Halfway up a slope on Elk Creek Road is property known as "Elk Dancing." The owners, environmentally conscious Melonie and Rich Jorgensen, live in a straw bale house, use solar energy and grow much of their own food. Melonie’s sons, Stefan and Thaddeus Gala, also live there and contribute to the Jorgensen’s goal of leaving a "lighter footprint" on this planet.
Although Elk Dancing is in an area of burned forest from the Timbered
Rock Fire of 2002, the Jorgensen’s continuing reforestation of their
almost 80acres, leaves their home and outbuildings surrounded with
young Oak trees and seedlings. 1,800 Ponderosa Pines and firs were
planted in February as part of the project. Considering the magnitude
of the fire, the Jorgensen’s property is surprisingly spectacular.
Stefan, owner of the "Green Earth Tree Service" is responsible for much
of the work.
Everyone living at Elk Dancing, including two
young women Megan and Kaytee, drive vehicles that have been converted
to using vegetable oil instead of diesel fuel. Thaddeus, a Shady Cove
chiropractor, is responsible for the change-overs. While attending
college in Florida, Thaddeus became interested in alternate energy
sources and converted his car. After graduation, he drove home from
Florida on 200 gallons of vegetable oil, obtained free from restaurants.
course, the heart of Elk Dancing is the home, where Melonie reigns with
a gentle hand. Inside by the front door, there is what is called the
"truth window." A framed piece of glass shows the interior of a wall,
to prove that the stunning house truly is constructed of straw bales.
of the bales, inside corners are rounded and the windowsills are deep.
With huge windows and long vistas, some of the sills are furnished with
soft cushions and pillows, an invitation to meditate or perhaps to
relax with a good book.
The house has soaring ceilings with
some walls only at partial height for air and heat circulation. A
cupola with a fan and venting, keeps the air moving to maintain ideal
temperatures all year round.
A large fireplace is not only
attractive but designed to be functional. In the cold Oregon winters, a
fire in the morning and one in the evening keeps the house warm.
Combine that with radiant floor heat that uses propane gas and the
Jorgensens are comfortable with minimal cost. During the summer, the
house only fluctuates about five degrees in a 24-hour period, said the
Because of the construction, there is no need
for air-conditioning. By one bedroom, a pond acts as an evaporative
cooler as breezes waft through the house from a strategically placed
window. The pond is filled with gray water and roof runoff and has a
filtering system. Small fish and frogs swim among the reeds.
house boasts Energy Star appliances and solar heated water, including
an on-demand propane water heater for backup. Solar panels provide
about 75 percent of the electricity for the property with twelve,
6-volt batteries as backup, said Rich Jorgensen. The Energy Trust
System of Oregon gives homeowners incentives and state and federal tax
credits. Jorgensen said he feels he is contributing to the environment
by relying on clean energy rather than fossil fuels.
landscaping at Elk Dancing is beautiful with drought resistant and
edible plants. A vine climbing up the house produces kiwifruit. herbs,
onions, cherry tomatoes and more are growing among ornamental plants.
There is also a huge vegetable garden. The Jorgensens have a
greenhouse, composting bins, a composting toilet and even a solar
Everyone living at Elk Dancing pitches in
to do their fair share of work, including the chickens and ducks that
produce about a dozen eggs a day. One large, white chicken may have the
strongest work ethic of all, however. The chicken, which helped out by
sitting on duck eggs, now patrols a narrow pond while the newly-hatched
ducklings swim. Back and forth, the dedicated chicken marches along the
edge, matching her pace to "her" ducklings. It is a sight to bring a
smile to anyone’s face.
The Jorgensens bought Elk Dancing
almost three years ago from Naomi Fineman. Fineman designed the house
with Lawrence Schechter and had it built by Alex Boutacoff, a former
Eagle Point resident.
Melonie said she feels more like a
steward of the house rather than an owner. She has a spiritual feeling
about the property. The house and its concept are meant to be shared
with others and used as a learning tool for those interested in solar,
green houses. For more information about an annual tour given by the
Jorgensens, call 878-9447.
By Maraget Bradburn
Of the Independent