2013 my colleague Verena told me about the “Mudgirls”, a natural building collective on Saltspring Island. You can hire them to build houses, cabins, fences, or clay ovens made of natural materials.
But they also offer workshops with the topic “natural building”
„in which we share skills and facilitate the learning of natural building with our participants. We provide education and community outreach to help spread the natural building and sustainable living movement. We seek to inspire people to think about ancient or new and creative ways to change how we live on this earth. Our aim is to stop harming and start healing the earth and ourselves.“ (Quelle: https://mudgirls.wordpress.com/)
And because 2013 was my year where I wanted to learn and experience as much new as possible, I thought “I have to go there!”
Let’s go to Salt Spring Island
In June I made my way to Salt Spring Island – a hippie island and where rich Vancouverites have their weekend homes. First, I took the ferry from Tsawwassan to Vancouver Island and then the ferry to Salt Spring Island. Although hitchhiking is very popular on Saltspring Iceland, I took the small community bus that was waiting there when I arrived.
If I wouldn’t have not taken that bus, I wouldn’t have met Sophie from France, who was also on the way to the Mudgirls workshop. Sophie studied architecture in Wales and after that did a carpenter apprenticeship.
We pitched our tents in the garden of our hosts and we got to enjoy the most natural food I’ve ever eaten. On Saltspring Island almost everything is organic. Food is indeed bought in the local supermarket but it is very appreciated that the residents support each other and purchase local products or exchange food.
Our hosts, a couple in their 30s and two daughters 5-7 years old, had hired the Mudgirls to build a noise protection wall towards the road. Although Saltspring Island is very quiet and peaceful place, the main road to the village is still busy. They wanted a cob wall made of natural materials, including an archway and glass elements made of recycled glass.
The group of participants was a very mixed: Among others, two canadian therapists from Metro Vancouver, an american mother with her 7 – year-old daughter from Washington, a traveling irish girl, a canadian physiotherapist from Ontario, a canadian coffee shop assistant from Vancouver, a japanese sushi chef, and two canadian guys who sometimes seemed a bit lost amongst all the women.
One of them worked a bit in the morning his regular job – composing jingles 🙂
Everyone had other reasons to come here. Most wanted to learn about natural building, others wanted to experience something new (like I wanted to), and still others just wanted to get out of their office job and do physical work.
The construction of a cob wall
Building a cob wall is physically exhausting work! Because we stomped the mixture of clay, sand, straw and water for hours with our feet, dragged it and then applied it.
Our morning started with a joint breakfast – porridge, bread, fruit – the meals were prepared by us participants, we rotated shifts. Then we sat down together, discussed what we will do on that day and received the essential information that you need to know about natural building. We were divided in groups of three and each group had to make a mixture of clay, sand, straw and water and then we stomped. For other projects (eg. building houses) the Mudgirls use a concrete mixer, otherwise it would take far too long. The meaning behind the joint stomping was getting to know each other and share experiences.
Stomping together for hours had the effect that a sense of community was created. Of course, sitting together in the evenings at a bonfire and talking about quite spiritual topics were also a reason for that 😉
After stomping the mixture we coated and the existing foundation wall(built on a previous workshop) and smoothed it. Recycled glass was used here and there. Molly and our second instructor (I unfortunately have forgotten her name) examined everything closely, corrected and repeatedly pointed out if the mixture had the right texture. Stones weren’t supposed to be in it! But they were easily found – because most of the time we barefoot 😉
You want to know how our work looked like? Jungle Joe visited us and published the video on his youtube channel- he was excited and impressed!
Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emOPY8eh4mM
As previously briefly mentioned, we slept in tents. In June, I thought, that wouldn’t be a problem. But the nights were very cold and I was not the only one who borrowed an extra blanket from our hosts.
In the backyard there was an outhouse – during my trip in New Zealand I had already gotten used to such toilets, but here it was a little uncomfortable after some time. The outhouse was raised and everyone who walked over there could see exactly what business you were doing – because it fell into a bin about a meter below.
During the day it was quite warm and the physical work made you sweat. We showered under a garden hose or took a bath/swim in a nearby lake Yes, we didn’t get really clean and the skin and hair were super dry from working with clay every day (man, I had hair loss!). To be honest, the nicest thought I had at my departure was the thought of a long, hot shower 🙂
New experiences – a conclusion
It was a great experience, I certainly reached my limits and have expanded my limits in terms of non-showering and opening up to strangers. New were also the quite spiritual conversations for me. I was definitely inspired by that and got a lot of impulses.
New for me was the taste of the organic chicken from the neighbor’s garden. Incredibly delish, delicate, natural and pure!
And after I saw how much work it is, I don’t want to build anymore my own small witch house – I would prefer to hire the Mudgirls 😉
Sophie and I are still friends, we met in the last few years every now and then in Vancouver when she was there. She has continued to participate in Mudgirls workshops and helped building natural buildings.
If you want to try something new or/and want to learn more about sustainable and natural building, you should participate in a workshop with the Mudgirls!