A Season of Building Community- oh, and a really cool earth sanctuary came of it!

cottageYep, we built a building- what we now refer to as the ‘by product’ of what we really built, which is a fantastic and supportive community of women and a larger community of downright awesome folks who have changed our lives. And of course it was harder than any of us imagined back then in the little gem of a sweet vision. Yet we all embraced the down and dirty reality of rainy days, ankle deep in the mud, pulling tarps on and off to protect our work, while scurrying to put tools to dry safety. And me, the optimist that it wasn’t going to rain AGAIN as the lightning and sideways rain was suddenly upon us! Then someone remembering their tent flap was open and dashing for the woods to secure home from the wet fury that lasted anywhere from 10 minutes to the rest of the day. And yes, 11 women together 24/7 sharing meals, sharing space, sharing coping mechanisms and pushing in on each other’s comfort zones for four months. And in the end we all cried at some point, saying repeated goodbyes and ”thank god I will see soon” to those who paths would cross soon or just because goodbye is too finite, to avoiding goodbye altogether. Nope, we couldn’t imagine life without this newfound sisterhood. So now we are scattered to the winds, still drawing on the experience and reaching out as needed, while stepping back into, or diving forward into knowns and unknowns and whole new sets of farther reaching hopes and fears.

For me, back in May I stepped into the role of lead instructor willing and not fully able. I was managing a site, a site host, a building host, logistics of camp and instruction of 8 excited women with all their hopes and expectations. I had two fantastic assistants who put in more hours than imaginable and I put in more than that. I have never had a mirror so closely shoved up to the tip of my nose, well, since raising a child anyways. I wanted so much to come to fruition for this spectacular group of women and was pained by the ways I felt that I came up short. But something magical happened in collapsing into the conflict, sense of failure, and crisis of not possibly being able to hold so much. At some point I stepped more gently and more fully into my sense of great humility and courage of the heart. And at some point the collective wisdom and generosity of the group came forth with such beauty and we all felt a great sense of accomplishment, humility, hope and deep love for ourselves and one another. All while workin’ on a building.


Community timber frame raising of porch bent


Another amazing element of this experience was how community reached far beyond our apprenticeship community and how that still carries on. Right now there is a group of local folks who are continuing to check on the building and work on the unfinished pieces of the project. And there were those who came by on their daily walks in the ‘neighborhood’, who drove by and stopped to say hello because they heard about the project. And those who checked on us regularly to see our progress and jumped in for a few hours or a day. Most amazing was the Natural Building Workshop which brought in 30 more people and lots of great energy for a whole week and the ongoing Saturday work parties that arouse from that event. It’s amazing to create a container for people to come, learn a little bit, while actually giving so much. Sharing knowledge, vision, laughter, music, good food and beverage. People love to have a common goal and know they can participate in something greater than themselves and everyone is filled! And for the apprentices, it was a beautiful experience and an empowering realization of just how much they had learned and how much they had to share with others! And let’s be honest here, mud is infectious and induces giddiness and raising timber frames is just downright empowering.

So here soundly sits our Women’s Appalachian Earth Sanctuary, almost ready to shelter and nourish women activists and artists from all corners of the planet. If you would like to support this project you can make a donation at kleiwerks.org and even directly support your favorite artist or activist in having  time to rest , renew and create.

The building itself is a timber frame structure with light straw infill, solidly protected with earthen plasters and a beautiful slate roof. The interior has a sleeping loft and earthen floor, with lovely bottle art and a sculpted niche. There is a lovely timber framed porch to sit on and watch out onto the lake while visiting  with the many squirrels and birds. The heart and soul of many poured into this building, while sharing visions of hope for the planet (and let’s be real, many a dirty joke and bad pun).
So next year’s WASI apprenticeship in New England will reap the benefits of this year’s steep learning curve, more space for greater understanding and sharing of knowledge, more knowing of how to empower a group and have fun with conflict and diversity and an exciting amount of music, great food, laughter and tears, frame raising and mud slinging! But the richness of this first year apprenticeship will likely outshine all for the willingness and courage to stay on for the whole ride! I love you ladies! Thank you for your courageous willingness.


Rest in Peace PJ


I also want to say ”see you later” to our natural building buddy, PJ, who I was so honored to meet at our Natural Building Workshop this July. He died last week from stomach cancer, back in Cincinnati with his friends and family. He showed up at our workshop not feeling well and not knowing what was happening in his body, but suspecting something was not right. Through that he still brought such quiet joy to the workshop with his kind and thoughtful presence. I had very moving and deeply heartfelt conversations about life with him and he was very into giving and receiving lots of hugs. He was at times my ground during that week!  He shared his artistic gifts of art and music with us. And he shared his heart and vulnerability. Thank you PJ for touching me so deeply in such a short span of time. You are a beautiful soul and I can only imagine how missed you are by those who knew you deeply.

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