Sunday, July 24, 2016

exploring possibilities

When we were planning the programme for the Junior Young Friends Camp we found ourselves inundated with offers from Friends to lead sessions to the extent that we found ourselves turning down and restricting offers. That was certainly one of the plus points of planning a camp to overlap with Yearly Meeting, there were so many Friends on hand who wouldn't usually all be in the same locale. But we also had lots of interest and support from Friends on Waiheke Island where we were to spend the first 5 days and as it turns out we could probably have filled our programme with them alone, which is encouraging for future years planning!

At our Monthly Meeting Residential Gathering at the end of April I got a very enthusiastic invitation from Ian for the JYFs to visit the Eco Village on Waiheke where he lived and get a guided tour. Well I wasn't sure what the JYFs (aged 13-16) would think of the idea but I was certainly interested! And thankfully the rest of the planning team figured it was worth going too.

I must admit I was a little apprehensive as to how it would go. I hoped Ian's passion would be contagious and that the JYFs would at least humour someone old enough to be their granddad and wouldn't find it boooooooooring.... They were pretty quiet when those showing their homes and explaining how they were built etc asked them questions, so it was hard to know how much they were engaging with what they were seeing. But then around a corner they spotted the house built into the hillside, 'a hobbit house'! It was like opening the flood gates; they were a babbling brook of ideas and dreams cascading in all directions. By the time we got back to Friends House they had planned 'Quobbiton' where they'd all live together in a variety of earth houses all off grid, using electric vehicles, and bringing up their children in a rural idyll; which whilst owing a lot to Awaawaroa Village in design and setting would definitely have a decent internet connection and be within mobile phone signal! And I have to say I'm with them on that caveat. Also my personal vision of such a community would have it a lot closer to public transport, shops and services.

I was impressed, once again, with what is possible with earth houses. The possibilities for individual design and artistry combined with ages old techniques which have withstood the tests of time really appeals. There's a very homely feel to the spaces they enclose that must speak to some ancestral memory. I was horrified to learn though of the new building code restrictions which mean if building large enough to need planning permission you can no longer re-use old joinery such as window casements. Given the vast amount of such building material available for re-use in this country from Christchurch it seems a criminal waste of resources. But with a land built house of 10 square meters or less (ie not needing planning permission) the loo has to be in a separate building or accessed from outside if attached, and I have to say as a regular nocturnal visitor to the facilities that severely limits their appeal for me, but I guess I could get used to a night-time commode.

A question I would've loved to have asked but didn't being mindful of the fact that we were there for the JYFs benefit rather than the adults, was how did those living in that remote valley with a very labour intensive lifestyle plan to manage if life found them without the physical ability to cope with what was needful to keep everything running effectively let alone efficiently. As someone with varying health and ability to manage our 1/4 acre section I have found out more than once that weeds are no respecter of energy limitations, and cooking your food from scratch is all very well when fit and healthy, but it is quite another matter when you're only up to foraging for instant sustenance rather than starting from raw ingredients. They said themselves it isn't a lifestyle that often appeals to young adults, so can they find enough folk whose situation is perhaps like mine (minus their own chronic health issues!) who can be the live-in help? I'm figuring most conventional home helps would baulk at getting to some of the locations (even now travel time is paid) let alone dealing with composting toilets in outbuildings and working within the ecological footprint of their clients in a manner that sustains the buildings rather than destroys their wonderful finishes.

Maybe in another twenty years there'll be an accessible corner or Quobbiton where I can park up my tiny house; be surrounded by young families, with an earth-built community space where we can all get together. I'd get to allo(grand)parent the children and there'd be folk there to chop wood for me and help with the heavier gardening tasks. Sounds pretty good I reckon. Now if we can just find that miraculous middle-of-nowhere-yet-close-to-town site we'll be sweet...

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