by Kingsli Kraft
Today I spent my entire day enjoying my favorite job on site: adobe-ing (yes, adobe is a verb now) the walls inside and out. It’s not an incredibly social job, like mixing adobe in the kiddie pools, but the quiet time alone with my thoughts is really pretty nice, especially on a nice day like today. It’s not too bad when it rains either, as long as you’re inside the house.
Applying the adobe gives me a lot of time to reflect on my experiences and to let my mind wander to other things. I’m a writer, and a full-time day-dreamer so my head is usually a kaleidoscope of a million different thoughts. Today I found myself thinking a lot about the question I’ve been asked the most since I got to the Biostation.
What were you expecting when you took this class? Is the actual experience of building the structure what you expected?
Everyone keeps asking me what I expected when I signed up for this class. To be honest. I have been really excited about this class and this experience since I heard about it at PitE Club’s Class Chat in the Fall just before registration. Our class was every Friday morning at eight thirty, in the freezing cold winter, on North Campus. For me, getting to my ten o’clock lectures or my nine o’clock work meetings was always a struggle. I’ve never been very good at waking up, or properly using my alarms or being a morning person. I live on Central Campus and it’s about a fifteen minute walk from my house to the bus stop. It’s then about a ten minute bus ride to North. I was so excited for this class every Friday that no matter how late I was up on Thursday night (or Friday Morning sometimes), I was on time to class every Friday and I was usually early. I was and still am excited and grateful for the opportunity to work more than just my brain for once.
So far, I haven’t really had those moments other people have mentioned where they realize “wow, I’m building a house.” I’ve been looking forward to this part of the class since November. I have always liked building things. I remember helping my papa hammer nails when I was really young (I’m pretty sure there’s a picture somewhere of me in a tie-dye dress on a ladder with a hammer trying to be helpful and another of me in my underwear at age four or five helping hang wallpaper). I was fully prepared for long hours and hard work, and I knew that at the end of all of that the reward would be awesome and I was going to get to create. I expected to learn some great new skills and I expected to maybe learn a thing or two about myself. I have thoroughly enjoyed this class. What I like the most about this class is that at the end of the day there is physical proof of what I did. I can stand back at the end of the day and see what I’ve accomplished. I haven’t had a class like this since high school, and it feels amazing to step back and say I built something today, I did more than sit in a lecture hall and just think about a concept until I understood it. I value both of those experiences greatly, both in the lecture hall and on the scaffolding covered in adobe and straw.
This hands on experience has highlighted something that I’ve started to realize in some of my other classes and in life. I really like to create, and more than just worlds and people in my head for stories. I want to create spaces for human beings that work in harmony with our environment. I want to have a hand in redefining the concept of “man-made.” The first time I really thought about the term “man-made” and the way it is usually equated with “unnatural” was my sophomore year in Environment 350: The Built Environment. I had never really thought much about the built environment. What did that even mean? In the class I learned that you can argue that pretty much every environment on this earth is “built” in some way because humanity has impacted our planet so completely, from pollutants in our atmosphere and our hydrosphere, to islands of garbage in our oceans to being the cause of what looks like a sixth mass extinction.
Humans are well known for their capacity to destroy and disrupt, it’s in our nature to build and create. The problem is that our creations aren’t working with our environment, they’re working against us. The things that are “man-made” are hurting our environment, and we label them as “unnatural.” I’d argue that on a base level, our creations are natural. It’s human nature to want to understand our environment and sometimes control that environment. The separation of humanity from the “natural” is part of the problem. We don’t always think of ourselves as a natural part of our environment. Our cities, our products, our homes, our habitats are self-labeled as “unnatural.” How can we think of ourselves in the context of “natural,” and still hold ourselves accountable for the harm we’ve caused our environment?
Building this straw-bale building has really expanded that thought process I began in Environment 350 a year ago. I still think the human need to create is natural. Equating “man-made” with “unnatural” isn’t helping our cause. That was the conclusion I had drawn a little over a year ago. I just didn’t know what I could do to fix that. I knew that we, humanity, needed to recognize and take responsibility for the harm and destruction we’ve caused our planet, and I knew that we also needed a reframe. We needed to recognize our ability to create and our ability to repair. I just didn’t really know what I could do to help make that happen. That class is why I declared PitE as my major, and this class and this experience is why I’m proud to be an Environment major.
Building this house has helped me see that there is a concrete way to redefine “man-made.” At the end of the day I can touch the walls (carefully, with gloves) and say that I helped to build something. I left a mark on this planet, but I worked with the earth and twenty-three other human beings to create and give something back to the environment, rather than take away.