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A Pilgrimage of Sustainability: Dan Dynan ’25 at Earthship Biotecture

Just Because a Door is Closed, Doesn’t Mean it Won’t Open.

Returning to school as an older student is a challenging endeavor. Often, since the conventional pathway and typical arc of life flow from high school directly to college, by the time someone may decide to go back to school, it is simply unrealistic because of life demands. My case is no different. Returning to college at the age of thirty-three with a wife, nine-month-old twins, and a dog is not without tribulation. However, although it is arduous, my return to school is deeply enriched by my life experiences. Most notably in the context of this post is my work experience and how it has provided me with an ever-renewing fount of drive and conviction to excel and grow in my passions and goals.

Conventionality never suited me in my youth. Always rebellious, eccentric and bucking the system marked much of my younger years and even into adulthood. I grew up in the Greater Philadelphia area, the urban sprawl and commercialization of the landscape encroached upon my sense of what is healthy and good. As I grew, my value system emphasized conservation, sustainability, and environmentally sound practices. Adopting these ethics was the beginning of my journey to discover my future workplace for more than ten years of my life. 

My employer before my enrollment at Antioch was Earthship Biotecture. If you haven’t heard of it, it is an off-grid construction and engineering company that utilizes natural and recycled materials to build homes with sustainable principles. Check out this 60second documentary to get a feel for what this is all about.

As a summary, six-building principles constitute what makes a structure an “Earthship.” They are: building with natural and recycled materials, thermal/solar heating and cooling, solar and wind electricity, water harvesting, contained sewage treatment, and food production (Reynolds). 

At this point, I think it would be relevant to share an excerpt from the preface of my book on Earthship greenhouse management about how I discovered Earthships and the beginning of a profound chapter of my life. Here I share my first encounter with Earthships:

I remember the first time I visited the Earthship community in Taos, New Mexico. I was on a short road trip from southern Colorado to Albuquerque for a workshop. I had never heard of Earthships at all, but a handful of friends told me that if I was going through Taos, I had to stop and see them. I thought it was maybe some crazy art installation in the desert where people carved pirate ships out of the mountainside or something (which wasn’t that far off, now that I think about it). I ended up going to the Earthship Biotecture Visitor Center and taking a short tour of the building they had open at the time. I thought to myself, as I was going through the premises, if all the claims of being able to live off-grid by designing the home this way were true, why was this not more widespread? 

When the tour was over, there was someone on staff you could speak to about any questions that may have come up. I asked some probing ones, without being rude, because I was skeptical about the whole thing, but still profoundly interested and maybe slightly perplexed. As I stood there at the end of the tour digesting all this information, I saw a planter bed and, in it, a six-foot banana plant flowering with maybe fifty bananas on it. It felt like it was staring me in the face. I had never seen anything like that in my life and was stunned that there was a tropical fruit thriving in a high desert environment. Everything I had just experienced stuck with me for the rest of my trip. 

I needed some time to mull it over. When I got home, I researched Earthships extensively. This led me to apply for an internship on-site and, in turn, to my employment with the company and, ultimately, to working with the plants in the greenhouses and teaching the academy course. In a way, I feel indebted to that banana tree because, without it, I probably wouldn’t be living the life that I feel so blessed to have (Dynan).

Working for a small company, being versatile is a huge asset. So early on, I wore many hats and helped out in many different roles. I would give tours, clean water organizing modules, did maintenance on the solar panels and battery banks, but as my excerpt described, my niche became greenhouse management. For the bulk of my time at Earthship, it was spent taking care of the various plant systems in the company-owned buildings. Watering, pruning, fertilizing, turning the compost, and starting seeds are all common daily tasks that fell under my responsibility. I love plants, so it was a great way to spend my days.

Taos, New Mexico, can be a harsh place to live. The workplace environment at Earthship can also be tough. The combination can make for some extreme situations, and it takes real tenacity to live and work long term in a place like this. 

One of the most powerful lessons on a personal level that I learned as a young adult working at Earthship Biotecture was grit, determination, and the meaning and impact of hard work. Having a reasonably comfortable upbringing, working at Earthship, and living on my own was a reality check and a psychological crossroads for me. Either I mustered up all my strength and met the demands of this new experience, or I could crumble and run away. My time in the high desert and living off-grid was not easy, but it was, without a doubt, awesome and magical. At some point, I believe life comes around to burst our bubble; although painful, confronting it head-on and enduring any hardships most always ends in an enriched life or at least a more authentic version of the self on the other end. 

My time at Earthship has fortified my direction in life, and I am grateful for its role in becoming the adult I am today. Many people come and go working at Earthship. It is a transient rich place because of all the difficulties people encounter trying to put roots down there. I am proud that I have left a lasting mark at Earthship and remain a key figure and voice for the greenhouse aspect of the company. Reflecting on my time at Earthship, I see it now as a rite of passage from boy to man.

Sometimes you need to just open a door and walk through, even if you don’t know how it will turn out or where it will go. Persevering through the trials and celebrating the good times have been incredibly fruitful, and I would not take back anything from my adventure so far.

Works Cited

“Recycled Homes | Earthships // 60 Second Docs – Youtube.” Earthship 60second Doc, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNEBoSXmcoI. 

Reynolds, Michael. “Design Principles.” Earthship Biotecture Michael Reynolds, https://www.earthshipglobal.com/design-principles. 

Dynan, Daniel. Holistic Indoor Gardening: A Panoptic View Through The Lens of Greenhouse Management. Independently Published, 2019

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Dan Dynan is a BS candidate at Antioch College for a self-designed major in Environmental Philosophy.

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