A Hippie House – Quaker doesn’t mind the work involved in keeping life simple
David Bowman, 67, with a mop of white hair, doesn’t mind if you call him a hippie.
After all, he defines hippie as something good, as a back-to-the-lander. “It’s someone,” he says, “who is more self-sufficient and lives a more simple life.”
It is not necessarily an easier one, however, as he’s quick to point out. His house is a good case in point.
Bowman was a grade-school teacher in Hayward in the 1960s when construction started on Highway 680. That meant lots of houses were condemned to demolition, beautiful old houses with lovely wood, windows, and doors. A light went on in Bowman’s brain, and he sallied forth to scrounge.
Coincidentally, a friend engineered plans for a “wood tent” that would be his ski hut in Oregon. Bowman liked what he saw, especially because the 45-degree angle of the roof would be perfect for installing solar panels to best take advantage of the sun.
Problem was the structure was only 400 square feet. He solved that by building five of these tents, or pods, as he now calls them.
Two bedroom pods, a quiet room, a well room, and a commons structure that houses the kitchen and family room total about 2,000 feet, all clustered around an enormous trellis from which hangs multicolored wisteria.
He calls his place Sanctuary Adramittium, roughly translated into the concept, “don’t give up on an idea of having a peaceful, simple, sustainable place.” The road he lives on is Terra Pax, or peaceful earth. No surprise, then, that Bowman is a Quaker.
Building this sanctuary was no overnight thing. In fact, it took a total of 10 years to get them all constructed during summer vacations and a weekend or so a month with the labor of his two sons (who he hopes, upon retirement, will live with him) and scores of friends.
Just getting all the recycled materials up to the building site on Jones Ridge, about eight miles out of downtown Grass Valley, took about eight trips to and from the Bay Area in his truck and trailer. Estimating about a third of materials used were recycled, he says he also used wood flooring in the kitchen from the old Cedar Ridge Baptist Church, where Fred’s Country Store stands now.
Bowman is a man who plans ahead, and much of his home was done this way, thoughtfully. Not only did he use a Venn diagram to figure out where things of similarity of purpose should properly go, he also paid attention to positioning his pods correctly in regard to the sun for passive solar.
He heats his water with the help of the sun and heats the structures with wood stoves of various sizes, for which he chops downed wood on his 22 acres. At an altitude of 3,000 feet, it takes a cord of wood a winter – so little because, again, he thought ahead by insulating his pods very well.
He also gave thought to air flow. In this day and age of hermetically-sealed buildings, his pods breathe well, air conditioning themselves naturally with fans and the scientific placement of vents.
Water comes from either the 120-foot deep, 15-gallon-a-minute well he dug or from a pond whose water is ingeniously pumped up hydraulically to a reservoir from which to irrigate.
As you can imagine, Bowman has plenty of interesting building stories. The one that came immediately to his mind, though, had to do with the beams he scrounged from the Hayward Grange Hall – 4 by 10 beams 22-feet long.
Planning to do this all by himself until a friend popped in, he parked the truck containing the beams close by. “Not really sure how to do it, I pulled the beams up with a rope using the truck as an anchor. They actually went together real snug, like an equilateral triangle, surprisingly quick and easy.”
Unfortunately, when he tried to drive away the truck “was high-spotted on a rock like a turtle,” with the tires just spinning deeper into the gravel. “It took me a day and a half to dig it out; even had to chip some rock away.”
One question might come up: is this unusual house built to code? Oh, yes, says Bowman, noting he had to make a couple of modifications to the original plans to comply and get his permit. Old-time building inspectors in the 1970s get his unending praise. “They were very helpful as I pumped them for advice.”
Did Bowman have any troubles with the neighbors? You bet. When first he came to the land in the late ’60s he was met by “two of [his] neighbors with guns drawn.”
To the non-violent Quaker, whose biggest antiestablishment action was peace marching in Berkeley, this was pretty scary. “I think they were afraid of drugs, nudity, the free spirit thing. They’ve mellowed since then.”
A feeling of neighborhood amongst the 16 families on Jones Ridge eventually evolved around the care and tending of the gravel road.
Part of being a hippie and living the simple life is to trade and barter, and he did that when his neighbors and friends Ivan and Rose Hodge were alive.
“Old, mid-western farm people, they were the salt of the earth,” he said, sounding nostalgic. “I was a ‘greener’ on Greenhorn, and they taught me things: don’t leave anything (like compost out to attract the black bear in the area); always cover outside faucets. And you could always count on Rose to know what was going on. She never gossiped or judged, just shared.”
Bowman retired from teaching in Nevada County in 1996. Since then, he’s continued to work on building projects, done a lot of volunteer work, restored his 1948 Chevy, and tended his apple orchard of 14 varieties, drying apples, turning them into cider, and giving them away by the sackful.
One of his building projects was his Y2K cement bunker. He laughs as he says it took the impetus of Y2K to get him to follow-through on a long-term plan to make a fire-safe shelter for him, family, and very importantly, the generator.
He’s very fire conscious and actually gives demonstrations to owner/builders as a volunteer for the Fire Safe Council (under the aegis of CDF). In fact, six years ago, he replaced all the burnable shake roofing with the distinctive blue coated steel panels.
His 7,000 gallon “pool” of jade green water is yet another concession to fire; he pours a jar of olive oil on its surface during mosquito-laying season to prevent West Nile virus problems.
When asked for advice to modern-day hippies about building, Bowman uses the KISS anagram – “Keep it simple.” (“Just drop the last S for ‘stupid’, he says gently).
Keeping things simple means you have to work at it, though. Studying techniques (see recommended books below), using proper planning, and then doing it yourself.
Bowman said one way he’s kept it simple is by using plain wood so he doesn’t have to scramble to keep up painting it. Also by eliminating dirt catchers such as window sills, baseboards, and door jams: “I just sweep things out,” thus eliminating household drudgery forever – a good ole hippie attitude.
Books Bowman recommends:
“Your Engineered Home” by Robert Rex (may have to seek out on eBay or in
used book store).
“Owner Built Homestead” by Barbara and Ken Kern (plus many others on this
topic by this couple).
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User