Thursday, September 29, 2005

grading complete

thaddeus, our excavator, has completed all his work for the fall, leaving only the well to drill before we're done with the fall construction at destiny.

the meadow looks amazing stumped and smoothed. the circle in the original meadow is going to be really nice too. it's all graded and a bit muddy at the moment but even so standing on truly level ground puts the entire clearing into wonderful relief. i'll post pictures tomorrow.

Monday, September 26, 2005

grading progress

thaddeus is grading away. he's got three and half days work in and expects to be finished wednesday, a total of about six and half days work. the meadow is looking really nice. the image here is from roughly the view from the bathhouse. the space feels really great with all the stumps removed. i could start to imagine gardens, paths and faeries there. there is a big collection of boulders growing as thad grades that could be fun to use in the landscape.
from the bathhouse site

Saturday, September 24, 2005


i visited an ashram near montpelier a couple days ago. i fell in love with the place. it has so many of the features i'd like to see in the buildings at destiny: careful and loving construction, special details like hand-made doorknobs and hinges, the feel of strawbale (they actually used cob), the rounded windows and the organic window openings, the simple mechanisms for closing doors automatically, and the use of raw logs and branches for timber framing. it's hard to describe how wonderful this place feels, the peace and calm that a place like this brings. seeing a roof sliced open and within that a roof garden was simply amazing. they had composting toilets too.

on the way out we ran into one of the residents. she told us the place had been under construction for about forty years. it is a work in progress, clearly. there is another building that was hard to take pictures of--it's really more of a cave. it is a crack between two enormous pieces of ledge that has been roofed over with timbers. it reminded me of the kind of bathhouse cypress has spoken of. this place was a remarkable place to meditate. not unlike the house i felt completely held, but in this case by warm stone. clerostory windows peek out from the hillside and let very dim light in. there is a masonry stove that keeps the place warm and dry. the flue runs underneath the floor keeping it very warm to naked feet. she told us that in the winter the cave is warmer than the house and that they don't use the house in the winter. i thought that was interesting.
Image468 they cut the roof for a garden

Image457 inside the meditation space

Image455 window

Image462 the stove

Image473 a handmade hinge

Image471 timber framing

stumping and grading

i met our excavator, thaddeus, a couple days ago on the land. we went over what's to be done:
  • preparing the road to the septic field
  • stumping the meadow (which is now about three times larger)
  • grading the meadow to remove the larger undulations
  • creating a 50 foot diameter flat circle in the meadow
  • moving the stumps down below the septic field
  • removing old debris to below the septic field
  • preparing the well site
  • moving some wood chips and installing stone in the culverts
thaddeus expects to be finished with everything by the end of next week. next the well drillers will come and drill our well. we won't be getting water out of it, however, until the septic system is installed next spring.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Monday, September 19, 2005

the clearing is stunning

After a visit to the land over the weekend, I have to say the clearing for the new kitchen meadow is stunning, it's four times the size of our earlier clearing and there is plenty of sunshine and sky. It's intense to see such an open expanse of space at Destiny after these years under the canopy of trees. It's a bit harsh to take in at first but the land isn't all torn up and after stumping it will look very cool. The chip pile is HUGE. We'll have chips for whatever we want. I'm thinking the best use of them is to use them along trails and spots that have shown signs of erosion, spread them for use in making raised bed gardens, then spread the rest on the newly cleared area after it's stumped. I didn't check out the septic field area but it's also rather large and it has me thinking, what about using it for solar power as well. The other major bonus to the clearing was STARS.

Friday, September 16, 2005

more compost info

bambi forwarded this link to me. it's a nice summary of not only composting toilets but a number of alternative on-site wastewater treatment systems.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

clearing panoramas

here are a few panoramas of the clearing. click on the images for full sized versions. these are very wide!

before and after from the small parking area below the kitchen site

from the top of the meadow

a 360 degree pan at the kitchen site

land use meeting

the group responsible for overseeing development at faerie camp destiny, the land use planit, had a meeting last night and we decided to use this fall and winter to assess some new septic systems that are available to us rather than install the mound system this fall. we're putting the install off until spring because we may be able to save a substantial amount of money by installing the alternative system. we agreed that we will definitely install a system next spring as early as possible so that the new kitchen and bathhouse can be brought online next summer. we also discussed flush vs. compost toilets and came to no decision. at the fall gathering, land use will host an information and input circle on flush and compost toilets to help assess the community's thoughts.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

testing unit

Image444.jpegin the spirit of verification and testing, i've built a composting toilet for my own home. i'm going to see just how much work it is and how smelly one of these things gets inside with no ventilation. i'm taking out my flush toilet and putting this sleek, wavy unit in its place.

underneath the toilet seat is a 5-gallon bucket that receives offerings. a bin of sawdust next to it supplies cover material. when the bucket gets full i will put a lid on it and transport it out to my garden compost pile, dig a small pit in the pile for the contents, dump them and cover with coarse material like hay, leaves or straw.

even the roommates have agreed to give it a whirl. according to the humanure handbook we'll have between one and two buckets of material a week.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

cutting complete

i visited the land this morning. the loggers were not there. they have moved most of their equipment offsite. the chipper remains. it may be there to finish cleaning up. there is still some brush lying around in the upper clearing. i'm standing next to the chip pile. steam is rising off of it as it composts. i stuck my arm into it and it's very warm just a foot from the surface. it'll be interesting to see how fast it breaks down. there is quite a bit of leaf material mixed with the chips which i imagine is encouraging breakdown. i'll post more pictures of the finished cutting in the next couple days. chips


Saturday, September 10, 2005

humanure online

the humanure handbook is presented in its entirey online here. i highly recommend you take a look at this excellent book online if you have concerns about composting toilets.

Friday, September 09, 2005

cool woodiness

there is a building at farm and wilderness that i really like. i saw it years ago after a board meeting up at moss's but this time back i took pictures. funny that it has a dutch hip roof, the same kind we agreed to put on the kitchen, and it has a big porch with thick trunk columns. i wonder if i've been thinking of this all along?

here are a few pictures of it. i love the porch and the feeling the logs give.
on the porch
from the approach

possible sauna design

there's a mini-yurt at farm and wilderness that sits just downhill of the farmhouse. i thought it might make a really nice sauna. the sloped walls would be nice to recline against, the shape is nice for sitting in circle, the skylight up top would provide a hint of light during the day and make no intrusion at night. the yurt
the ceiling with skylight

farm and wilderness poop

i visited the farm and wilderness camp in plymouth, vermont yesterday. moss helped me find my way around as we inspected their composting toilets. i was particularly interested in how they smelled. i was pleased to find they didn't smell of anything other than sawdust, and i really stuck my nose right in the holes. camp season has just ended and some of them are full to the seat. so, i'm now more convinced that what i've read in the humanure handbook is true: that a big pile of crap can be rendered inoffensive with judicious use of sawdust.

the toilets are very simple structures, mostly made of hemlock or pine. some have ramps, others stairs. the chamber for the compost needs to be accessible for emptying and so all of them are raised off the ground. some take advantage of the slope, others are simply raised platforms. some have ventilation tubes that passively vent to the roof, others have screens around the chamber to let air in. i didn't notice any flies around.
a one-holer
beautiful interior with sawdust bin
moss on the throne of a two-holer

i haven't had a chance to talk with the people who manage the compost but i did find out that they empty them only once a year and re-compost the material in bins. when those cure, they use the compost on site.

the compost compartments were mostly made of cinder block set into the hillside, one side open for cleanout, a plywood door to keep the contents in during the summer.

i was particularly interested in this set up because it is approved by the state. i'm thinking that our current privy design could be replaced by something like these.

state of clearing

here are some pix showing the logging progress. the loggers are doing a great job of cleaning up after themselves. the septic area is almost finished and kitchen area is about 75% complete. from the top of the meadow
kitchen site from the road
logs ready to be trucked out
the mound clearing

Thursday, September 08, 2005

cutting near completed

i visited the land this afternoon. i'll post pix tomorrow. nearly all the cutting is complete. the septic area is completely cleared, just a few branches and a few odds and ends to clean up. the meadow area is covered in fallen trees and is being sawn into logs--still a little hard to get a sense of the space but there is so much more light coming in. it's feeling really good. the loggers expect to be finished mid-week next week.

i also visited the farm and wilderness camp in plymouth, vermont on the way home to check out their toilets, showers and handwashing stations. moss toured me around. i'll post pix and some description of their system tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


i've just finished reading this great book on composting crap: humanure handbook by joseph jenkins. we've been talking about composting toilets quite a bit recently in the design comet and land use (we've actually talked about them for about seven years!) and this book has really helped me understand what's involved in properly composting.

i have received word from our engineer that if we employ composting systems for our solid waste that we can reduce our water treatment system size by 35%. this translates into between $5,000 and $10,000 of savings. it also makes a lot of sense ecologically. not passing humanure into our water treatment stream means the system has to work a lot less, won't need replacing as soon and provides destiny with a stream of manure for gardens.

we will have to get a special permit to put the manure on the ground, but the tide may be turning on all of this as water and resources become more expensive. the us department of health has given its nod and some states have acknowledged the value in finding alternatives to the flush toilet. this becomes especially salient when you consider that only 3% of the planet's water is fresh water and that 2/3 of that is frozen. so, only 1% of the planet's drinkable water is free and about 1/5 of the human population lacks access to it. now consider that about 45% of water used in american households is to flush toilets and you can begin to see how wasteful our current sewage system is. our consumption runs very much along the lines of our consumption of fossil fuels: reckless and unsustainable. if everyone on the planet had a flush toilet we'd very quickly have no drinking water.

so, for destiny, i'd like to float the idea of eliminating all the flush toilets. the privy, which is currently designed as a double vault storage system into which feces and urine simply collect and decompose anerobically (a.k.a. stinkily) could be replaced by simple to build and very inexpensive composting toilets. farm and wilderness camp in bridgewater, vermont has such a system and obtained permits to "dispose" of their compost on site. if we stay with a privy, we would have to hire a septic hauler to pump it, which amounts to a big toilet flush (and expense) because the waste gets sent to the municipal waste treatment center and subsequently dumped in a river.

the one flush toilet in the kitchen could be replaced by some kind of composting arrangement. it also may be possible to eliminate the kitchen toilet altogether. the privy or composter (whichever happens) will be handicapped accessible and capable of handling all of destiny's poop. we ended up with a toilet in the kitchen originally becuase the state requires one near any "restaurant" kitchen. it's still not clear yet whether destiny's kitchen is a restaurant kitchen, but a toilet facility in the kitchen building also serves as a cold-weather option and a more easily handicapped accessible option, so it probably makes sense to keep it. but, we've always talked about it as a low use station and i don't think it makes sense to lose $5-10k in saving for the priviledge of flushing especially if it's use is going to be discouraged at gatherings.

the reduced water flow may also impact our well and reduce cost there. we may be able to use smaller components both in the pump and storage system as well as the solar system.

i will be talking further with our engineer and researching myself the rules and regulations in vermont. it can be frustrating talking to state wastewater folks because they're bound by lots of rules and information that are proving to be less than ecologically sound. the past few years here in white river junction there have been mishaps upstream with sewage treatment that causes notices to go out discouraging swimming in the river. in larger cities this happens much more often. for instance, in los angeles, between 1993 and 2002, there were 3000 sewage spills. it's baffling that this kind of thing is seen as acceptable while simple and safe composting is seen as a threat.

there's lots more info on composting that i'll pass along later.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

clearing progress

i visited the land today to see how the loggers were doing. clearing is going smoothly. the space is beginning to take shape. lots more light is pouring in. the odd thing to me was how much smaller the cut made the space feel and how much taller the trees seem when standing by themselves. i'll be heading back on thursday, most likely, to check in again.

the chip pile is huge and growing. it has a beautiful shape to it. start thinking of things to do with chips!

most of the septic site is cleared, with the exception of a small corner. it too seems much smaller than i thought it would.
the kitchen site
trimming branches
the chip pile
russell, the logger
unloading logs at the parking lot
pan of the kitchen/bathhouse site

Thursday, September 01, 2005

construction begins

i'm happy to announce that the logging company arrived on the land today with their equipment to start clearing. they'll be working for a couple weeks preparing the land for our excavator who will come in after them to prepare the water and sewage systems.

i'll be visiting the land every few days to check in on their work and i'll be snapping pix. i've taken a set of "before" panoramas so that we can compare.

the forwarder (backside)
the forwarder (front)

the chipper