How To Learn a Lesson When Your New Home’s Earthbag Walls Crash to the Ground

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Down came the walls of Jericho.

December, 2009.

My wife woke me up this morning with a yell of alarm. “Honey, a wall of the house just fell down!”

That will get you out of the rack in a hurry. We live on a remote desert acreage in southern Arizona where she sleeps in our camp trailer and I sleep in a storage shed. The house to which she referred is the new home with earthbag walls I’m currently building single handed. Or stupid handed, perhaps, since I’d removed some temporary bracing yesterday for easier access to the tops of the window frames…and not replaced it. The walls, now five feet high and consisting of thirteen rows of sandbags filled with onsite dirt, made it through the night okay.

But we get some serious wind down here, and I knew that. Inspecting the damage made it clear: A fierce gust of turbulence had swirled in between the south wall and the semi trailer we used for storage, hitting hard with a motion that in a human would be called a right hook. The wall bowed inward. When it fell, it torqued the east wall outward. The entire south wall was now on the ground except for the very bottom row of bags, which rested on the concrete block perimeter foundation. Two thirds of the east wall had gone down as well, though it had left two rows standing on which to rebuild.

The door casings held, not surprising since those are strongly nailed into the concrete, but three of the eight windows had crashed. Amazingly, only one window broke–not from the fall, but from the fifty pound earthbag that crashed through it.

Many things were going through my mind as I scrambled to firmly brace the north wall. That side had held but was clearly at risk. Thankfully, fixing up two five feet tall sections of fallen wall is much simpler than what might have happened if I’d not learned my lesson. How about nearly eight feet of wall on all four sides? That would be downright discouraging! So now I’ll be safer, will do a much better bracing job, and will try to remember the clear truth that this event was a blessing designed to keep me from really messing up!

As I scrambled to rectify the situation, a number of clear and powerful thoughts slammed into my consciousness with preternatural force.

1. The fallen walls reminded me strongly of Sarah Palin’s departure from the Governor’s job in Alaska under a cloud of suspicion. The same might be said of my house walls as of her resignation: Done for! Didn’t do something right! Incompetent! Jeer! Humiliate!

2.In both cases, the naysayers would be wrong. Yes, I made a mistake in underestimating the power of our local wind, just as Sarah may have underestimated the power of her long winded enemies in the beginning. But I don’t make the same mistake twice, and I don’t believe Mrs. Palin does, either. Within a few months, the former Vice Presidential candidate came roaring back with a powerful, steel reinforced structure titled Going Rogue through which she is getting her side of the story to the voters. Within a few days, I will have repaired the fallen walls entirely, roaring back with a bracing system that will keep everything absolutely secure and safe.

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The Soldiers

3. The last two photos (above) show bits of the belatedly applied bracing. Or not so belatedly, perhaps, since they reinforce the still standing walls. For a while, little time could be spent analyzing the damage; further damage had to be avoided at all costs. When it came time to really check things out, though, I was overwhelmed. The walls had fought so hard to stay erect. Not one of them slipped, not one gave away except under the extreme pressure of superior force, and then only grudgingly. The western wall refused to lose entirely, only dropping a few top rows and a stepdown to the corner, not even one window yielding position. And even when an entire wall could hold no longer, it still held. Prone on the ground, taken out by the Walloping Windies, the wall remained more than ninety percent intact, a single piece. Every chunk of barbed wire had stretched and stretched, never giving up, never giving in.

The bags were sentient beings. They had intelligence, drive, loyalty, purpose. And I had failed them. I, their Commander In Chief, had failed to provide them the necessary reinforcements. As their General, I had made a mistake, and my men had died for my stupidity. I looked at the rips and tears, at the dirt that is the lifeblood of the walls spilling from the fortunately few larger holes in the polypropylene skins, and I made them a promise. I had to make the promise. Every one of you, I vowed on the spot, will continue to contribute to the cause. You will be part of this structure. Not a single mutilated, torn bag would be consigned to the trash but would, instead, be added to the dirt in a new bag and become (once again) part of the wall. Even the broken window would not have died in vain. One of its thermopanes was broken, but the slider and the screen were both intact. These would be held as reserves against the day of their need.

In that moment of angst and clarity, I knew how a General or a President feels when American troops fall in battle. Not the intensity, surely; if I could find myself at the point of emotional breakdown over having sent sandbags into battle to die for my tactical error, how deep must the pain run within the commander who sends the sons and daughters of these United States off to war, some never to return? No, not the intensity…but the vision was true and accurate nonetheless, even if its power could only be the rubber band energizing a toy balsa wood airplaine against the blast of rockets great enough to lift a space shuttle from Earth’s gravity well.

A poem rose within me as I cleared rubble and prepared to begin restacking fallen earthbags. It has not been titled as yet, but the body runs as follows:

When each of you who fought so well

To wind of war you finally fell

The loss we feel no words can say

Yet I must speak these words today

I swear to you this solemn vow

I swear it here; I swear it now

The price you paid in blood and pain

You did not lose your life in vain

Though we grieve a fallen friend

We hoist the flag and build again

Recent thought, October, 2013: Does President Obama secretly feel this way about the four Americans he abandoned to the cause of political expediency and violent death in Benghazi, Libya, during the 2012 campaign? My guess would be that he does not, or that he has at least suppressed those feelings…for if they were full blown, they would destroy him surely.

3 thoughts on “How To Learn a Lesson When Your New Home’s Earthbag Walls Crash to the Ground

  1. I found your post very informative. Sometimes the mistakes we make are where the eureka moments come. I am curious to know how the process was in Cochise county. I am wanting to build an earthbag dome and have heard that Cochise county was open to experimental green building etc.. but never can find factual information from reliable sources. I’d love to hear your experience.

    All the best to you & your wife. Would love to see the home completed.

    Nicholas

  2. Nicolas, check out his Survival Index. It has many post on building his house and some completed pictures of it. He is still working on the interior and added porches to it. It is quite a nice place.

  3. Nicholas, what Becky said about more recent pictures. As for the rules in Cochise County:

    In 2005, the County added an Owner/Builder Amendment to its building codes. Anyone who owns a minimum of 4 acres in the county (it cannot be a smaller parcel) and wants to build his own home can sign up for his building permit under that Amendment. There are two options under the Amendment; you want Option 2.

    Once signed up under Option 2, you will get the usual number of inspections of your septic installation–but once that’s done, NO inspections whatsoever of the rest of the project, and you can build pretty much whatever you want, however you want it. All I had to provide (to get the permit) was a sketch showing the location of the proposed building, square footage, and number of bedrooms (because the more bedrooms you show, the more septic drain field they will make you put in–ours is a 2 bedroom structure). Then the permit is issued, good for 3 years, with NO inspections whatsoever.

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