Beauty on Site

Living with Nature – Beauty and Challenge

Beauty on Site

Beauty on Site


A hummingbird stopped by while Barb and I chatted in the courtyard.

An important part of the Site Petal in the Living Building Challenge is the restoration of a healthy co-existence with nature. The team has worked diligently to create spaces onsite that support native flora and fauna, making Desert Rain a space shared with the area’s wildlife. Living with nature can offer great beauty and pose interesting challenges.

Well within Bend’s urban area, delicate and drought tolerant plants attract migrating hummingbirds. Native shrubs and grasses provide shelter and food for resident deer. Carefully chosen plants prevent the spread of invasive species while simultaneously contributing to the overall health of the soil. Mature trees protected through the construction process provide shade, food sources, and homes for small animals like squirrels. It’s a beautiful place to be for every being.


The Challenges of Living Together

Deer Rubs on Saplings

A typical deer rub on one the Desert Rain saplings early this Fall.

While every creature is welcomed at Desert Rain, some pose a challenge. Take our resident deer herd, for example. Male deer rub their antlers on tree stems and trunks in the early fall. Bucks do this to remove the velvet that has been growing on their antlers throughout the summer. They prefer small trees, usually one to three inches in diameter – like our very newly planted serviceberries. The vertical scrapes and shredded bark are problematic for our saplings because the bark (the xylem and cambium layers) makes up the tree’s system for carrying food from the leaves to the roots. If the rubbing is too severe and the bark is removed all the way around the tree, the flow off food is cut off and the tree will die.

Tubes to protect trees from deer rubs

These tubes protect small trees from deer rubs.

Can we live with nature while maintaining our carefully landscaped spaces? A quick web search for deer rubs results in many ways to keep deer out of a yard. But Barb and Tom are not trying to keep the deer away. Instead, they have turned their attention to protecting their newly planted trees in a way that doesn’t push the animals away. Simple tubes passively protect the young saplings, while the deer still happily bed down in the nearby grasses. It’s a wining compromise.

Living with Nature




From Trees – Honoring the Wood We Use

Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.  ― Franklin D. Roosevelt


A beautiful, healthy Tamarack still looks over the Desert Rain Compound.

Similar to understanding where our food comes from, understanding where the wood we use comes from is important to the entire Desert Rain process.  From the very beginning of this project, Barb and Tom have given a great deal of thought to the trees on the property, those recently harvested elsewhere (FSC only), and those harvested long ago who still offer immense value.  From the reclaimed lumber of previously existing houses on site and the memorial ponderosa, to the tamarack now being milled for Desert Lookout, Barb and Tom are mindful about the trees involved.

Memorial Ponderosa Plaque

The Memorial Ponderosa Plaque welcomes guests in the entry of Desert Rain.

When the large , 201 year old ponderosa on the property had to be taken down, Barb, Tom, friends, and volunteers planted 201 ponderosa saplings in Shevlin Park on the westside of Bend. They further memorialized the beautiful tree with a memorial plaque, created by Bill Sturm of Oregon Timberworks, and with a new tree planted inside the old ponderosa’s stump.

The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value. ― Theodore Roosevelt

Tamarack Stair Treads

Pieces of Tamarack ready to be made into stair treads for Desert Lookout.

And now, wood from another, smaller Tamarack is being milled for use on site.  The tree had to be taken down, but rather than having it chopped it up for firewood or having it hauled off like yard debris, the beautifully grained wood will continue to be a part of the Desert Rain compound.  The team from Versatile Carpentry has just finished installing the Tamarack stair treads in Desert Lookout. They will be an elegant connection to this place for many, many years to come.

Honoring Trees

The timber frame construction on the sign reflects the essence of the business of Oregon Timberworks.

In France, there is an ancient guild of craftsmen known as the Compagnons Du Devoir. Within the guild, dating back to 1226 AD, there are twenty-one different trades, one of which is carpentry, and more specifically, timber framing. In France, Compagnons built and continue to build everything from the great cathedrals to farmhouses and barns. It is a time-honored system of ‘stagiaires’ (trainees), working to become ‘aspirants’ (candidates), striving to become compagnons – the masters. The Compagnons must then pass on their knowledge, values, and ethics assuring dignity within their noble profession. The system fosters the perfection of character and education in each person resulting in more than 800 years of quality craftsmanship in building history.

Barb Scott and Bill Sturm of Oregon Timberworks with the ponderosa plaque in the background.

It was this history of the Compagnons and the legacy of the buildings that inspired local timber framer, Bill Sturm to pursue his passion.  Bill, owner of Oregon Timberworks, recently worked on a project for Desert Rain. He created a massive memorial plaque from a slab of the 201-year-old ponderosa pine tree that was removed from the building site.  I visited Bill at his shop to learn more about his craft and the materials he works with.

Some of the timbers in the stack.




Bill began his career as an architecture student at Georgia Institute of Technology.  He spent a year in Paris studying design and architecture where he was intrigued by the heavy, timbered structures, wooden joinery, and longevity of the built environment.  He attended the Design/Build program at University of Oregon, worked as a carpenter on traditional framed houses, and eventually found his way to a timber frame shop in Sisters, Oregon.  In 2000 he created his business, Oregon Timberworks.

Bill Sturm, owner of Oregon Timberworks, milling timber on site at his shop.







In the early years, Bill said there was very little use of reclaimed wood.  ‘Green’ was not yet a common term in the building trade and Bill did not intentionally choose timber framing as a sustainable profession.  Today he finds his craft and his business have all the elements of meeting environmentally conscious and sustainable building practices.  The quality of workmanship, materials, and design creates a structure with longevity.  He uses reclaimed materials when available.  The reclaimed timbers tend to be large diameter, high quality wood from demolition projects – grain elevators, commercial structures, barns.  Any new timber he uses comes from small mills. Bill often knows the source of the timber as he visits sites to choose the standing trees.

This reclaimed timber is an impressive 20″ x 24″ and was 50′ long when Oregon Timberworks was called to come in and cut them to smaller lengths.

Oregon Timberworks builds furniture, signs, houses, and barns. A recent project was a 40’ high tree house in the Willamette Valley. The process is math based so pieces can be designed and cut at the shop and then shipped to the building site. One house went to Hawaii in two containers. Bill likes to maintain control of the process so he works with a crew on site to construct the frames on the building sites.

Bill is adamant about not wasting wood or what he calls, ‘drop’.  He is a self-proclaimed timber hoarder, saving almost all scraps of 24” lengths and sometimes even shorter, if he likes the wood. Eventually, this ‘waste’ may end up in a project – a furniture piece, bench, or saw horses.  After many cuts some small scraps find their way to the firewood pile. Even then, Bill admits to occasionally rescuing a piece.

Bill has a story and enthusiasm for almost all the timbers stored at his shop. He exudes knowledge and a love for trees, timber, and his craft. Port Orford Cedar was used for the tree house project. Though not a true cedar, it is native to southwest Oregon. It has an interesting history and is considered a spiritual tree by the Japanese.

Port Orford Cedar Chamaecyparis lawsoniana is a cypress known by the name Lawson Cypress in the horticultural trade, or Port Orford-cedar in its native range although not a true cedar. C. lawsoniana is native to the southwest of Oregon and the far northwest of California in the United States, occurring from sea level up to 1,500 m (4,900 ft) altitude in the Klamath Mountain Range valleys, often along streams. (source Wikipedia)


Scarf joints are used to join two timbers together to make one longer timber that is structurally strong.

Bill has a spiritual philosophy about trees as well. His most eloquent words give perspective and reverence to his chosen craft of timber framing and working with natural timber.  ‘We have to appreciate that this timber was a living-breathing tree. The best way to honor a tree is to never let it see a burn pile. We must always let it keep its value’.

The plaque that Bill made for Desert Rain is mounted on a wall inside the house, honoring that Ponderosa pine.  The rest of the ponderosa story will be unfolding in an upcoming post helping that tree keep its value.

Some of the massive, reclaimed timbers in the pile came from Powell Books in Portland. Bill is always on the lookout for reclaimed timber.