About six months ago, my friend and fellow Transition Bloomington core group member Scott Routen accidentally ran over the cast-iron bench that I had cemented into the ground out by the street of my house. Here it is, back in 2009.
The bench is in the foreground, right next to the street.
(Looking at that photo I’m amazed at how fast things grow in Indiana (I come from Wyoming, a colder clime). The trunk of that tulip tree to the right of the bench is now, two years later, three times as thick.)
I placed the bench, surrounded by plantings, as a place of respite for those who walk by. At the time I put it in several neighbors looked on, saying that I was placing the bench in the wrong direction. And why did I have it by the street?
Over the years, I’ve only seen a few people actually sit on the bench. But even when they don’t, having the bench there communicates friendliness and adds interest to the streetscape. I was inspired to put the bench there by a talk in Bloomington given by one of the founders of the wonderfully inventive City Repair group, in Portland. Check it out! I viewed the bench as an experiment in community-building, and I swear, within even the first year, more people were walking my street.
About six months ago, after a Transition meeting at my house, Scott had gone out with a friend, having asked if he could leave his truck parked in front until he got back.
The next morning, when I went out to walk the dog, the bench was wrecked! Bent back and caved in. Of course, my heart sank, thinking it vandalism of some kind. But my son Colin wondered about Scott’s truck, since it had been parked so near it. “That truck is so huge and loud,” Colin said, “that if he hit it he wouldn’t have known.”
So I called Scott. Sure enough, he had felt some kind of slight ping when he rolled out of there late that night, but so slight that he just thought it one of the weird noises his truck makes.
We agreed that come spring, he’d replace the bench.
By the way, the same man who thought I was crazy to place a bench facing the street got hopping mad when he looked out the window that morning and saw the smashed bench. It had become part of his streetscape, too.
About a month ago, Scott came over and said he wanted to do a workshop around the project of making the bench. An “Earthen workshop,” he called it, on the flyer he designed for it. Click on earthworkshop.
“Scott Routen invites you to explore Earth itself as a material for timeless building. The ground beneath our feet holds a building material so advanced, so sustainable, and so healthy, that modern people might not believe it could be dirt cheap. The gentle power and beauty of Earth rises from the holistic integration of its many positive qualities. We will explore these qualities in the hands-on construction of an earthen loveseat or ‘neighborhood repair’ miniproject. An afternoon screening of the film “First Earth” offers a sweeping overview of the movement towards a paradigm shift for shelter in locations around the world.”
“First Earth” film website: www.davidsheen.com/firstearth
Well, it didn’t turn out quite as we expected. We didn’t have time to screen the film, for one thing. Also, though a number of people had expressed interest in the workshop, most of them were otherwise engaged on this very busy first Saturday after the Summer Solstice when just about every consciousness and/or progressive group in town had some kind of an event planned.
Three women pre-registered. Only one of them, Gloria, who drove down from Indianapolis, actually appeared. And she was a trooper.
Scott, I found out later, had stayed up all night the night before constructing the form for the earthen bench, which he decided to design in the shape of a vesica pisces! Very beautiful. And it makes up for the statue of the goddess that I decided not to put on the stump of a dying tree that I had to cut down in my front yard (thinking it too tempting for college students not to steal it).
So, Scott (on no sleep), and Gloria (a little slip of a thing), started to work, at around 10 am, Saturday morning, and finally stopped at around 4 p.m, both exhausted. Here are three shots to give you the flavor of what they were up to. BTW: you can’t see it, but the bench sits on a cement and rock foundation that goes down two feet below ground.
I was surprised at how long it took to get only part way done. But Gloria told me that she was not surprised, since she had worked with a large group of women over many weekends to build some kind of a (more elaborate) earthen structure.
Scott says that a number of people stopped their vehicles as they drove by, asking about the bench. So the educational process continues.
Scott thinks one or two more days of his labor should do it. We’ll show you the bench when it’s done.
At the party that evening (the third event of the day), an old man came up to me and said he was glad the bench was going to be replaced, since he’s used to sitting on it when he walks by! (I’ve never seen him sitting there.)