Sustainable for a Future

An Evaluation the of 2015 Season


The season is ending here at L’isola. One major goal, a greenhouse with a hot shower in it, did not get completed. It started out as a cob structure then progressed and evolved with friends’ advice to become a wood structure with a concrete foundation wall and a tilted roof to let in the most sunlight in the winter.


What was arrived at is a good idea, but one thing I’ve learned is that too many cooks (or architects in this case) spoil the pot. Once the wood frame was accepted, I became less useful. Our foreman needed to work elsewhere for pay as he ran into a stroke of bad luck. This left “Jamie” and I out of luck too.


Thanks to the efforts of our good friend Zen Ken, who has a knack for being there when help is needed, there was progress throughout the season. Still, the frustration of not having building knowledge myself and of not having the help we thought we would hung in the air pretty heavy at points.

We persevered with what we could do though and tried not to be deterred. The first thing we did was to mark out where the walls and 4×4 structural beams would be buried. After the corners were staked out and spots marked for the structural 4×4 posts, “Jamie,” Shua (a volunteer) and I took turns digging the holes for the posts. As with many points on the land, we hit a rock shelf about 1 foot down. Some spots less, some a little more. To get through the rock, which wasn’t all too hard, we traded turns slamming the bedrock with a big old breaker bar.


It took awhile, but we got it done enough to support the posts which were placed in the holes and cemented in. Next we poured the foundation for three sides of the structure. For part of this we had the amazing help of a work party. So that was finished in 2-3 days. After the pouring some framing was done and that is about where she is at except for the back wall.





The back wall is meant to be thick and massive to catch the heat of the sun and to hang onto and release it after the sun goes down. So “Jamie,” Ando (another volunteer) and I made a concrete form 20 inches wide around a trench and the large rocks we collected for a foundation. Then we poured.

I should mention that throughout the pouring for all four walls we did a rubble fill. This means we put rocks from large gravel to toaster oven size through the concrete mix to stretch the Portland mix. We mixed all of the ‘crete in a wheelbarrow (two if we had helpers and could go faster) and poured it from buckets or by the shovel full. With the considerable efforts of the helpers and ourselves, the pouring was completed fairly quickly, considering it was all done by hand.



Now the back wall, the thick thermal mass, was to be constructed. Cob was decided on, and that route took many days and much sweating and labor. The good thing about cob is that there are little tears involved- it is simple and, as long as it isn’t dried out completely during the building process, is quite forgiving. Cob is slow as you can only build so high before the mud slumps and mushrooms out and it is also because as it is simply a good work out.

You have to haul sand and water and mix with your feet and then lift and mold it with your arms and hands. You feel yourself getting stronger doing it and it is enjoyable. I find the clay that we get from the land often improves the mood when touching it everyday. There must be some little organism that is beneficial to humans in it… So it is simple physical work that can build the body and enhance the mood. I am very glad we decided on a natural wall for the back, sun-catching wall. Last of all metal roofing was put on over the back half of the greenhouse.


We also did other constructions and earthy creations on L’isola this year. The kitchen got a new back wall made of cob with added shelf space. “Jamie” made shelves from wood which morphed magically with the natural rock shelf outcropping that we use as a kitchen shelf. Cedar wood was added around the exposed perimeter to about waist height and an herb box was added to this new wooden wall. The kitchen looks and functions much better and shows a visible improvement.

Also gravel was added as a floor.

We did a version of waddle and dab using the yurt lattice and weaving sapling in and out of it. We smeared a cob mix into the weave which was made and completed the whole yurt like this. The yurt is now more accommodating for helpers and guests and us. We cut and hammered in cedar shingles onto the conical roof after “Jamie” came up with a method to reinforce the roof with braces. With both a structural and a stylistic motive in mind, two tree poles were added to the center of the roof. So there were completed projects this season, not to mention the countless small builds and repairs that are a part of this type of living. And of course, the garden needed daily attention and care. Quite a lot was accomplished.

There were set-backs this year, interpersonal ones and personal ones and resource ones, and how a group or person deals with setbacks is important. Setbacks are positive in the sense that they only happen when you are actually doing something. Dealing with them, how you deal with them, is an opportunity for future growth. I do not vibe with the thinking that a few tough turns means a negative outcome, and I posit that type of thinking only limits success.

Anyway, when the work season is done on the land, it is a good time to evaluate what was accomplished and to project and envision a future. At the end of the season you can do evaluations of general attitudes and working methods and see if they worked.

For example, at L’isola we didn’t go to extraneous social events and put in a consistent and sincere effort. If it were not for this, the season would have been a disaster. Through dedicated work and the efforts expending time and energy, the season was victorious. Maybe this is tooting our own horn, but from my experience with the people I have come into contact with, many would have succumbed to set backs. Instead of doing this, L’isola will continue to grow. If you are living such that what you do includes seasonal goals I highly encourage you to evaluate the season both for concrete progress and for general attitudes.

Before long everything will be hunkered down here at the island and we will be off to Hades. If you know us then you know where that is, if you meet us then you will know shortly after.

I wish everyone the best of luck and hope that current evaluations make the future more successful!

A special and heartfelt thanks to all of the helping hands this year!!!





  1. Who’s the deadbeat in the chair?

    • He’s this guru-type dude who imparts wisdom on the community all with a joking-laughing disposition. It’s hard to know if he’s mystical or just hysterical. ;)
      Much like the image of the laughing Buddha, he shows us the irony in our daily dramas by pointing out the hilarity therein.

  2. Very informative .. and so glad you made “concrete” progress…pun intended!

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