Communities of Mud in the Southwest
April 22, 2015
IT WAS SIMPLE.
It was free.
Yet there was a cost.
It got its start centuries ago.
Yet it is with us today.
It is the adobe – sometimes called the mud brick.
It was basic to the starter home, usually a one-roomer.
Plus, the church.
In a way, the adobe brick was free. Just some dirt from the inexhaustible supply. Some water. Maybe some straw. Even animal manure. Other types of fibrous material.
Yet it was costly – costly in terms of the aches and pains and exhaustion and, sometimes, even permanent injury and deterioration of health that came from the hard physical labor involved, from the long breathing of dust, from the bending and moving and hauling and the handling of ton after ton after ton of dirt and mud and brick. It was physically – and mentally – demanding.
Back breaking, some put it.
But when the structure for which the mud bricks were intended was finished, there was no mortgage. Just satisfaction.
Brick by brick, the homes, the churches, the schools, the villages, the Southwest were built over decades, centuries.
Started with dirt. Some dirt was better for the purpose than other dirt.
Maybe the best dirt was right underfoot.
Maybe it had to be brought in from some more distant place.
A mold had to be made – maybe a mold for a single brick. Maybe a mold for a few bricks.
Maybe a mud pit had to be dug. If lucky, maybe a wheelbarrow was available in which to mix the mud.
Making the mud was not always simple.
The ratio of dirt to water had to be somewhat exact.
Even the amount of straw and/or animal manure had to be just so-so.
Get the mixture wrong and the bricks might fail early on, necessitating repairs.
Or have a limited lifespan.
Maybe the men would shovel in the dirt, the women would add the water and straw and manure. Maybe the barefoot kids would sometimes walk and stomp on it until the – like crushing grapes by foot for making wine – the mud mixture had the right consistency. Then all the workers would take turns pouring the mud into the molds.
Drying the bricks could take days, weeks. Depended, in large measure, on the weather.
When enough bricks were ready, construction on a home could begin. Maybe a one-bedroom home. As the family grew, more bricks would be made and another room would be added. Then another. Then another.
The slow, tedious, laborious work would be done by family members, friends, volunteers.
In time, those same family members, friends, volunteers would pitch in to make adobe bricks for additional rooms, other homes and then a church, a school, other structures.
Structures that took on the sometimes raging, forceful, challenging elements, staved them off as best they could. And survived, served.
Incrementally, these mud brick places became part of village, community.
Then part of a series of villages, communities.
Brick by brick, structure by structure, place by place, they formed the Southwest.
A place of hard work, resiliency, self-reliance, determination.
And, at its core, the adobe brick.
Adobe brick structures.
And all they stood for.
Still strong, tough.
A ubiquitous symbol and reminder of tenacity.
A silent symbol.
Yet one that – in its own way – speaks loudly, proudly, profoundly of accomplishment.
Just like the men, women and children who came together, used what was at hand, what was under foot, what was nearby, and made it all happen.
And for an indeterminate time to come.
Maybe even forever.
Roger Summers is a journalist, essayist and author of Heart Songs From A Washboard Road.