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.