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Strawbale workshop in the Canelo Mountains

September 15, 2009
September Strawbale Workshop 2009 - Canelo Project Arizona

September Strawbale Workshop 2009 - Canelo Project Arizona

Bill and Athena Steen are well known in the natural building community, and we’re comfortable here at their absolutely beautiful home in the Canelo Mountains south of Tucson for the week.  As much as we love what we’re learning, and the people here, and the landscape, one of the highlights of the week for us is their friend and fellow builder Juanita who is cooking for the workshop.  Yesterday she made fresh ceviche for lunch, and lime-pickled prickly pear over potatoes for dinner. I have eaten prickly pear fruit before but these were the prickly pear pads, sliced thin in marinade.  That succulent plant has come in handy for us a few times as Holt and I each burned ourselves this week – the cool sliced pad we slapped on right after took the swelling and pucker out of the burns and left only flat, smooth and painless skin discolorations that are already flaking off.  Juanita’s dad Don Juan Morales patiently entertained my eager attempts at Spanish, explained a few stories from his life including giving his straw hat to the Smithsonian museum, and mowed our campsite flat and gave us a path to the worksite from our camper.  The Canelo Mountains have clear sweet tasting water, bracingly bright night skies, cottonwood, yucca, a mix of desert vegetation and something more lush.  It’s surprisingly like some of Montana’s nicer qualities in the middle of the desert.

Don Juans strawbale house at the Canelo Project

Don Juan's strawbale house at the Canelo Project

We started hoisting strawbales yesterday and are threading them into walls, learning different knots for sewing them together.  It’s really pretty simple, but so many details that only lots of experience and mistake-fixing provides so good to be learning from people who have been experimenting for a long time.

The weather is excellent, hot in the day and cool at night, like Montana night-time cool.  We did find what looked like a mini-tarantula waiting inside the front door for us when we came in late last night.  It’s just a funnel spider but jarring nonetheless.  The first night here we found a big fat black widow in a pit tending her web, mixed with maybe a funnel spider? something else as huge as her, each eating separate grasshoppers and sharing the same territory and what looked to us like the same web, in different layers on top of each other.  We kept thinking we’d see a big fight but they were both too busy killing their hoppers and seemed to have something worked out between them.

Panther Steen is nine and has been showing the kids around the property this week.  One of his little day-old bunnies was eaten by a gopher snake, who was killed by Emeliano yesterday morning when he found it in the rabbit hutch, too fat to get back out.  Panther is building his own house, and woke up early this morning to continue to clear a good trail to it, and to clear the ground of grass roots.  Because, as he explains, “I have to wake up early to get some work done before the kids find me.”

I’ll try to get a photo of some creosote today, Mom.  It’s been all around for a week, though the vegetation is so green right here you have to go into the hills to find it.  Stripped the leaves and twigs to tincture some in vodka a few days ago.  It’s got mighty microbe-defeating power among others.  Escoba de Vibora – Snakebroom – is all around and I tinctured some of its cousin Turpentine a few days ago too.

Gotta go – time to go sew bales.

Building Strawbale

Building Strawbale

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