Experimenting with the Earth

1 Feb

Since we decided to build our desert home of adobe blocks (‘bricks’, for Aussies), we almost always ‘see’ blocks in our minds as we pass naked ground. A hint of color, texture, even patterns can invoke an almost sensuous feel for how a bucket full of that earth will shape into a block, then into a wall.

The only way to truly ‘know’ is to become immersed. One doesn’t learn how to play a song on a guitar by reading a book. One has to pick up a guitar, press strings against the neck,  pluck the strings, hear and feel the notes, then string those notes  all together. To know is to experience. As one immerses in the music, one begins to know the music, even by reading the notes on a paper. The same applies for making adobe blocks, or anything from earthen materials. Feel the dirt, get it wet, roll it in a ball, squeeze it, shape it, add components to it to change it and repeat.

That is what we do.

At first, I am more driven by aesthetics. The earth has to ‘speak’ to me. And then we become acquainted. An arroyo north of the Big Bend National Park is a long winding path of black volcanic sand. It has captured me since I first saw and felt it. It ‘spoke’ to me. I have taken long walks  on it, read the stories of other creatures that have used this arroyo for trails, and been entranced in a downpour as the black sand glistens and shines like broken black glass.

Following the Black Road

Of course, we had to see what adobe blocks would be like made of the black sand. And we did. I put together a video to demonstrate how one can make test blocks of any earth that attracts them, or that may meet the requirements for making adobe blocks. I am beginning to suspect that few locations are exactly perfect for making the perfect blocks. A base can be amended with additional sand and/or clay; blocks can be stabilized with cement or asphalt emulsion to impart weather-proofing. And it may take more than one block, or one mix, to determine the right ratio and mixture.

But that’s what this is all about. Experimentation, experience, immersion and learning. It is a journey. And it’s fun along the way.

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