Petrichor - it’s the word that signifies the smell of the earth right after the rain. It was the evening of the fall equinox, as we left the last traces of civilization behind us and turned onto the windy road following the great Bear River to Maple Grove. Fortuitously, just as the sun started to set, we felt the need to get out of our car and take in this blissfully glorious moment. Silence speaks in volumes. As I was digging my Wellies into the muddy earth beneath me, mesmerized by the lush pre-fall carpet of meadows in the most splendid colors of the season, I became aware of that familiar scent…petrichor! I realized that without any planning, I find myself drawn to this place at this exact time each equinox.
Just like that, we had unconsciously established a ritual.
The soul craves renewal and alignment with nature at the beginning of each season and that urge drew us to this place from the beginning. It is a special connection - that of nature and people, and once one recognizes these special places, they keep coming back to them.
While each return feels like being welcomed home by the familiar place and souls we’ve befriended over the years, this return was laced with part excitement and part nervous anticipation. Because, for the first time, in addition to seeing unspoiled nature in its raw greatness, we were about to see the unveiling of our permanent footprint on the landscape, in the form of the shelter structures we have been working on over the past two years.
Periodic visits during various phases of the construction simply could not calm our hearts, as we were still unsure of the final outcome.
For us, this land has a sacred significance as it is the homeland of the great Shoshone tribe, the very place they returned to at the beginning of each winter season. To be entrusted to collaborate with our dear friends on the creation of the first modern permanent structures has felt like a great honor, and equally a tremendous responsibility, as we wanted to pay homage to the beliefs, values, practices and the land itself. To bridge the modern architecture and modern way of living with the principles of living sustainably, off-the-grid and of nature and with nature, while creating something unique felt quite daunting, even with the help of our like-minded enthusiast friends and experts in the field.
But there they were...veiled in the mist of steaming waters, the mirage that became a reality. Quaintly nestled among high grasses and fields of scattered sunflowers, proudly overlooking the mossy green waters, they stand as rugged and secure as the stone we collected from the site, raw and refined as the traditional masonry techniques used on the exteriors - in striking juxtaposition to the oversized glass surfaces reflecting the magical views of the surrounding river. Creativity is intelligence at play and guided by the principle of sustainability and responsible use of scarce resources, we certainly needed to make the best use of what we had on hand and what the land gifted us. What guided our creative process was the notion that the structures needed to seamlessly blend with the surrounding landscape, hence the color palette and all exterior materials have been inspired or directly collected from the site.
However, the greatest struggle was the definition of the architectural shape, as the only structures that felt native and authentic to the site were in the form of unobtrusive tipi tents almost poetically cradled by the valley.
The challenge of designing for the present, with an awareness of the past and the essentially unknown future, required a process that questioned everything:
from A-frame structures to yurt inspired forms. However, since our belief is that architecture is an expression of values and at the core of sustainability is the yearning for timelessness, we looked to the past in order to satisfy that essential human yearning for a shelter and found inspiration in form of traditional shepherd shelters, equally present from British Isles to Vicentine Alps - simplified lines and stripped of all non-essentials. Orientation of each shelter highlights the views of the river, while naturally plastered interiors adorned with materials reminiscent of its original inhabitants (natural linens, patterned row wool textiles, live edge woods, woven baskets and natural hides, plants forged from the surrounding grounds) provide calming and grounding ambiance that invite its users to quiet their minds, focus on their surroundings and to experience the lightness of simplicity.
These shelters were not only an attempt to replace previous seasonal structures, that required replacement every few years, but they offer the gift of enlightening their occupants, that off-grid life is not only possible, but can equally lack no modern comforts - all while providing an opportunity to share the artisanal skills of traditional ways of building to the workshop holders, volunteers, and soakers. Education and passing on that essential tribal wisdom of the original peoples of this land, that emphasizes our oneness with the land, is at the very core of Maple Grove’s values. Truth and wisdom recognize no borders, and universal truths are shared by all humanity. In the words of my grandfather who often quoted poets closer to my mother’s continent, let us "not be the riders who gallop all night and never see the horse that is beneath them"-Rumi.
With our hearts finally in place, we rejoiced and joined our friends in partaking of the healing waters.
In our robes and with our twinkling solar lanterns in hands, we all looked like reverend pilgrims waiting to be embraced and caressed by the gentle waters that claimed us with the sureness of an old lover who waited, patiently. As we gaze at the stars that somehow feel closer and brighter and the reflection of the moonlight on the river, the quiet content restores our overworked minds and fills our hearts with gratitude. A much needed soulful sabbatical, even if just for a day, or for a breath. With winter season approaching, we are looking forward to our early evenings by the crackling fire sipping tea from herbs foraged in the warmer months and spending our early mornings enveloped in mist with a cup of freshly brewed coffee in hand, gazing at the swans that are calmly gliding in between unfrozen patches of the river, while snowflakes are kissing our eyelashes and the wind gently rings the monastic sounding bells hanging by the Main House. But for now we are relishing in the whisper of the fall leaves, as we are gathered on the blankets under the big tree and celebrating the joy of our togetherness.