Last week, we interns trekked down the road a piece to Carol Thompson's house: a fantastically high-tech, site-specific, super-efficient creation of Robert Riversong. Her house is a model of elegant design that smartly stacks functions and utilizes innovative technologies, materials and building methods to slash both energy and cost inputs. It was truly impressive to visit her home and both see and feel how so many of the ecological design principles Yestermorrow teaches and preaches can be manifested in a wonderfully comfortable and low-cost structure. Here are some of the special features of Carol's home:
* Frost protected, insulated slab foundation is “greener” than a full foundation
* Radiant heat floors in upstairs and downstairs zones
* Solar orientation – large windows on south allow sun in to heat thermal mass of concrete floor/slab in winter; overhangs provide shade in summer
* Airlets in each room and bathroom fans with timers for full-house ventilation
* Larsen truss framing system with rough sawn local hemlock
* Upstairs space is independent of downstairs (gasket on door, separate heat, ventilation)
* No plastic vapor barrier – used special primer on all inside walls for vapor barrier
* No window trim on outside or inside of house cuts costs but looks great
* Structural "novelty" siding thicker means sheathing underneath not needed
* Continuous insulation envelope – blown cellulose insulation is also treated with borate for fire retardation and critter-proofing
* Tile work acts as a heat shield for wood stove, tub surround, shower walls, window sills
* Chimney blocks dry stacked with mortar on outside
* Cost of house was approximately $100 per square foot!!

This weekend, I hosted my sister, Anna, at Yestermorrow. She came up to ski and stayed with me on campus for a few days. Much as I was inspired by Carol Thompson's home, my sister oohed and ahhed her way around the Yestermorrow campus. She wanted her picture taken in the treehouse, she exclaimed that the wooden pegs and cob bench in the timberframe cabin were "really cool," and she was duly impressed by the lack of any offensive odor issuing from the [very full] humanure toilet in my living quarters in the chalet. When she left, she commented on how refreshingly different everything and everyone was here compared to "back home" in suburban Philadelphia. If only we can get more urban and suburbanites thinking about how their built environment and communities can better relate to and work within the balance of nature...

Which brings me to the owl I encountered today. I was walking at dusk, when I saw a large, fluffy, gray bird wing across a field and alight on an electric wire. When I recognized the bird as an owl, and I felt overwhelmed with good fortune and awe. "You're beautiful!," I exclaimed aloud to the bird. In response, the creature cocked its head and peered at me with its piercing eyes. Beauty, grace and elegance collided in the timeless gaze of this animal, which seemed to say both, "I know," and "What are you doing here?" My answer: I am yet striving to learn how to achieve the natural harmony and balance that you, owl, so perfectly embody.