking forward to most this summer: seeing friends that only come to the biostation every other summer

Favorite part of helping us out with adobe: playing games!!

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Age: 5

Favorite subjects in school: practicing her letters!

Hobbies: swimming and playing playmobile

Favorite book: Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish

Favorite part of the biostation: exploring in the water and cooking

Favorite biostation memory: The Oogie (Dinosaur) Egg hunt! Trying to find a dinosaur egg (watermelon) with all of the other kids.

What she’s looking forward to most this summer: swimming in the lake and playing with friends

Favorite part of helping us with adobe: playing mafia


Addy, Elliott, and Rose come to the biostation every summer with their parents (Jason and Kim), but this past year, they decided to stay up here for the whole year! They are homeschooled and get to learn so much cool stuff, but will be going to a school in Ypsi this fall. Thanks so much for your help with adobe!! We think ya’ll are so awesome and smart!


-Maya Littlefield-Wilkinson