The people make the Earthship

It’s been almost a week since I left the Earthship build, and I still haven’t fully physically recovered.

Now that may make me sound like a wimp, but those of you who were there and this was also you’re first time doing labor and construction 7 hours a day for a week, you know what I’m talking about.

For those of you who only know me from the build, I am generally more likely to be found in heels and a snappy outfit with some mascara on, not a bandana and a jog bra, covered with earth. I go to work and sit in front of a computer, real cushy-like. That’s my day job and how I spend most of my time. But I also love camping, the outdoors and new experiences. My husband and I just bought an inflatable kayak that is super sweet. We go for long walks and hikes and we bike. But. I had never really done manual labor. I had never consistently used tools for more than a few minutes at a time to fix an errant shelf in my house. I had never lifted a sledgehammer. I have rarely worked my body to exhaustion, even at the gym.

But I didn’t hesitate for one second to sign up for this build. I pretty much spazzed out and immediately filled out the form online when I found out one was happening 30 min from where I grew up and 45 min from where my parents now live. Vermont is a special place, and the fact that I could experience an Earthship build in my home state really excited me. My husband and I like to go camping every year as well, and the fact that we would camp at the work site, well that just sold it all the more.

Left: the site “before” complete with the biggest tarp I’ve ever seen; Middle: More than enough tires! Right: our campsite

Monday morning arrived and we rolled out of the woods to start work. We met our foreman (forewoman?), Tiffany, who seemed very competent and in charge yet chill and approachable. And then I spent the next several hours pounding tires.

By lunch I thought I was going to die.

Not pounding tires.

I went and laid face down in my tent and thought “I can’t do this for 5 days.” I went back after lunch and promptly found a much less physically demanding job to do—threading and twisting wired for the vaulted roofs. It was still tough, but pounding tires is in a league of it’s own. And it’s almost comical, as a female, to watch yourself pound dirt into tires and then have a guy come along and slam the shit out of them and realize you had done hardly anything. So. Better for us all if I stay away from the tire pounding.

Besides twisting wire, I also laid can walls, plastered the vaults, cut lath around electrical sockets, shoveled earth, carried earth, helped where I could, looked lost some of the time, sweat my boobs off, and just tried to absorb the experience.

swollen hands

Top: the sausages; Bottom: soaking the sausages when I got home

All week I had to challenge myself everyday to work through the pain from the day before and continue what I had committed to. And you know what body part took the worst of it, of all things? My hands. I had thought I should worry most about my back (most of my body parts are messed up from years of gymnastics, but my back is what I worry about the most), but it turns out it was my hands. They were so swollen by Friday that it looked like I had dirty little sausages attached to my palms. I tweaked some nerves in my wrist as well and I am still getting tinglies in my right thumb, pointer and middle fingers. Every afternoon the ache sets in in my joints and I’m beginning to wonder if I didn’t give myself some arthritis! (As a graphic designer and artist, I’m hoping for these effects to subside…soon!).

And then there was the challenge of overcoming my need for perfection. I really like to do things well and ask question after question until I fully understand that task at hand. I was so worried about screwing something up, which I said multiple times. Every single time I got a resounding reply that screw ups were normal—these kinds of houses and builds are meant for screwing up. You don’t hire a crew filled with volunteers that have never done this before if you are worried about things being perfect. That’s the beauty of an Earthship. It seems to be designed to take some error, yet still function beautifully. One of the crew told me he thinks that Earthships, once they are done, sort of take a while to settle into place. The little screw ups and errors and individual ways of doing things all mush together to make each Earthship have it’s own personality.

As I dealt with the physical pain and my own anxiety about “doing it right,” all the while there was amazing feeling that started the minute my husband and I showed up and started talking to others. It was a feeling of warmth and acceptance and generosity. It was friendliness and funnies and a shared sense that everyone there was finding their own path to help make this a better world.

On my last day there I kept running into the re-bar that was spanning the U I was working in. Seriously, I did it like ten times. And every time I would manage to get it in my head that it was there and avoid it, I would just as quickly forget, turn around and promptly slam into it again. The last time I smacked my face on it, right above my lip. I swore loudly for the 1ooth time and one of the crew looked at me like, really? again? And it hurt so much, and the tears sprang to my eyes. I had sunglasses on so no one could see and I just took a deep breath and kept working. At lunch break, I was up at our tent with my husband and told him about it. He could hear the waiver in my voice and asked if I still wanted to cry. I said Yeeeesssssss and the flood gates opened. I hadn’t seen a breakdown happening but when it did I knew (in hindsight) that of course it had been coming. As I cried about the pain in my face and the exhaustion and just being totally out of my element, a larger reason for the tears emerged in my mind. These were also happy tears, tears of relief, that I had found people that cared as much about where this world is going as I do. So many conversations that week revolved around the state of the world and what we can do to fix it, and uncovering truths, and working towards a better tomorrow, for all the humans yet to come. None of these people accept the status quo. None of them wanted to be traditional. None of them felt ineffectual against a ragingly corrupt system. All of them seemed so empowered and ready to do what they could. And they were already doing it. This trip was for many a first step towards breaking out of the “usual.” And I was crying for the relief of knowing there are more and more of us out there. More and more of us trying to do our part. Relief that my beliefs that humans AREN’T inherently evil is true. Relief that there are people out there who want to do the hard work. Relief that I could feel a comraderie with people I barely knew because we all have the same ideals.

Three of the five vaults are up!

I have never met so many awesome people in one place. I can honestly say I liked everyone that was on this build. I more than liked everyone. I was grateful for all the conversations I had, grateful for all the help that was given to me (when I asked and when I didn’t need to ask), grateful for the laughs and openness everyone shared. Grateful that everyone I talked to about it already knew what The Zeitgeist Movement was. Grateful for the down to earth attitudes and generosity and real discussions and sharing of truths. Grateful for real people. Doing real things. In this completely unreal world that has been created around us.

For that, I thank all of you that were (and still are!) there. In no particular order: Matt, Tara, Eric, Ulricha, Dana, Francis, Francis, Carl, Carl, Mi, Unaime, Brian, Theo, Stefan, Steve, Taylor, Steph, Lauren, Kieran, Rob, Elise, Chris, Angel, Dan, Donna-Marie, Jes, Ben, Matt, Mike, Kyle, Eric, Rory, Lou, Justin, Jacob, Tiffany, Shawn, the woman working with Shawn that whose name I never caught, the puppeteers, Phil, Brian, Constantine, and of course Ami, Chris and Mike. Some of you I may not have actually met, and some of you probably don’t remember my name, but I still thank you for being there and doing what you’re doing.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.



11 thoughts on “The people make the Earthship

  1. You all did a great job working together on these. May I ask where this is and how you got involved? I am from Seattle and seeing everyone here together makes me want to be doing the same. Thank you much for sharing. All the best.

  2. Re-read your post. Vermont. Beautiful. I also now read how you found this online. Great find. Perhaps I should search my area as well. Thanks.

    • hi shane. i found out about the vermont build b/c i “like” Earthship on FB and they posted the call for volunteers. thanks for reading! i hope you get to go on a build!

  3. Reblogged this on Green Momma Adventures and commented:
    I’ve been posting about the Earthship being built in Vermont on my/our Facebook page lately. Well, one of their volunteers wrote a great blog post about what the experience was like. I greatly desire living in an Earthship but the thought of building my own terrifies me. Reading about her reality on the project makes it seem both terrifying and doable. Maybe for our next girls only vacation, Erin & Laura?

    • hi walrissa – building your own is a serious endeavor to take on. the crew and volunteers can do it in about a month, but i know a couple building one basically on their own and it’s going to take about 7 years total….well worth it, but tons and tons of hard work. go do a build and see what it’s like! you won’t regret it.

  4. All I can say is I wish I was younger, as I know I could not do this hard work now. Though working in the garden can get pretty hard. Congrats for being one of the ones who cares. We have to look away from Washington to find people who are not bought and paid for by Monsanto, and, and, and,….

  5. Can’t believe it took so long for me to find this post! Thanks so much for all your hard work and the kind thoughts. I hope your hands, fingers and nerves are all back to normal; let us know the next time you’re visiting Vermont – you’re always welcome to visit! – Ami & Neung

    • I’m so glad you found the post! I had such an amazing time that week and yes I recovered fully! We will definitely try to schedule a visit this summer. I hope you are loving your house!

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