We are Daphne, Mark, Anya, and James, your hosts for the August-September 2022 workshop series at Windhorse Village, a newly sprouting sustainable community development project of the Earthville Network (a nonprofit whose work spans education, ecology, and the arts).
This page is specifically about the Touching Earth workshop, which is the last of the four workshop modules in this series. Touching Earth will build upon the prior three workshops in the series, complementing them with a focus on earth as a natural building material and as the place where we live. (That said, Touching Earth can also be enjoyed as a freestanding workshop by someone who has not participated in any of the earlier workshops.)
A five-day residential workshop-retreat exploring earthen building techniques and our connection to nature
Touching Earth will provide opportunities to learn and practice some of the foundational skills of earthen building and contemplate living in harmony with nature while enjoying a healthy and sustainable lifestyle in a beautiful part of Colorado.
Hands-on learning projects will include:
- Applying clay plaster to the interior straw bale walls of our new studio building (see below)
- Making a traditional earthen floor (using mud and cow dung)
- Making traditional adobe bricks (sun-dried blocks made of clay and a bit of straw)
- Creating optimal mud mixes for all of these applications (plasters, floors, bricks and mortar), including DIY soil testing, harvesting, sieving, pugging (mixing), preparing, and testing the mixes.
Other possible hands-on projects if there is interest and time after completing the main work:
- Exploring the basics of earthen masonry — how to build an adobe or cob wall — including best practices, bond patterns, etc.
- Doing some of the clay work for a large solar cooker (inspired by the design of the solar cooker at our center in the Himalayas).
The hands-on work will be enriched by discussions, presentations, and other activities to provide greater depth and breadth of knowledge, including discussions of best practices for all of the above activities, and why each of them matters.
- A presentation on earth as a building material, including both the science of how earth holds together as a building material, and the art of earthen building as explored through a slideshow discussion of earthen architecture around the world (including our eco-campus in the Himalayas).
- An overview of other earthen building materials and techniques, with a look at the pros and cons of each, and how to evaluate the best materials and methods to use in your own unique situation.
- Daily morning yoga and meditation practice to ground into our earth body, restore balance and vitality.
- Discussions exploring our connection with the Earth, and with nature more generally, and how we cultivate a deeper sense of connectedness with nature in a cultural context that has lost most of that wisdom.
- Meditative nature walks and other opportunities to observe the earth in the context of the site and discuss what we observe.
All of the above activities together will provide a well-balanced integration of theory and practice, will empower participants with basic skills and important sensitivities, and will provide a good foundation for further explorations (whether those might be with us or elsewhere).
What Are We Building?
During this Touching Earth workshop, we will plaster the interior walls of the ~1100 square-foot building that we call “Sound & Form” with clay from our own site (except for the rear wall of the “Sound” studio, which will be left unplastered for acoustic reasons). We will also create a traditional earthen floor using mud from the site, with a bit of cow dung, for this building. The name “Sound & Form” comes from the fact that the two main rooms in this bungalow will be creative studios — one tailored for music, and the other for architecture and design. The building will also feature lofts, cozy bay windows with lovely views, bathrooms, wall niches, built-in shelves, and other special features. The building will use old-school mortise-and-tenon timber framing, which offers superior strength and beauty.
We will also make adobe bricks from scratch for use on other earthen features on the property, and we will have the opportunity to learn how to build an adobe wall as well.
7:00a Morning yoga
9:30a Morning work session
2:00p Afternoon work session
5:00p Wash up, break time
7:30p Evening discussion/presentation session
8:30p Quiet personal time
About The Site And Your Hosts
The site of what will become Windhorse Village is a 640-acre property located in the scenic Four Corners area of the Rocky Mountains, a 40-minute drive west of Durango, Colorado. Just east of Mesa Verde National Park, home of the famous Puebloan cliff dwellings and part of the traditional territory of the Diné (Navajo) and Ute nations, this sacred land has a long history of innovative, climate-responsive natural building, a tradition we aspire to honor, learn from, and uphold.
All four of us are experiential educators and creative types devoted to living in harmony with nature and supporting others to do more of that, too.
• Mark is founding director of the Earthville Network and cofounder of Dharmalaya Institute for Compassionate Living in the Himalayas, where he has been leading earthen building workshops and internships for a decade or so. He’s also a music producer and meditation retreat facilitator working with Mingyur Rinpoche’s Tergar Meditation Community.
• Daphne is a holistic architect and designer, yoga teacher and cofounder of Routes of Yoga, who has worked and taught around the world, including Bali, Thailand, India, Brazil, and at Dharmalaya Institute. She is particularly interested in the energetics of space and the study of nature’s design principles, and is a licensed practitioner of Biogeometry.
• Anya has had the honor of being an experiential educator and wilderness guide in diverse communities and wild spaces around the globe. With a deep love and passion for permaculture, she is now most interested in cultivating a reciprocal relationship with Earth that honors the wisdom of the land. Though her creative spirit leads her into many different mediums, she is most moved by metal and stone.
• James has devoted the past 20 years to leading and facilitating experiential education in wilderness, therapeutic, and international settings. True to his training in Aikido, James believes in the power of unity, harmony, and cooperation (and there is no greater teacher than Mother Nature). James may have a small infatuation with stringed instruments, but everything is under control folks.
100% of the proceeds from this workshop will benefit the Earthville Network, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization working to educate and empower compassionate global citizens in the US and worldwide.
The vision for Windhorse Village, in a nutshell, is to provide a nurturing environment for exploring the ways of nature, both within us and all around us, and the arts and sciences of living in harmony with her. This includes many approaches to natural and sustainable building, organic farming and permaculture, alternative education modalities, and other expressions of compassionate living and responsible global citizenship. The Windhorse campus is in the earliest seed-sprouting stages now, with only a few basic structures in place (including a straw bale kitchen, a geodesic greenhouse dome, and a Mongolian yurt), so you’ll be helping us take our biggest step yet in the development of the campus. As a small-but-spunky nonprofit, we are all volunteers and we rely on the help of kindred spirits to make the magic happen!
Hands-On Learning With A Contemplative Flavor In The Lap Of Nature
The contemplative, reflective, meditative flavor of the workshop will be supported by optional yoga sessions each morning, led by Daphne. Waking to the sounds of birds and our seasonal creek (if flowing) and then enjoying the yoga sessions will help settle the mind and warm up the body before we start the day’s work. These yoga sessions will be accessible to everyone regardless of prior experience and physical condition. It’s a high priority for Daphne to ensure that everyone is comfortable and well supported, so she will be happy to meet individually with anyone who has particular needs or questions.
We will also be supported by healthy and delicious organic food from all corners of the globe. (Mark was a restaurateur in a past life, running a funky vegan café in the Dalai Lama’s exile hometown of Dharamshala, India.) All meals will be plant-based (vegan), made primarily with whole foods, sourced as much as possible from our own greenhouse and gardens and cooked with love. We’ll also provide plenty of healthy drinks and snacks to keep the energy flowing in the day, and herbal teas to help us wind down in the evenings.
This is a wonderful place to unplug, detox, and take care of body, mind, and spirit. We invite you to let yourself experience the benefits of the combination of healthy food, fresh air, physical work, and take a break from those ever-present digital devices and other intoxicants in order to get the full benefit of the experience to refresh and recharge yourself. We have no cell service on most of the campus (which creates a precious opportunity to turn off the phone!) though for those who need to check in with work or family it’s a short walk or drive to a spot with good signal. Note that the campus is non-smoking due to extreme fire risk in this drought-addled region, and we invite all participants to take a break from alcohol and drugs for the duration of the program as well, to maintain the quality of presence that we seek to cultivate on this sacred land.
During your stay at Windhorse you’ll be able to explore the structures and features we have on site, and perhaps find ideas to adapt for your own projects. We’re also happy to hear about your building plans and share anything from our experience that might be helpful or interesting.
Other free-time activities on the Windhorse campus: walk the creek valley, hike up to the mesa, mountain bike through the 640 acres, toil in the garden, sing and play music, watch the birds, or just enjoy the serene beauty of the place.
Anya and James will be happy to lead guided nature hikes for the explorers among us.
Area activities that could be enjoyed before or after the workshop: Mesa Verde National Park (only about 45 minutes away), rafting in Durango, the cool little town of Mancos with it’s vibrant live music scene, swimming at Lake Nighthorse, exploring the Animas River Valley, taking the steam train up to Silverton for the views, or visiting Pagosa Springs (which boasts the world’s deepest hot springs), the native lands of the Four Corners area, or the mountain towns of Ouray and Telluride. See the website of the Durango Area Tourism Office for more information.
Camping & Facilities
We have a beautiful and spacious campsite near the creek with plenty of room to accommodate everyone’s tents and vehicles (even RVs) among the trees and sagebrush. There will be toilets and showers in convenient locations, including composting toilets of our own design. We use mostly solar power, but we do have grid power near the building site for tools and EV charging (which you’re welcome to use if you’re driving an EV).
In case anyone prefers to book your own lodging off site, we will provide a list of local accommodation options.
We deeply appreciate your interest in helping us to create the first major building on our campus, and we hope to offer you a deeply nourishing, informative, empowering, and hopefully inspiring experience in return.
Learn to work with earth in the form of clay renders, adobe and traditional earthen floors; and explore possibilities for more nature-sensitive approaches to living — all while taking care of the body with yoga, healthy organic vegan food, good sleep, evening strolls through nature, good conversations with kindred spirits, and plenty of time to connect in the evenings.
— Daphne, Mark, Anya, and James of Windhorse Village and the Earthville Network