The next steps in our earth oven construction were to make the door (out of a beautiful old plank), repair a bit of damage caused by dampness, and then create a layer of insulation with bottles and cob mixed with straw. The bottles I picked up at the Stater Bros market recycling center (let's just say, 29 is not a wine drinking town).
My 17 year old was enlisted to help, and it was a miserable job because the winds were gale strength, not kidding. We could barely get they hay mixed in, and had to hold the tarp down with large rocks. The weather is just crazy out here.
Now we have to put another layer of insulation on top. I'm hoping to use local clay for the last layer of cob.
On the first day of the FIG Artist Retreat my friend and expert earth oven maker came up to lead us in the construction of the first layer of the oven. We started by creating the insulated base: bottles covered with a cob mixed with perlite. Then we laid on the fire bricks. Next we made more cob mixture (clay plus sand plus water), formed into balls that were pressed against the sand void form. Later I cut the opening for the mouth of the oven. So fun! Everyone loved it, and we avoided the rain, which began falling the next day (we covered the oven with a tarp). Now it will dry for a while until I can get more clay for the insulation layer. Turns out we have absolutely no clay on our land, although there is some in the Basin.
There is only one other house on our dirt road. We can't see this house from our property because it is behind the dune. Two elderly bachelors live there, on a property similar to ours, from the 30s, surrounded by tamarisk trees and very isolated. We see the gentlemen drive by us occasionally. We've gotten to know them by bringing them a few hot meals, as they subsist mainly on tv dinners, and beer.
The elder man has lived there for 20 years. Now in his 80s, almost blind, he's still digging out his sceptic and chopping wood for the stove. He's planning to move into town soon. He told us his property may have originally been established by nuns who taught native people, and he can see the foundation of some kind of building near his well.
The younger of the two is a self taught sculptor. He finds gnarled wood and makes fantastical creatures: roadrunners, dinosaurs, hippos, seahorses. He paints them if he has paint, or draws on them with sharpies. A glassblower friend is bringing out some beads for him to use as eyes. The sculptor sells his work out of his car, and sometimes just drives around to take the creatures for a ride. We invested in one, and I love it.
We are a bit worried about these guys, as they live very much on the edge. The question is, how much to help?
We’re getting ready to host our second big event next weekend. Our first event, a family and friends Thanksgiving weekend, was overshadowed by the death of our friend. We made it through, but our minds were elsewhere. Looking back we can see how our guests enjoyed being around the bonfire, in the sunroom, and on the patio. People felt comfortable taking little walks around to explore. My sister and her friend even set up a tent in the back. It was exciting to see cars lined up in our parking lot.
Paella was successful. Made it on the BBQ but eventually hope to be able to use the earth oven for this dish, which I learned to make years ago in Spain.
Sunroom can hold quite a crowd.
Bonfire under the stars, using a drum horse feeder we found on our property.
Thanksgiving proper on the patio. The turkey didn't get done in time but luckily I also made a ham. My mom taught me never to shirk on food!
Anna does most of the writing. Ted does most of the photos. But sometimes we switch. We are repairing a distressed property in 29 Palms, California, and eventually hope to run an artist residency there.