Alternative building materials and construction methods

Growing up my favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder book by far was On the Banks of Plum Creek. Laura and her family lived in a sod dugout by the creek while Pa built their house. I may need to read it again. Yesterday I was searching for the missing candlestick holder from Grandma's buffet set (something I do unsuccessfully once or twice every year), and there in the WAAAAAAAAYYYYY back of the cupboard was an unopened package of Kraft marshmallows hardened into a perfect block.

Should I call FEMA? Kraft's website reports that more than ninety million pounds of JetPuffed marshmallows are purchased in America every year. What if President Bush asked every American to look deeply into their kitchen cupboards and make this personal sacrifice? What if only a small percentage of negligent homemakers found petrified marshmallow blocks? Just a teensy weensy percentage of what gets forgotten in cupboards would be enough petrified marshmallow blocks to construct new homes for thousands of disaster survivors at a fraction of the cost of those cruise ships. I am ready to lead this national drive!

In Nebraska, every school child learns about sod house construction, and about the can-do spirit of the homesteaders in history class. They learn early how the Plains Indians used the entire bison, and how beavers build dams.

Recently I encountered the word "crannog", and thought it was a misprint for cranberry bog. Instead it was a fascinating, ancient and modern building form. Google it yourself and see! That led me to wattle and daub*, cob construction, straw bale construction, and rammed earth.

*Wattle and daub, noun: (According to the American Heritage Dictionary of English Language: 4th Edition, 2000) a building material consisting of interwoven rods and laths or twigs plastered with mud or clay, used especially in the construction of simple dwellings or as an infill between members of a timber-frame wall.

I've always had a fascination with yurts and other forms of nomadic housing. I knew about Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes before I started kindergarten. Later, like many people my age, I had an "organic cousin" who wanted to build a house by hand. That's when I overheard his discussion with his engineer uncle about tilt-up concrete construction, and sprayed concrete dome construction.

It might have been in Ken Kesey's Sailor Song environmental apocalypse novel that I read of an outcast community built in and of a rubber tire landfill. Tires may not be the healthiest building material, or even smell very nice, but in a pinch they would do. The same could be said for marshmallows.

In Off the Map, eleven year-old Bo Groden keeps her "organic" family supplied with Moon Pies and other junk food by writing letters to manufacturers complaining about bugs found in their products. She receives cases of the products to keep her a satisfied consumer. I received a case of beer once by writing a letter including the seaweed-like item I nearly swallowed. Therefore, I could be considered a paid professional writer! Look in your cupboards for petrified Moon Pies, too.

Let's think for a moment about all those millions of plastic water bottles littering the sidelines of every youth sporting event across this wasteful country of ours. Fill those bottles with sand, or better, minced and diced packing peanuts. Recap them. Begin laying them side by side, lid by lid, on the ground, then layering them like a clay coil pot. See a structure emerge worthy of Andy Goldsworthy and Robert Smithson. On the interior, cover the surface with a pulp made from wet Dallas Morning News advertising circulars and Fashion/D! sections mixed with Elmer's. On the outside, perhaps something more permanent, more able to withstand natural disasters....not concrete....melted marshmallows!

As my organic cousin's engineer uncle might tell me, "You're daffy, but you're doing one heckuva job!" Maybe the President is roasting marshmallows at Camp David this weekend in the spirit of national sacrifice. Best of all, JetPuffed marshmallows are a fat free food!

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