This house made of earth, this heart made of earth

I’m sitting by the rocket stove. An inverted 55 gallon steel drum, in which a brilliant design yet low-tech, ancient source of heat is providing my comfort. Far more heat radiated, stored, enjoyed than any other wood burning stove. I have Ianto Evans to thank, as well as Kiko Denzer. Local genius builders in the cob building movement. Cob, what is cob… I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m in the Kiva, a cob retreat building constructed over the summer of 2000. On our land, 25 acres of coastal rainforest bordering the Corvallis city watershed. Cob, a technique for building with earth, brought to Oregon and the United States by Ianto Evans, drawn from his native roots in Wales. County Devon boasts over 1000 cob cottages, many intact and inhabited for over 500 years. Yes, 500 years. Built from clay and straw, upon stone foundations, covered with thatch, outside treated with lime, these buildings last for generation upon generation. Ianto founded the Cob Cottage Company nearly 30 years ago, and has taught thousands the technique, spawning thousands of radical hand built houses.

Crackling fire calls my attention. I drop another piece of wood down the rocket. One of my favorite features in this rocket mass heater is the gravity fed firebox. The flue draws downward, across the horizontal firing chamber, then up and insulated internal chimney within the radiator drum. The resultant double burn results in near 100% clean combustion, only stream exiting the flue. Heat is stored in the earthen floor surrounding the horizontal exit flue. Most of these stoves have cob benches attached, heated to a cozy comfort. Here’s a great website with a cross section animation of the rocket mass heater in action.

My time in the Kiva is new. I’ve hardly spent time here, though I built the structure over 13 years ago. I never wanted to occupy the Kiva as residence anyway. It was to be a retreat, available for workshops, groups, events. But it sat empty, waiting for activities that didn’t happen, people that didn’t come. Too much of my time spent at the restaurant, getting lost in distraction, stress, addiction, conflict, in flight.

In 2012 my friend Zach decided he would move into the Kiva. Fix it up, inside and out, make it new again. He brought in housewares, a futon, lights, even a full fridge. He dug out a patio, a path, line with brick, laid gravel. We climbed the roof and capped a chimney which for 11 winters had let in the rains, damaging the cob. He was so excited, glowing, eager to show me how this building would become a home. His death that October shocked us all. The Kiva again became dormant.

Renting out our house last Fall, I really wasn’t sure where I would live. I set out on my last bicycle tour with a huge question looming, and my return was as confusing as ever. Then I came and visited the Kiva, where I’d stored all my belongings. Lit up a fire in the hearth, and unpacked a few things. Slept over a couple nights. Sounder, deeper sleep than in a long, long while. Dreams of epic scope, things happening in my soul.

The Kiva called me home.

More wood for the rocket. Mornings have been sweet, waking to see the sun beaming over the south treeline. Watching mist and fog lift. Deer, chipmonks, birds. And the quiet. So quiet here, in the woods, in the meadow, on the flanks of the mountain, Mary’s Peak. One night so quiet in the Kiva, I could only hear my breath, then my beating heart.

My inspiration has returned, and with it plans both great and ordinary. First, to repair: water line to the Kiva, drainage to dry the foundation, plaster for the cracked cob. Then to resume my practice. Writing, contemplation, more writing. And to share this space, to bring people to this place. To walk together on this land, to be connected with the earth, to heal, to renew, to invigorate.

To share the wonder of a building which seems to rise from the very ground, just as we all have risen.

This house made of earth, this heart made is earth.

2 thoughts on “This house made of earth, this heart made of earth

  1. Do you play to stay there indefinitely, or are you still renting it out? Three of my girlfriends and I, all artists, are looking for a place to get away for a couple of days. Just looking into the possibilities.

    1. Hello Becky! Thanks for your inquiry. And the answer is, yes, the Kiva is available for private rental. I’m just occupying it now as a personal retreat, as I envision many people would like to do. I’m working on repairs and rennovation over the next few weeks, but we should be able to host you soon! Write to me on Facebook…

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