Thursday, February 9, 2012


As things continued to not be all that exciting in philadelphia an interesting opportunity presented itself- a trip west for a wedding. My cousin would be getting married in Boise that summer, and i had a round trip ticket courtesy of my family. Without a lease, a job, a girlfriend, or even a hermit crab to tie me to philly i decided to extend my trip for as long as my money would last. A road trip seemed in order. And while visiting friends i could probably do some presentations and workshops.

I contacted a number of organizations on the west coast, most of them either weren't interested or didn't pan out. One organization, however, was definitely interested and was willing to commit to having me out to do some work. That organization was Aprovecho, a sustainability research and education center in rural Oregon. I had heard of aprovecho years prior through a friend, specifically in reference to the efficient wood burning stove technology that they pioneered- known as rocket stoves.

So road trip i did. From Idaho Falls to Portland, where i picked up my best friend Elliott and we headed down to apro together.

I can't remember what my original length of stay was going to be, maybe a couple of weeks, maybe a month. I remember Elliott stayed for a month, so maybe that was it. As things progressed, however, i ended up staying far longer.

Aprovecho has a wonderful campus outside of Cottage Grove, Oregon (roughly 45 minutes from Eugene). Its on the south side of a mountain, tucked between groves of moss covered fir, in an idyllic setting that's as beautiful as it is peaceful. There are a number of cabins and classroom buildings, constructed with wood from on site, insulated with local straw and finished with plaster made from the clay on site. Aprovecho has a multi-faceted approach to sustainability and they use their campus as a demonstration center for the variety of techniques they employ. Everything from natural building, permaculture, appropriate technology, sustainable forestry, renewable energy and large scale water catchment. Aprovecho runs two Sustainable Living Skills courses per year that cover all of these and more. Elliott and I showed up right at the beginning of their fall '09 SLS.

We were greeted by long term aprovecho student and then employee Jared Webber. He had a cheery disposition and a thick accent that we mistook for Canadian. You're the bike guys from New York? We are, i said. Elliot corrected me, saying he is. Jared then gave us a tour, there weren't very many introductions as Elliot and i were the first to arrive, but we got to see all of the main buildings, and Jared took us down to the shop where i'd be doing my building. It also so happened that the shop was where i was going to be staying, there was a small loft apartment, really a bedroom, above an office built into the shop. Elliott would be staying in the strawbale dormitory simply referred to as 'the strawbale'.

We hung out for a couple of hours, went on a hike, and came back to the strawbale for a pizza party welcoming. The strawbale had an awesome outdoor kitchen, albeit with some logistical and aesthetic problems, but really cool nonetheless. What made it great was that everything was wood fired, there was quite a variety of rocket stoves, there was even a rocket fired oven- made from an actual metal oven. The specificity of the stoves was intriguing, there were stoves built around single pots that fit perfectly inside them, or for a wok, or griddles. They were fascinating and awesome to use.

So standing around the earthen bread oven (not rocket fired) we met a handful of the staff and some of the arriving students. The pizza was awesome and we all chatted for a while. As things died down we did the dishes and made our way to bed.

The shop, a good 400 yards from the main buildings, was where i was headed. Without having the foresight to bring a flashlight i used my ipod to illuminate the way. The room was built ontop of a small office, accessible only by ladder. Up i went. It was cold and smelled weird. The guy who lived there before me had left some art around, an egyptian bust, some weavings and bunch of unhappy looking fish. They disturbed me a little.

Next morning was the official start of the program, there was oatmeal courtesy of Jared, and then introductions outside on the four square court. The crew was the staff, the students and the work-traders (of which Elliott and i were included). Introductions consisted of telling who you are, where you're from, and your favorite joke. I'm terrible with jokes. I never remember any worth telling. I think telling something unique about yourself was an alternative, i'm sure that's what i opted for.

The appropriate technology instructor, Mike Hatfield, was the point person in helping me set up my stay at apro. I was going to be working with him, but when i arrived he was abroad doing stove work so he elected Chris Foraker, the natural builder, to fill in for him for a while. I met up with Chris and we proceeded to do some work together on one of the buildings. After a day or so he showed me my first assignment, to re-design a pedal powered grain mill that they built several years earlier.

No comments:

Post a Comment