Naomi Neal, Kathryn Stresak, Dorian Gomberg, Ed Vlcek, and Brad Krautwurst are Shimer students participating in the Shimer Internship/Mentorship (SIM) Program. They regularly post updates about their internship experiences.
Another busy, busy week at the Farm—and this time, there was even more to get done than usual, because it was the final week of my internship. This experience has definitely altered the course of my life. To be fair, having embraced the post-structuralist theories (particularly those of Berger & Luckmann) to which I was introduced by Social Sciences 4, I do tend to feel that every experience significantly shapes an individual. But my time at Tryon Farm altered my being more appreciably than most other periods of my life. Through my work in environmentally-mindful building projects, with plants, with people, and as a part of a non-profit organization, I had the amazing opportunity to test out several different professional approaches to the field of conservation, in which I hope to make my living. I learned things about myself, my abilities, and my preferences. I got some idea of what makes strategies for conservation (and for building public support for it) successful or unsuccessful. In short, day-to-day troubles and worries aside, it was something like a perfect, Platonic internship.
Of course, all this is retrospective. There simply wasn’t time in my jam-packed final week to reflect on the course of the experience, as a whole. I had an oven to finish, after all!
Building the cob oven was, perhaps, more stressful for me than it strictly needed to be. Even though it hadn’t been my idea to undertake a final project, and even though Ed Noonan told me on multiple occasions to seek help in the construction from the many knowledgeable folks on hand, when it came time to build, an unexpected sense of pride rose up in me and I insisted (albeit mostly silently, to myself) on doing it all unassisted. I’d like to think I’ve learned from that mistake. One of the favorite adages of my boss from the pool site, Gary, is “I never learned to do anything except by doing it.” I couldn’t agree with his sentiment more, but I’d like to add, “and you have to do it wrong before you do it right” (though perhaps that’s already implied). This applies to all kinds of practical learning—even at Shimer, you have to suffer through some terrible first-year classes, fumbling at discussion, in order to cultivate your dialogical skills.
With this in mind, I see more clearly than before that what I still have yet to learn is balance. (Incidentally, this is a major theme in my life and on my yoga mat, too.) I suffered, psychologically at least, from a great deal of anxious uncertainty during the entirety of my oven-building endeavor. Was I mixing the cob correctly? Were the walls thick enough? Was I using the right kind of clay, soil, straw? These questions plagued me, but their only answers were found in a series of contradictory online articles. I had to forge ahead, and accept that I might do it wrong in the process of learning to do it right. But other questions, such as, Is this sturdy enough? and, Can I expect these blocks to remain level with the passage of time? could have been answered by others around me. I didn’t have to bear all of my uncertainty, or at least, not alone. There is, somewhere, a balance to be struck between learning by doing (accepting initial failure) and allowing others to help you. I haven’t figured it out how to strike it yet, and I still might not figure it out for a long time to come. But knowing that I need to feels like a good first step.
All of that said, I didn’t entirely screw up the oven, and it is, for the most part, finished. I left it in a condition which will require others to add some finishing touches before it’s really complete. But I’m okay with that. After all, it’s been my hope that this oven would bring people together in community. Ideally, when others put their work into the oven, they’ll feel connected with it, and with each other (I always did like Locke’s theory of property).
Without further ado, here's the completion of the oven, in pictures: