FIRST EARTH | Uncompromising Ecological Architecture

Meka Bunch & Dragonfly

MEKA: This house has been quite a process. For me, I didn't own the land, and Dragonfly's been here since 1981, raised 7 children here. When I came to Oregon, I was pretty much at a time in my life when I was ready to just cast myself out into the wind. I think I was 26 or 27, just going into my Saturn return. I moved here and met Dragonfly. We immediately clicked and decided to do a spinning business, spinning yarns, fibres.

It was interesting because when I came to Oregon, I had all these dreams of settling some place and gardening and monasticizing myself and finding all the answers to the universe in the process! And what's interesting is that completely another set of events that the universe had conspired to help me carry forth, happened.

And that was meeting Dragonfly, and meeting all these other people, and connecting with all this information on the Markaba, the Mayan Calender Change Peace movement, and the hemp spinning, and rebirthing, and Re-evaluation Co-Counselling, and delivering babies! And so my world expanded very much in no way the way I had imagined. I had pictured it more monastic, more solitary, and it was very far from that.

You know, it's fine and dandy to go off in the country and do your whole thing and plant your garden, but then you look around and you go, Oh my gosh, there's no one to help me! Or, There's no one to eat the food with me! You know, what's the point? I think we're social creatures, and we thrive off of that interplay. I think that relationship is what sparks our growth and our ever-expanding selves.

But it was great, because we just trapsed around up and down the whole Pacific Northwest coast. It wasn't too long after, I think it was within the first few days of meeting that Dragonfly starts talking about cob. And I had very, very briefly heard about cob through a little magazine... It talked about the $500 House, which is the Cob Cottage Company's first building. And, you know, I put it in my van, and go off to Oregon, thinking, Oh well, maybe if I just happen to be in that area where these people are, I'll go check it out, just out of curiousity.

And no sooner do I meet Dragonfly, and she starts talking about cob, and I pull out the magazine, and You mean this? And they were only 2 hours away, and Dragonfly had done a workshop with them.


I had been in a car wreck, and was recovering from that. I took a workshop on Lesquite Island, and most of the workshop, I was just about crying with pain in my body, and trying to get around. And I realized, this is something I really want to be a part of, and yet, physically, I wasn't going to be able to. So that's when I started thinking about, it would be nice to connect with someone who had the physical part of it.

And so I had just come home from Canada. This was like the first week, and I met Meka. So it was just non-stop for that whole year. The next few years! Hot springs, barter fairs, delivering babies, just reading out loud, learning to crochet, just do anything we wanted.


Yeah, we went up to Cottage Grove, and we saw some of the buildings there. Cob Cottage's first location was Rowe River Farm, and there was a dining hall there called the Cherry House, and we went and looked at that. I signed up for a 1-week long cob workshop, and then I paid for half of that workshop, and afterwards, I stayed and cooked for a one-week workshop to pay for the remainder. And then I was so excited about it that I stayed and participated in another 2-day workshop on floors and plasters. And that was it! That was the extent of my formal training.

And then, I knew, even though we didn't own the land, that I just wanted to do it. And I had lots of friends that were moving around, they were looking for the perfect place, the perfect community to build, everything had to be just right. And then we had other friends that had land, but there were only 2 people on it, and they needed people to help them, and I was thinking about it, going, Well, what's wrong with this picture here? There are people that want people to come, and there are people that want places, but everyone's just waiting around for the right person.

And for me, I feel like, first of all, no matter where you go, no matter how perfect you think it is, everything comes up in the face of love, everything comes up. And nothing is perfect. And so, I decided to just do it where I am, be in community where I am. And I wasn't going to let that stop me from building. And I wanted to build while I was excited and ready and had that momentum going.

Well, as soon as I started to build this, this was my college, it was like my own thesis project. And so, I was very clear, because we didn't own the land, that this was going to be a give-away house. I didn't know whether we would be able to stay here. You know, it just wasn't a situation where we owned the land, and could say that we would be here.

And so, the whole process along the way has been a surrender. A surrender to building for the sheer passion of it, and putting that work and that heart into it, in spite of not knowing whether I was going to be here. Another thing was a surrender to where the materials were going to come from. And very much so, I felt like I was just facilitating a process of this house kind of growing. And it was really a magical process. And so I think it was the process, as much as the actual finished result. And so I can take that with me. Anywhere I go, I can build. I can do this again. Yes, it was a definite labour, and I love this house. But it's not something that I can't do again.

It was just really exciting, to be able to do something that I had never done before. You know, I didn't have any carpentry experience. And then, also, surrender, the whole process was a surrender. I didn't have a car at the time. I didn't have much money. Everything in this house is pretty much salvaged, until later in the process, when I did have money, and that was where it was the right exact moment when I needed to have materials, was when I was actually working and had the money to pay for them.

And so I bought the materials for the roof, like the membrane for the living roof and the tongue-and-groove cedar boards for the ceiling, and things like that. But for the most part, everything was salvaged, and, you know, we hauled gravel in the back of Dragonfly's little station wagon. Almost everything up to the roof, everything was hauled in the little Toyota station wagon.

Upstairs, the plaster inside, on the walls, it was prayed over, over many different Native American Church meetings that happened in California where I lived. And so after all those meetings were over, I swept up all the sand, and I brought it with me here, and I plastered the inside of the walls. So in the walls are these little flecks of embers, and it's just amazing magic to feel and to know that those walls, the sand in it, has been prayed over, and a lot of intention and connection to the people that I love are in those, the pores of that earth.

So this house here on the land, it's fairly small. It's only really big enough for Dragonfly. There's a main kitchen there, and a main bathroom there, and so what we really needed here was an extra space. Originally, we thought about it being a spinning studio, like an extra place to be doing crafts and things, away from the house, away from the phone, and the hustle and bustle of kids and things like that.

But it was also very apparent that we needed some form of personal space for me. And so, this became a combination, you know, multi-purpose dwelling. And I had learned through Cob Cottage to build very small, to try to build smaller than what you think you need. It was a great process of determining what I would be doing in the space, and what my needs were, what the needs were if other people were here.

And even so, this space actually reflects what my vision was of where I wanted to be going to. Whether or not I ended up going in that direction is another story, because people's lives move and change. So I designed the house with things in mind, like I have a window that's on the south side that has shelving in it for sprouting wheatgrass and other things, like seeds and things. And there's a little warm nook that has a good spot for sourdough cultures and yoghurt cultures and kefir.

And so, I was thinking, even though I wasn't necessarily fully doing those in my life in a daily routine, integrated into my life, I was planning for how I wanted to live my life. And building those nooks and those places into the house, so that I could incorporate those better into my life.

And I haven't actually lived a full annual cycle in this house. And so, I've yet to really experience this house as a working organism. And I'm really exited to be in this house in that kind of setting, because there are just certain things.

The clear storey upstairs is designed so that the morning sunlight comes in, and hits the bed, and wakes you up like a natural alarm clock. And there's a system in which it will work most efficiently, as far as heating and cooling the house. It's a very big plate glass window. And so, in the summertime, you have it open at night, you let the sun wake you up, you get up, and you draw the shade, so that it won't continue to heat the house. In the wintertime, you keep it closed at night, so that it holds the heat in, and then wake up in the morning, the daytime, you draw the shades so that the sun is coming in and helping to heat the house.

So it's those kind of qualities that really excite me about living in a house, whether it's a cob house, or any house for that matter. If you have it positioned where it's passive solar design, it's like a little ship, it's like a little dance that you do in the space, and the more in tune you are with it, the more efficient it gets.

Actually, this house was really a fun experiment in planning in all the little exciting things that I could. Like the compost chute going through the wall. The PVC pipe goes through, and then it connects to a hood, that affixes to the tube, and then to a bucket, so it's a closed system. The little altar nook over there has a mirror in the back of the niche, and the mirror is actually angled forwards so that when you have a light, a lamp, in that nook, it casts the light down, onto the table that's sitting in front. So those little things are really exciting.

And I think it took that, kind of just hanging out in this space and really thinking about things, and not building too fast.

Actually, originally, I wanted this house to be everything done custom-made for this building. Like, I wanted to weave the fabric for the cushions, and I wanted to make pottery, I wanted to make plates for the kitchen, you know, things like that. We could take it to crazy extremes. But it was kind of along the vision of a Frank Lloyd Wright building, or something, where some of the furniture is actually made for that space, and I love that idea, too. I love that about these kind of buildings, were they are.

Well, the original design, there was a 16-foot diameter yurt that was in this spot, where this building is. I originally thought about it being that circle, with a little spur off of that, that was a little kitchen area. And then I laid out a garden hose to be able to do the footprint of the building, so I could walk around it, and go, Okay, is this what I want? And it was very clear that it was much larger than what I needed, actually. So I, you know, just kept making it smaller, and spiraling that wall in, which became the stairwell up to the loft.

But one of the main principles in design that I find really exciting when you build small, is to have defined spaces marked through, not necessarily having a big wall there, that closes one space off from another. In the case of the stair wall, this is all one room, but the stair wall defines this space, the living room space from the kitchen space, but you can still look through. You can still look past it. There's a physical barrier, but not a visual barrier. And I think that's very important. Another way to define space is with colour. And in this case, this living room area steps up a little, so because of the step up, you're in a different little room.

I wanted it to be multi-functional, in the sense of, when somebody's cooking, I wanted somebody else to be at the table, or hanging out at that little eating area, or people here in the living room, and be able to interact. That was important for the people that are doing things like cooking, that we're all socially together. So very much this is a space to be social in, for sure, but there are very much defined spaces.

One thing, I don't believe that putting our human waste into water, and then trying to extract it from the water, so that we can drink it makes any sense at all. So, as far as that goes, humanure composting is the way to go. Also, especially with vegetable compost. When you put the two together, a lot of heat is generated, and actually, when you put human poop in with your compost, it actually activates it even more, and it breaks down faster. And so I just think that that's the way to go.

And so eventually, I would like to build an above-ground 2-chamber composting toilet, or, at bare minimum, just a regular bucket toilet, which in some ways, is actually the easiest, because you're dealing with small amounts that you then put into a compost pile, and as long as you have enough adequate cover material, there's no smell, you can keep it inside.

There's a spot actually upstairs in the loft, I have a little closet, and the idea has been kicked around to put a little bucket toilet in there, just to have it in there at certain times, like in the winter, or something, when it's really cold, and you don't want to go outside to the toilet.

You know, I think a little courtyard, that little courtyard with the tub and the shower and maybe a little composting outhouse would be a great little addition to this place. But there's no reason it needs to be inside. Also, if you build those things outside, where they're centrally located, you can have other units, other people, that have little houses like this, and you can share those main services. And that way, you're not replicating the same thing over and over again. There's no reason, really, that we should be having multiple showers on the same piece of property.