The Power of a Wood Floor
A new wood floor was recently installed in a building that has a rich 32 year history and that wood floor has transformed not just the building but the people who built it. The floor represents an artistic achievement that includes all of the intentions and actions that preceded it and then it transcends them as it carries us to a new level of becoming. It is a living artifact that has a physical component, an emotional one, a skillful one and a spiritual one as well. It is proof of a word that my mentor, Bucky Fuller made sure we understood, and that word was ‘synergy’ which he defined as’ behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately. ‘
In the summer of 1977 a group of naive, enthusiastic, idealists decided to build a building that would integrate all of the ideas they had learned about how to live sustainably aboard spaceship earth. There would be an opening ceremony, but instead of it being called a ‘ground breaking’ ceremony it would be a ‘tree planting’ ceremony. In the place of shovels and hard hats we would play our guitars and drums and form a circle and when it came to opening remarks we read passages from Wendell Berry like this one:
There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say "It is yet more difficult than you thought." This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
And we read Rumi poems and spoke of how important it was that we try to make the world work for 100% of humanity without harming the natural world.
In other words we were in for the ride of our lives.
Our Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center would be an earth insulated, solar and wind powered, wood heated building that was designed and located to maximize passive and active solar aspects and would be built using our reconditioned 2 KW Jacobs wind generator. We applied for a grant from the U.S government’s Energy Resource and Development Administration. So with the news that we would be receiving $14,800 we called our friends and neighbors and threw a party.
We had conducted three years of alternative energy workshops and had made a number of artifacts (Darius and Savonius wind generators, methane digesters, solar bear can panels ect.) that mostly didn’t work, but for reasons that could only be explained by our youthful exuberance and pig headed determination, we sallied forth into that ‘impeded stream’ that Wendell spoke of.
It took us three years, over one hundred volunteers, two more grants, and a thousand and one humbling defeats to get it close enough to open it in January of 1980.
Richard Buckminster Fuller, renowned 20th century inventor and visionary, gave the opening address in our packed to capacity, new building. He told us to ‘not get carried away with ourselves’ to not let the ‘little me’ run the show but instead to honor the ‘big me’ who is here to problem solve and to make the world a better place. He spoke for over two hours taking us on a journey that included ‘corporate pirates’ doing ‘more with less’ and playing ‘world game’. When he was finished some of the middle school children from our sister organization Upland Hills School sang ‘Let it Be’ and Bucky spontaneously got up and sang a song he had written to the tune of Home on the Range called ‘Rome home to a Dome’. It was a transcendent evening that still has a potent effect on me some 32 years latter.
I thought that building the building was going to be the hard part but making our non-profit organization a viable, sustainable force in the world was and continues to be far more challenging. From our mission statement; “ Our mission is to design, fund and facilitate programs and opportunities that: promote a responsible relationship with the natural world, demonstrate and promote sustainability, bring the work and inspiration of world teachers to the Great Lakes Bioregion, encourage experiential learning, and promote global understanding.” The day after Bucky spoke we asked ourselves ‘now how do we do that?’.
Just before John Yarema proposed doing a floor made out of the waste product of a local pallet manufacturer, The Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center merged with Upland Hills School. The center had hosted hundreds of workshops on topics that ranged from alternative energy to alternative modes of healing. Through a partnership with the state of Michigan we toured thousands of people through our building demonstrating how to save money and how to utilize tools that would be more earth friendly. The center hosted world teachers who shared their wisdom and work and helped us to change and expand our worldviews. We developed a relationship with Native Americans and have held ceremonies consistently for over 20 years, forming an alliance with the Rose Bud reservation in South Dakota. We have worked with children to inspire them to think creatively and to honor our earth. We hosted Earth Day fairs and expos and helped to found a Community Supported Agriculture Farm for local families. We learned that ‘when we heal the earth, we heal ourselves’.
John Yarema and his wife Lisa enrolled their two youngest children in Upland Hills School four years ago and like so many of our parents they found a home not only for their children but for themselves as well. During the 40th birthday of our school, September 2011, John approached me with the idea of doing a wood floor for the entrance and small living room at the EAC.
Our first building conversation began with him sharing a story about being at another job when a truck pulled up to unload some firewood. After the truck pulled away he noticed that the pile of wood was odds and ends from pallets, random sized blocks of beech, maple, ash, oak, and elm all from a forest just a few miles away from our school. He thought that these blocks could make a great wood floor. What impressed me most about the conversation was his enthusiasm, and his excitement about doing something he had never done before.
Fast forward to the same truck arriving at the EAC and dumping a similar pile of blocks next to our school. This pallet company will deliver 6 cords of blocks to your door for $175. The company is just happy to cover their trucking cost and keep the scrap blocks from piling up in their yard.
John asked that we have the children and staff Select the blocks to be used for the floor from the giant pile And arrange them next to each other inside of a 20x20 roped off area. Once the children and staff had finshed, john and his daughter lily loaded the selected blocks into his van and took them back to his shop to be kiln-dried and sawn into 1" thick pieces. 6 weeks later...
John’s crew consisted of men who ranged in age from 19 to 55 and who were clearly serving his vision and who were just as excited as he was to dive into the unknown. John is an empowering leader who has that special skill of enrolling people to get down on their knees and create. And that’s just what happened. Visiting school children from Detroit, children from our school, John’s son Philip, his daughter Lily, staff members from Upland Hills School, all got the chance to help make a floor.
Thomas Moore, the author of ‘Care of the Soul’ and a former workshop presenter, asked us to consider how soulless our world has become with it’s huge box stores and paved straight lines. He invited us to see curved lines and winding country roads as nourishment for the soul. So when I saw John on his knees placing these beautiful rectangles in curved lines and listened as he invited his colleagues to play with the design, I knew that our souls were being fed.
When it was sanded and sealed and everyone had left, I took my shoes off and walked onto it noticing how it felt. Each step a meditation, lift, carry, place. A tree, a mushroom, a wheel, a serpents tail, rings and cracks all conveying more than the sum of its’ parts. Feelings and memories began to arise. I remembered fragments of the early workshops that led to the building of the EAC, I thought about the primary builders and their willingness to make an impossible dream come true, I remembered hot days of rock hauling, our wind powered cement mixer, the day the octahedron tower fell over, and pieces of teachings from Ram Dass and Jean Houston. Ram Dass inviting us to love, serve and remember, and Jean demanding that we realize our potentials and reach beyond the boundaries of our limitations. Somehow this wood floor was the element that integrated the whole experience of all that had come before and all that might yet arise. It is a living piece of art, a testimony to those who lead with their hearts and follow their dreams. It is the miracle of making something out of nothing.