Well, I've done it again folks. Life as usual is not a phrase for me. I don't know how this keeps happening but here I am, in a foreign land, and this time they call it Vermont. A place that drips of maple syrup and ski bums, that places pride in its progressiveness yet goes without cell phone service for a good chunk of the state, has a mud season that follows the carve-yourself-out-of-the-snow season, and sucks people in, never to leave again. I reside in the Mad River Valley in a town they call Warren. Just up the road is Sugarbush, a large ski resort and just down the road is Waitsfield, the closest resemblance of a town for quite a while. In between, there is a place called Yestermorrow Design/Build School which is just about the coolest place I've ever known. I will be taking classes there periodically throughout this year on a variety of topics and skills so that I can learn to build, repair, divide and conquer...I mean design and construct.
Anyway, Yestermorrow was founded 30 years ago by a man named John Connell, who started teaching people how to build things in his back yard. The idea grew until it became what it is now, a small, nationally-recognized school for anyone and everyone who wants to spend a few days or a week learning something new or improving a skill. I wasn't here more than two days before I started my first class, Natural Design/Build, and I have to say, it was fantastic. We learned everything from the minuscule details of putting in a foundation to stacking strawbales in a timberframe to designing a successful, icicle free roof. Even though it was a huge amount of information crammed into two crazy-busy weeks, it was never too much. It was like learning a language. To truly understand and create new combinations of words, the learner must know the structure of the language. Someday they might even create new meanings. The same goes for building. You have to know how the materials come together, how your edges work, what makes the thing stand, what will make it fall, how can you use it to make something new. And someday you can create new rules. This class gave us the foundation (this was no slab-on-grade, but a below-the-frostline, stem wall) to understanding what can be done with a building to make it work with the site, the local community, and the people inside. The teachers' foremost concern, being in Vermont, is insulation. They mainly work with strawbale as their primary wall system because of its high R-value, compostability, and its beauty. With two or three good coats of plaster, straw can be just fine in wet climates and they have proved that many times over.
In class we divided our time between discussion, design work, and hands-on building. By the end of the two weeks we all had designs of our own for an instructors' cabin on the Yestermorrow Campus. And, in good design studio fashion, everyone stayed up past midnight the night before the review, working on their projects. After the mini graduation that Yestemorrow has for every class, the first of our group started to trickle out. Two-weeks of extreme togetherness made for a sad goodbye as the mix of students made our group an unlikely family. Ages ranged from 22 to 40, and backgrounds ranged from sailing instructor, to mobile pizza maker, to high school teacher on sabbatical. Everyone came from a unique perspective and fresh attitude toward natural building which melded seamlessly into the class' structure. Now that I've had a week off after that class, I'm getting myself ready for my next class which will be just as intense but for 3 weeks instead of two. We will be learning about permaculture, community design, and home design all under the veil of sustainability. Should be quite a trip.
Until then, I've been snowshoeing up a storm around the neighborhood, exploring the woods, ponds, and mountains that make up this beautiful area. I saw a beaver during one expedition and got stopped by a flock of turkeys during another. Can't go wrong there. Vermont is an interesting place. I named this post "Icing in on the Cake" because Vermont is kind of like cake. It's exciting and fun, everyone seems happy and they're all doing their thing (sort of like cake?). At the same time you know you probably can't have it all the time because the cake is running out. People are gobbling it up and it's time to find some batter that can be baked up elsewhere. Too much metaphor? Well in short, it's a great, progressive, and innovative place and I'm excited about what I will learn in the coming year. Oh, and the blanket of snow is the icing (not too far-fetched with that one).
I spent a year in Vermont taking classes at Yestermorrow Design/Build School. This blog is about my experiences in the snowy north.
Check out more of my photos on webshots here.