Over the past century or so I feel that humanity has been slowly moving away from real honest contact with the world around us. Things have been getting more “humane” as we neglect to respect or live with our Mother Earth. We choose to live in square buildings unlike any shapes found in nature that are temperature controlled to be within about the same range anywhere we go. We occupy our time using man-made machines and fuel our bodies with food that contains man-made chemicals (for the most part). I honestly believe this is why I often feel frustrated by “civilization” and why I chose to come work out in the valley in the first place. I can’t stand to exist knowing how hypocritical it is to sit in a lecture at school, in an air-conditioned and furnished classroom, and hear my professors explain how we are killing our planet with pollution and overuse of natural resources. We’re doing it as we speak!
Being in the valley has allowed me to feel like I’m corrupting our world a lot less while also getting to experience, learn and create in nature.
This week I made my first attempt at building a pizza oven in the valley out of primarily naturally occurring materials. I had previously decided to make a “clay” oven out of cob: a mixture of clay, sand, and straw.
I have a first proposal for the assembly and style of the clay oven that I’ve gone over with Brigitte. We’ve been working on creating a structure to lift the oven off the ground so food can easily be put in and removed from the oven. We originally tried to put posts in the ground with large pieces of guava tree but simply beating together rock and dirt as opposed to a more solid (like concrete) foundation is not strong enough to hold these branches in the tropical rain.
Here are the directions I hope to follow in making my clay oven, taken from davidaskin.org. He states that his main ideas were taken from Kiko Denzer’s book on how to make clay ovens (I tried to buy this book but they cannot send it to Panama) then he added a few of his own tips for working in a more tropical setting:
I plan to
1. Build a base to hold up the oven and a roof to protect it from the elements
2. Make an oven foundation out of bricks or clay and stone, then put a gravel-like mixture on top, followed by sand
3. (once that’s dried) Build a dome form out of sand
4. Cover with newspaper
5. Make clay out of dry, non-clumped clay; rough sand; and straw (I plan to use dried grass I found in the valley that’s a lot like straw)
6. Create a dome out of cob and pat down
7. Let it dry a bit and cut out a door, making sure that it is 63% of height
8. Let it dry completely and build a door
Cob has been used for centuries to build things like traditional houses and natural cottages.
I first heard about the idea of cob last year when I wrote a “practice” grant proposal for a faux Ecotourism operation in a class I took at the University of Vermont called Nature and Culture [in Natural Resources]. I happened upon a documentary on cob houses and buildings and put them into my proposal for a small eco-hotel with cottages made of cob. I chose to create my hotel in the Southwest to attempt to improve the conditions of the Navajo Indians as part of a non-profit towards cultural fairness and equality. Also I chose the Southwest because it is an ideal location for the use of cob.
I’ve heard of cob being used in tropical locations before. In the documentary that I watched on cob building, scenes were shown where cob was used in tropical areas and it stated that earth is the building material for “1/3rd of the earth[‘s people].” In my online research, I found that many successful clay and/or cob ovens have been built in tropical places like New Guinea and Puerto Rico.
The documentary on cob that I spoke of in this article is called First Earth and can be found on the following websites:
I really loved it and if you’re interested in natural building you should check it out!