August 2010 Archives

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is a fascinating place. An intentional community near Rutledge, MO (about 330 miles southwest of Chicago), Dancing Rabbit ( strives to be as ecologically sustainable as possible. Permanent residents (numbering somewhere around 50) are building/have built their own homes out of natural materials that are mostly obtainable from the surrounding land. Around 30 dwellings are in various states of construction in the village. Some are made of cob (a sand/clay/straw mixture), some are stud-framed (probably how your house is built), some have strawbale walls, and some are dug into the earth and built with earth bags. For more information about various techniques of natural building visit

Myself and five other interns (including Jacob West '11) are helping put the final touches on a strawbale addition to a pre-existing strawbale structure. The foundation, framing, roofing, strawbale installation, and most exterior plaster work was finished in the previous two seasons on the project - this year we have been working primarily on interior work, including plaster, electrical, plumbing, and radiant heating systems, wood framing of various things, trim work, and lots of other fun work. When I first arrived I was immediately plunged into radiant heating design, which involved routing many copper tubes in a small mechanical closet.


Caption - All of the copper pipes are ones that I sanded and dry-fitted so that they would fit in the limited space available. Let's just say there was a lot of sanding and thinking involved.

The tubes (as well as flexible PEX tubing) run in between the floor joists throughout the house. Passive solar tubes provide the primary source of domestic water heating throughout the year. Also, a wood stove heats water which pumps move through the tubes. Radiant floor heating is an extremely efficient way to heat a room or a home.

Once we completed and tested the radiant system (it needs to hold 50psi for 24 hours to be sure of no leaks), we were able to fill in the floor with sand (for thermal mass) and bolt down the subfloor. After this major systems milestone (YAY!), the entire crew shifted gears and we moved into plaster mode, applying earthen plaster, a mix of clay, sand, and straw, to the bare interior strawbale walls.


Caption -Part of the straw bale wall with the first coat of clay covering most of it. A switch and outlet box are partly covered and will be securely attached to the plaster when it is completed.

It was a relief to have something tangible to see progress on, as the systems work made it look like we did nothing for a long period of time. We also performed some demolition at an abandoned house in Rutledge, taking out and de-nailing the finished wood flooring so that we could put it in our house. As always with any construction, there are small projects taking place at the same time as the main project work. We built a brick patio as well as a timberframed deck, worked on securing the observation tower in the loft of the building, built an expansive timberframed lean-to for wood and tool storage, and slaked lime (soaked it in water) for use on the exterior of the house. There is always something to be done.

Currently, we are finishing up the outdoor lime plaster coat (the lime on the outer walls is a white color when it dries, but is unfortunately caustic and can give you lime burns, as shown on Jacob).


Caption - As you can see on Jacob's right shoulder blade, lime plaster can create some pretty nice burns when it finds an abrasion on the skin.

Along with finishing the lime plaster, we have started working on indoor earthen floor, are installing reclaimed flooring and light fixtures in the bedrooms, and are adding mosaics made with colored glass to the outer and inner walls. All in all, we are moving along pretty fast, and it looks like the bedrooms may be a livable space before I leave in three short weeks.


Caption - Jacob's mosaic in what will soon be the bathroom. He took various colored pieces of glass and pressed them into the still wet lime plaster.

In addition to working, this summer has been a great time for some bike trips and other shenanigans. Jacob and I completed the 'Tour de Scotland' this past weekend, riding our bicycles to every town that is listed on the official Scotland county website. There are only six, the farthest only about 20 miles away. We took photos at every town sign to prove that we finished this epic quest.


Caption - Jacob on the left, myself on the right. One of the towns that we visited. Bible Grove, does not have a population listed on the sign, so we figured that there would be at least 3 people in the town while we the three of us (including Adam, a Dancing Rabbit visitor) were in town. Most of the towns in Scotland County have small populations. Only one, Memphis, MO, has a population greater than 150 persons (2,061 according to the sign).

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, work starts at 9:30am, instead of 9am, because of ultimate Frisbee. Some things are just more important for your mental health than work. We play on a field that is smaller than normal size, but it works out well for the number of people we typically have (around 12-15) for the 8am start time. We even went to the Show Me State Games for ultimate held annually in Columbia, MO. We won a game (!) and did well in our other three.

There have been some crazy storms with 60+ mph wind gusts and heavy, heavy downpours during my time at DR. We had a storm during my first month that capsized my tent, blew some people's tents away, and wreaked general havoc. An inch and a half of rain came down in 20 minutes, probably the most intense storm that I have ever seen in my life. We had to dig a ditch across the courtyard by our common house to keep the water away because the drainage system had too much water to deal with. It was quite something to get orders from someone in the pouring rain while huge lightning bolts struck overhead.

I am a member of a vegan food co-op, called Sunflower, for my meals this summer. We eat at noon and 6:30pm together (breakfast is on your own), and everyone has a responsibility to cook a vegan meal once a week for 15-30 people. A cook shift starts at about 3pm - you are also responsible for putting out lunch the next day, so don't forget to make enough to feed everyone for two meals. When first entering the cooking scene, I was amazed at the amount of food that it requires to feed 20 hardworking people for two meals. Now when I cook 10 cups of rice I somehow don't consider it a lot of food.

Overall, I have had a great time this summer learning about natural building techniques and having some adventures. It's been fun to work on a construction crew with other dedicated people and see the building move closer and closer to completion as the summer progresses.


Caption - Picture of the addition (on the right) and the previous house (essentially the part to the left of the red roof). The tarps are on the house to keep the lime plaster out of the sun so it doesn't dry too fast and crack. The top right of the building (the part with the rafter tails still visible) is the observation tower, affording 360 degree views of the surrounding land.

Hello, again!


I'm here for an update on how the summer's going!  If you'll recall, I managed to bag an adventurous job this summer at the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, MS, photo-documenting research and educational excursions for the Summer Field Program (if you do not in fact recall, you can read all about it at


Unfortunately, my summer dream job has been foiled by this:

Tanner_1.jpgOil from a hole in the ground about 120 miles south of where I live. 


So, as you would imagine, as soon as oil entered the Mississippi Sound (the stretch of water between the MS coastline and the Barrier Islands), the Summer Field Program had to make some changes.  With waters closed, boat trips were cancelled and this past month has basically been played by ear.  The lab has permits to go into closed waters, but frequent trips into oil slicks would require painstaking cleaning of boats, hazmat training for students, etc. 


This left me doing A LOT of deskwork.  Don't get me wrong, I like editing photos, designing publications, and working on a promotional video for the program;  but after a month of four days on a boat on the water and one day in the office, life isn't feeling quite so adventurous.  However, I have gotten the opportunity to take three or four trips to Florida, where students sample in clean coastal habitats.  Here, I had the opportunity to climb over hills FULL of fiddler crabs, warn snorkelers of approaching alligators, swim in one of the largest spring-fed rivers in the country, cross an underground river, and sit for 7 hours crammed in a van with fourteen students and half of my rear off of the seat.  You take the good with the bad! :)


Anyways, at the time of my last blog, I had only ever encountered tar balls once in Pensacola.  This month, however, I have seen enough tar balls to last me a while - most of it on the islands and some on the beaches.  Beyond the obvious implications, the oil has really gotten in the way of research here at lab.  It seems like things are constantly getting shuffled to accommodate for oil plumes and damaged marine life.  The other day, we left on a trip to Santa Rosa Island (Pensacola, FL), and had to spend the day in the back marshes sampling because of oil washing onto shore in the waves.  It's crazy to stand on the beach with loads of equipment and looking at rolling waves that are not clear, but instead are dark brown, thick, and foamy, alongside ready BP cleanup workers waiting for it all to wash in. 

 Tanner_jpg This is one of many oil booms set up around protected waters in an attempt to stop oil from spreading.  Clearly, they have sometimes proven to be mildly ineffective; the oil sometimes just washes over them.  


Tanner_3.jpgThis is an example of tar balls on the beach.  All of those black dots are spots of tar, and when you're walking on an uninhabited island's beaches, it's important to step carefully, because they look so much like natural rocks or chips of word or just dark sediment.  


The BP-atmosphere here is very prevalent.  Every new development gets talked about non-stop on the radio and in casual conversation.  Everyone knows someone who has a job with BP and is excited to know exactly what's going on that no one else has heard yet.  I wouldn't say people are angry at the company as much as they are angry at how long it took for cleanup efforts to really get underway.  In other words, many of us are still filling up with BP.  On the bright side, though, I have lots of friends who now have jobs with BP's water or coastal cleanup groups. My brother-in-law, in fact, works for BP as well.


So, in a nutshell, this was certainly a unique summer to return home, and I got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to adventure around the gulf for my first month home, and hopefully, with a (hopefully) plugged well and clean waters, the next month will be just as exciting.   



Shrimp boats!  At the beginning of the summer, we'd boat out super early in the morning, and see these commercial shrimping boats pull single-file out of the Biloxi Bay like elementary school children walking to the library.  It's really funny to see such giant ships, one-by-one filing from shore to horizon starting out the day.  The fact that we're starting to see them is good news for the economy, for local business, for fishermen, for roadside shrimp stands, and for shrimp-lovers!



Chunks of oil that wash up and mix with sand.  These chunks will sometimes get far enough on shore to get mixed up in coastal grasses.  This is a problem because, to clean up, they generally scoop up oil and sand in a shovel, but if you scoop up these grasses, sand will wash away and the islands that protect the coast from hurricanes will erode.



I've been to centers where animals (like turtles, birds, and even a dolphin) have been cleaned and in rehabilitation before being released, but every now and then we'll come across something like this, a critter who didn't make it.  They're pretty rare (on the shore at least), though, so it's not too depressing!



On a much lighter note, Dad and I are working on another project this summer after hours.  Dad promised me that we could fix up this car since 2nd grade, and we're finally finishing it so I can drive up to Olin!  "An ordinary car," you might say?


"NO!" says I!


It's a 1981 Special Edition, Turbo-charged, T-top Trans Am!  And it is going to be FANTASTIC.  We've finished all the body work, painting, pinstriping, decaling ('81 Trans Ams have more pinstripes and decals than you can shake a stick at, by the way), and trimming, and now we're working on the interior and some light motor work before September. 


The best part? 


We just put the bird on the hood a week ago.




You wanna talk about school spirit?  Let's talk about permanently mounting your school's mascot on the hood of your car.


I am so jazzed!

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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