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GSBN:A photo and questions

Hello everyone -

I turn to the GSBN community with a personal straw bale matter that extends
to larger questions about straw bale building, its place in the world, and
the way it is perceived.

This has to do with the photo I used in the guest editor's notes of the June
issue of The Last Straw Journal.

Most of you subscribe to The Last Straw and many of you have at least
glanced at the June issue, which I was honored to guest edit, and which was
primarily about straw bale codes and permitting.  I worked hard researching,
writing, and coordinating with others for the issue.

For those who haven't seen or noticed it, the (amusing?) photo shows me
doing a headstand on a circular straw bale on the plains of North Dakota.  I
chose it along with an amusing yet topical caption, partly to add some humor
to an inherently dry subject matter.

After going through two public hearings in July for the proposed "Straw Bale
Code" here in California (with their inherent gravity, and with particular
scrutiny from the California Building Officials Association) I questioned
the wisdom of including such a photo in the issue.  Suddenly all I could
imagine was a building official being handed the "Codes issue" of TLS,
seeing that photo, and thinking - "Aha!  This confirms what I suspected.
That straw bale building is wacky and not to be taken seriously."

I no longer saw the photo exhibiting playful exuberance as I intended, but
instead exhibiting wacky recklessness.  It suddenly expressed going out on a
precarious limb, and I imagined readers seeing it as an unflattering
metaphor for straw bale building itself.  Or, "So, this is the guy who is
writing the straw bale code for the State of California.  Hmmm."

The levity in the photo belies the diligence and seriousness with which I
approached the fact finding and writing of the pieces in TLS, as well as my
writing of the proposed California Straw Bale Code.  It belies some serious
points I made in the guest editor's notes themselves.

So I've struggled with this, and I'm too close to it to tell whether this
matters in any way.  I don't want to place undue importance on it, but I
certainly believe words mean something (I took pains to find the right words
throughout the issue) and if the adage is true that a picture is worth a
thousand words . . .

I see The Last Straw as the life blood of the straw bale building movement.
If the use of that photo lessens the credibility of TLS or of straw bale
building in the eyes of even one reader (building official or otherwise),
then I apologize for its use.  I care deeply about straw bale building and
all that it represents.  Also, for me this opens up broader questions about
how the written and spoken word, the publications, the actions, and most
importantly the buildings that all of us in the straw bale building
community put forth affect the perception that people have of this way of
building and all that goes with it.

Not that straw bale building should be devoid of humor (Matts Myhrman
wouldn't allow that), any more than life should be devoid of humor.  Or
devoid of exploration, joy, inspiration, comfort, beauty, or any of the
other qualities that make straw bale buildings worth building.  But it seems
that those lighter qualities are necessarily coupled with sober

Each of us and each of our buildings are ambassadors of straw bale and
natural building, and we each bring something different to the table.  I
hope in this case I haven't brought something to the table that was
misplaced.  I'm interested in anyone's thoughts about this specific and
broader subject.  Thanks.

Martin Hammer