I recently completed a week-long course in timber framing at the Fox Maple School of Traditional Building in Brownfield, Maine. It was a very demanding and intense six days of learning and hard work. Although it was exhausting, I am so pleased I took it. The inspiration I have from participating in such an event is remarkable.
The idea of natural building methods and traditional timber framing construction has always appealed to me as it expresses a sense of ethics that fits perfectly into my spiritual practices and ideals. Our lives must become more local. Our work, our home materials, and our food need to come from where we live. Extracting resources from far-away places, shipping them around the globe and buying them from people who don’t live in our community presents a real ethical dilemma. If our existence is based on our engagement with our local environment, then we will find a balance where we live with concern for our ecosystem, and from that concern we won’t cause unnecessary harm. When we extract resources from an abstraction (that place far away where things come from and we don’t see the damage), we will use resources without having to deal with the immediate consequences. This allows excess. This way of being has to end. Local living is the only viable path. How do I know this? All of Nature lives locally. Yes, some animals migrate. But their passing is part of a known pattern of Nature that is life-enhancing rather than life-negating. We have to mimic Nature in order to live a sustainable, viable life. Any problem we have, Nature has already solved.
So anyway, this timber framing course has sparked an idea and a passion in me. I recall being in England where I saw a sign on an old stone and timber frame building. It said something to the effect of “England’s oldest continuous inn. Established 981.″ So this building has been an inn for over 1100 years. The original frame, foundation and walls are still standing. And I thought, why don’t we build everything to last? Why isn’t our work a gift to the next generation? A house I build will be passed on to someone who won’t have to spend time or use resources to build a house – or be a slave to a job to pay for it. It will be free. If I build something that will last, build it with materials that are local, crafted with a sense of permanence and beauty, it will be respected. And if it is respected, it will endure. Our ancestors did it with crude tools and no electricity. And these buildings are still in use today, hundreds of generations later. We can do the same. It is a matter of choice.
The other part of this course perfectly illustrated something I have been, for lack of a better word, preaching about for a long while now, the power of community. Twenty-two of us showed up for this course. No one had timber framing experience. Most of us were not builders or carpenters (I was in this category). And yet, in a few days we went from a stack of timbers and pile of ignorance to framing and erecting a two-bent saltbox with a great room with a beautiful hammerbeam bent. This frame will eventually stand on someone’s property for many hundreds of years.
Now imagine if we as a community were already skilled and that we joined together to help each other build lasting, efficient and beautiful homes all built from local natural materials. What a difference we would make in each other’s lives – a small or zero mortgage, living in environmentally friendly houses that will last, to be passed onto the next generation. Imagine if we had inherited such a thing, growing up knowing that we have a home and the only cost is that we respect, care and maintain it. Imagine if we had shared skills for all aspects of our lives: food, shelter, creativity, learning and religious practices. What if we as a community dedicated eight weekends a year to helping others build homes or put in gardens or create community events to support our local artisans? Can you imagine such a way of life? I can and I do and I am dedicating my life to building it.
As a side note, the word mortgage comes from Latin and is built from roots that mean, “death obligation.” In other words, it is an obligation that you carry until you die. When it comes to our homes we need to shift the meaning from “working a job for thirty years to pay a bank twice the value of a home” to “while we live in this home we are obligated to care for and maintain this remarkable gift of our ancestors who built this beautiful lasting structure with craftsmanship, vision and love. And for as long as we do, we have a home.”
I am skilling myself and I am ready to pitch in and rebuild my local community, one lasting green building, one edible forest garden, one annual celebration at a time. Any volunteers to join in?
Blessings of honor and beauty,