Our Roof on Earth

Bamboo canopy under the oak leaves canopy

Spence here: On this gloomy Northwestern day, I am realizing time is flying by. It is already the middle of May and plans for June have begun to book up the weekends–as it is, the rest of May is spoken for. I rarely like this level of busy-ness and planned activity. It is akin to parents enrolling their children in every extra-curricular thing they can to instill order and productivity and drive. I was lucky growing up in that my parents recognized and heeded a healthy balance of structure and wildness. Lately, however,  I have noticed I have been losing a bit of my barbarian qualities, as far as spontaneity–my socks and underwear are folded! Ugh! It is catchy these days, to plan things out to the minute, and I like to be leery of this, as it dulls the wildness within us. All that said, I am still pleased with the efforts of our past weekend. Billy and I wanted to, very much, set up our outdoor kitchen. We decided with 4 days of nice weather we should prioritize getting a new roof on our music studio. I had created a plan for this roof back in October, when the winds and the rain really started to blow. Billy said we should go “Texas-Style” for the winter, tarping the roof until time and a stretch of better weather allowed. We jumped this weekend and peeled back the tarp. I knew it would be a little damp, as the tarp was a shotty $40 hardware store sale find, complete with dust, but I had not expected such a soaking or dampness. Apparently, the plywood I stored up there for the new roof helped to ward off leaks, however was somewhat sacrificed as it had started to mold. Nevertheless, we used what we could and followed my plans, which included new 2×4 cross sections with screened holes for ventilation, plywood, roofing paper and salvaged metal roofing panels, which surprisingly were in great shape. This project took all of the free time we had, but it is a big job that I am happy to have off my back. The studio will be warm and dry for years to come.

We were also able to finish work on our bamboo canopy, erected on the south side of the music studio for our outdoor kitchen. We are using poles grown next door, with twine and para-cord for lashing and a heavy duty boat tarp for the roof. I really appreciate the process of working with the bamboo, as opposed to working with the materials of the roof on the studio. We are cutting the bamboo by hand, and mostly using lashings to keep it together, a seemingly lost art in our first world country (except for survivalist/bushcraft extremist websites, which I love!) On the other roof we used plywood, screws, roofing paper and metal, which unleashes a scary sharp-as-shit jagged edge when cut. I felt like a lot of the time I was up on the roof I was slogging through it, pushing materials around and generally using aggressive tactics. When it was done, I said to Billy, “now the fun projects can begin.” I do feel like a lot of “home-owners” these days have lost touch with what it means to build and maintain their shelters. I read an interesting essay to this affect a few years ago, although sadly I can’t recall the author, but the sentiment was that in this day and age, people have not only lost the drive, but the opportunity to create their own dwellings in a traditional sense. It adds to our disconnectedness and lack of a sense of place. It is more affordable and takes less time to order up a factory-made house, or just buy one that is already built and with the kind of schedules people have these days, I don’t blame them for going that route. I mean, Billy and I have also used ‘human-made’ materials for most of our building projects, albeit salvage, but still. I think that is one of the reasons I appreciated the efforts of some of the people we met in New Mexico, and in other rural areas I have visited. People who didn’t have enough money even to buy a mobile home subsequently built amazing structures out of salvaged materials, basically trash, earth, straw and tree branches. There is a group here in Portland which explores, teaches and supports others in the arts of wilderness awareness, forest craft skills, primitive skills and tracking called Trackers Earth. I have been meaning to take a few of their classes on foraging and natural building. After our experiences this weekend, I really feel called to get involved in some of their skills training groups. Between us, Billy and I have amassed quite a bit of knowledge, but it is overwhelming sometimes to think of all the skills we have lost over generations of modern life. I think it will take several more generations to get the skills back, but I feel happy knowing indigenous knowledge is at the core of all of us. I am looking forward to being able to spend even more time outside, cooking and eating under the stars that are our roof even in daytime.

Billy here. The one roof we all share is the sky itself. Between spring rain and storm we can glimpse the last of the setting Seven Sisters in the West, the Pleiades star cluster (I love that the Zuni call them the Seeds). In the last few thousand years, the seventh star has dimmed, so it looks to be, in most city skies, only six stars.

Most of the five visible planets are observable in the early evening, including Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. Mars was lost in the glare of dusk early this month and will be in conjunction with the Sun on June 14th. Mars will reappear in July. Mercury is lost to dusk this weekend, reemerging about the time Mars conjuncts the Sun. There are a few minor meteor showers happening over the next few months to keep us sated until the Perseids delight us in August.

Keep a special eye out for Saturn this week, which is in opposition to the Sun on the 22nd of May. This means that Earth is exactly between the Sun and Saturn. Not only is Saturn closest to Earth at this point of the year, it is brightening steadily as the rings widen to their maximum in 2017. If you have a telescope or even binoculars, this is a great time to look for Saturn’s rings as it rises in the East after sunset. A medium telescope in good conditions may resolve as many as five of Saturn’s 62 known moons, though I’ve only consistently spotted the largest moon, Titan. Saturn takes roughly 29.45 years to orbit the sun, which means that oppositions happen at this frequency as well. In another 14.725 years Saturn will be halfway through its cycle again, conjunct with the Sun. What were you doing about 15 years ago? 30 years ago? What were you starting? What were you dreaming about? Fifteen years ago I had just moved out of my parent’s house; I was making indie B movies with my friends and dreaming of being a successful film score composer. I tripped over some stumbling blocks on the way and ended up helping my family run a successful coffee shop instead. Alas, I’d take artistic success over entrepreneurial success any day, but it’s not too late to start over!

Just now, our spacecraft Dawn has gone into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, which orbits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter past another dwarf planet Vesta. Ceres, surprisingly spherical in shape, is the largest object in the asteroid belt and is about 2.5 times smaller than the dwarf planet Pluto. Dawn has revealed some interesting bright spots on the surface of Ceres in a crater of its northern hemisphere. Is it reflective water ice? Is water, a building block of life as we know it, much more abundant than we dare imagine? Is the propensity for life and all of its creativity much more abundant than we dare imagine?

How is this related to creating our own dwellings? Creating a home for ourselves starts, for me, in the my heart and in the cosmos beyond the atmosphere of Earth. Feeling intimate with the seasons and the movements of the planets is the foundation of building a home that has meaning for us. Old villages and ancient city-states were laid out according to the rising Sun, Moon and Stars. The very streets were maps of the greater Universe. The inner world was a mirror to the outer solar system and beyond.

In Peter Turchi’s book, Maps of the Imagination, he relates how in the 17th century a name was needed for a book of maps, as there was no common word for such a thing. Several words were suggested, including, quite interestingly, the words mirror and theater. The word that was settled upon was a Greek mythological reference: Atlas. How we organize the world, is it a reflection, a story we tell ourselves? And do we not build our homes to reflect these stories?

One could say, with satellite imagery, that we are strict realists these days…but that leaves out every intangible, dreaming thing…

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