I have had some really great opportunities to work with one of my greatest passions building with mud! This particular build happened at Glen Deven Ranch in Carmel, Ca atop the Santa Lucia Mountains an icon of Big Sur. This ranch was bequeathed to the Big Sur Land Trust from Dr. Seeley and Virginia Mudd, that's right, Mudd! It was ordained that we should be building this oven for them. I should also add that at the time of this build I was co-owner of Muddbums Natural Building and that is how Miles my former co-owner and myself began our "wildbird" adventure.
The seed for this little oven project happened one night at the "wild bird house" when a group of camp supporters rallied for this project and many others for the kids that would be attending camps at Glen Deven during the summers. We were set, with mudd, wildbirds and pristine Big Sur vistas to start this oven.
The site they had chosen for placement of the oven was adjacent to the organically shaped river rock pool. We fell in love again! "Let's go down to the Garrapata creek and gather river rock to use as the foundation of this oven!" This was a huge labor of love to trek down the ridge to retrieve every single hand-picked river rock to begin laying the foundation. This oven was built to cook pizzas and lots of them so the foundation was just about 4 ft wide in circumference. Three days we spent meticulously placing the river rock next to each other to form a continuous shape to accent the river rock pool.
With the foundation complete we started laying out the firebrick cooking surface and formed the sand mound to the exact dimensions of the interior oven. Finally my hands in the mud, we began to mix the clay, sand and straw ingredients over the sand dome. Mix, apply and repeat for this massive 36-inch cooking surface. Days later the shape and size of the oven begin to appear and we start to see the possibilities of a bird type sculpture embracing the top half of the oven.
We retire for the evenings to a cute little studio that Virginia Mudd had built for herself as a getaway for the girls. It sits very precariously next to the edge of a ridge with a beautiful view. We see birds flying up and down the ridgeline as the fog rolls in and out daily as it always does in Big Sur. The fog brings with it a kind of calm almost deadness to the air up here.
As the night turns to day we make our way down to the oven with coffee in hand to begin another day. The oven has had a couple of days to dry out so we can remove the sand from inside and actually see the cooking surface. As we remove the sand it begins to smell like a cave, like earthen material that's been locked away from sunshine but still very much alive and it reminds me of the puerh tea from China that I drink because of its earthy taste.
We are back into the mud again making the plaster material to coat the oven exterior surface to protect it from the elements. The plaster is smoothed on by hand and gives the oven cleaner, crisper lines, now it feels so enlivened. it is awaiting the one last touch that gave birth to this creation and its namesake, the "wildbird" sculpting. While we did not take part in the sculpting it is always so meaningful to see the owners partake in its formation. The sense of being part of something, to see its beginnings and follow its life as so many others will enjoy the pizza's and the wonderful story of how the "wildbird" oven came to be.
Almost 3 years later and I have returned to Glen Deven to give "wildbird" some TLC. The oven has cooked pizza's for over 700 kids and the plaster has worn itself very thin with erosion removing the feathers on the right wing and pitting the surface.
The day I was packing up to leave I took one more walk around the ranch with camera in hand. I happened to be looking down at my shoe or something that caught my eye below when I saw a ginormous shadow of a bird in front of me on the ground. I new it was a condor above by the sound of its wings as it flew above me. It landed atop a redwood tree and for 5 minutes I was able to observe the bird and take this shot as it took off in flight. When I got home days later, and looked at the images I saw this one with a green #29 tag on its left wing. Turns out this is "Ninja" a condor that was born in 2014 in the Ventana Wilderness Project to restore the endangered condor. How wonderful to bear witness to the life on this ranch, the Mudd's who built it and the everlasting mud oven that will someday return to the earth.