FIRST EARTH | Uncompromising Ecological Architecture

Bridget & Ellie Miner

BRIDGET: About 14 years ago, I didn't have a roof over my head. I got divorced, and I had bout $4000. And I felt that I had choices. I refused to feel that I had to take the advice of well-meaning family and friends that said I had no choices, and said what I should do is pursue my career, give my daughter to my parents to raise, and make money, and have a lot of materialistic security. I just felt like there were other choices.

So, when I really looked deeply into it, I felt that I wanted to raise my daughter, and the only way I was going to do that, really, was to live very simply, and if I was going to home-school her, I was going to somehow have flexibility all around me, somehow. So, one of the things that was most important was to get that roof over her head, and that was one of my first decisions.

I was again advised by those friends and family to get a little mobile home, and park it either here, on my parents' property, where I'm at, or somewhere else. And I just didn't want to. I felt that I had learned a way of building a house. I had taken the first Cob Cottage cob workshop, and had learned how to build cob. And I felt that if my parents had said I could park a mobile home on their property, why not build my own little house?

So I did! And it was started on May 5, my birthday, and that's when the land was not cleared, and we came in and cleared the land, and then I started building it, pretty much by myself, but my parents helped with some of the woodwork. And 4 months later, I moved in, and I've been living happily ever after! So it was a very quick process, and it was never regretted. It was wonderful.

I think of the mobile house, once in a while, thinking what it would have been like to live in one of those boxes, and there's just no comparison.

Well, when I started building the house, I had neighbours and friends of my parents come, pull out a chair, sit down, with my dad, and just watch me. And, honestly, they laughed. Because they didn't know anything about cob. It was not something they could understand from my explanation. There I was, treading in the mud, and it just didn't make any sense to them. And so they watched, they laughed. And it didn't make me feel very good or comfortable, but I was doing what I had decided to do, and I'm very stubborn, so I had my agenda to do.

And I'll never forget the day when I was standing on the little projection there from the wall that's just about 6 inches wide, or so, and I was standing on top of it it's a little shelf in order to pound some cob in about 6 feet higher. And I was jumping up and down on it to pound the cob in 6 feet higher. And my dad was there with a spectator that day, and it was the pivotal point. He said, "My gosh, cob is strong!" And just to see that light bulb go off, and to have changed his mind on something that was already in my heart, was really a very sweet moment.

But eventually everybody came and saw my house, and all were amazed. And although I can't say that my parents' friends are the type of people that would go out and say, oh let's build a cob house, I can say that all of them saw the merit in what I did, and all of them understood the decision I made. And crazy decisions I made subsequently, they weren't going to shoot down quite so quickly. Because I think once you can convince people of your own feelings and your convictions, if they can see the merit of it, they're going to understand a little better and have more respect for you. And that changes your whole life.

So, to make it very brief, cob was the first thing I did after I got divorced, it was done in a very independent sort of way, because you can do cob alone or with a community around you. I didn't have community, because I didn't know people here in Dallas [Oregon] when I moved here. And it was the beginning of something beautiful, which was my own independence.

I've never since then doubted who I am, because when you follow that first crazy dream, which cob was for me, why should you have doubts about anything else that you have inside you, other dreams you have? So, I tended to think that cob is strengthened who I am, and that strength is shown to everybody who comes and visits, whether it's for a few minutes, or days, or old friends or new friends. I think they feel the strength of this house, because that's what was put into it, was my own strength. And it's a testament every day to me that I did it, I can do it, and I can do just about anything, if it's a good goal, go for it.

So, yay, cob!

BRIDGET: Since that experiment was early on, I realized that all I really cared about in this house, which I built in a very short period of time, was that hopefully, most of the decor and the materials would be natural. And I think when you do that, you don't really have to pay attention to much else to make a very comfortable, aesthetically pleasing home. When I look at my house, I see a floor that was made with the wood from the pasture I cleared for my parents' horses. And the windows were all gifts, lots of recycling, about 22 glass windows were just donated by various friends that just became a quilt within the house, a little patchwork quilt.

I wove the pillows I'll never weave again! Blech! But it was a fun project to try that. And one thing leads to another. It doesn't have to be fast, and things can be replaced and modified. And you don't have to feel, I certainly don't feel that I have to have a beautiful home in any conventional sense, so I'm not trying to create some other person's look. But for my simple lifestyle, just putting simple things together, that's who I am, and that's what I'm comfortable in.

I have to say that when we first built, my parents did say, "Well, this is just for a couple years, until you get your career going." [Laughs]. So I built very quickly, with that in mind, and not very big, also thinking that Ellie was only 4 years old, she didn't need a big space, I didn't need much room. And so, as we grew more in love with our house, and the property, and my parents, and the whole shebang, our needs grew, too, and Ellie needed her own bedroom, so we added on when she was how old were you then?

ELLIE: I was 9!

Well, I think it's been a very cool experience to grow up in a cob house. Very unique, but it's been very nice. I love our house. And, as for how other people view our house, the friends I have chosen to bring to our house have all loved it! They've all thought it was, like, totally awesome and totally cool, and "Wow, this is an amazing house!" But I can't say that I can have just anyone come to my house. Because, I'm home-schooled, but I do have activities at the [local] high school. So I know some of the high school kids. And I wouldn't want just anybody to come and see an alternative house. They might blow their minds a little bit [laughs]. But I really like our house. It would be very different to grow up, like she said, in a little rectangular 'mushroom house'.

BRIDGET: We call 'mushroom houses' the houses that spring up overnight.

No, I think you're not really able to put it in words, maybe, because it's hard to talk about yourself, but Ellie's grown up knowing how to start up a wood stove and make kindling, and was always in love with matches and fire, and cooks, and she's a great woodworker, she made the backgammon set, and t that about yourself. I think that's what you are, and that's not what many people your age are, because I think they go to school the 8 hours, and they sit at the desks, and they don't develop quite as many hobbies. Ellie was knitting and modifying patterns, and taught herself how to knit, practically, when she was 4 years old. And these are the sort of things you don't even understand are so different than the normal kiddo.

I just think people, if they really go with their inner feelings, they can do so much. And cob is the perfect medium for anybody to build with. I would like to see people who feel they can't build a home get exposed to cob and realize that they can build it and just add such quality to their lives.