July 6, 2011
Today we helped Ellen Kelley, assistant director of education, finish creating a bison bench. The bench was started as part of an ongoing collaboration between USC Alternative Spring Breaks crews and Wrigley, to create a trail from the bottom of the hill to the dining hall as well as an outdoor classroom. The 2011 USC Alternative Spring Break group was unable to finish the bench due to misunderstanding with the staff, so our task was to make a plaster to cover the bench.
We lifted off the blue tarp covering the bench and rinsed it out with a hose. Then we prepared our workspace. We made a huge circular nest out of hay and added a silver tarp into the nest. Then we layered the ground with hay. Afterwards we prepared the ingredients. We shoveled 15 gallons of sand and 5 gallons of clay. We poured the sand into the nest while Sabrina mixed it with her feet. I sprayed the bison bench, getting it wet and damp, while Dan and Ellen searched for bison manure. After obtaining the bison waste, Miller mixed it with water, creating a pasty consistency. Dan mixed the clay with water then added it to the nest. I jumped in with Sabrina to help blend the muddy concoction. Ellen realized we need cooked flour so she made it in the kitchen. We also figured out we didn’t have enough clay. So after lunch, we went to get more from the bone yard. We sifted 5 gallons of clay, and poured it into the huge mixture. The sifting process was a bit tedious. We had to wear masks as the finer dust kicked up in the air because of the wind. We also filtered the clay twice. Sabrina and I continued to stomp through the mix as Dan, Miller, and Ellen added the sifted clay in a gradual manner. Soon afterwards, we added cooked flour and 2 gallons of water. It looked like chocolate milk. Throughout the mixing, we folded and flipped the mixture to make sure there was an even consistency. Sabrina and I gauged the mixture based on the texture. It was first thick and hard then as we added more of the ingredients it got really sticky, gooey, and muddy to a point it attracted flies and wasps. Then we added the finishing touches: a gallon of bison manure and cattail puffs. The bison manure was gross and I was squeamish about stepping in it. But by time it was mixed, I couldn’t even tell what it was. Those last two ingredients were the binding elements of the plaster.
At last, we had our plaster! Dan and Miller used buckets to scoop the mixture, while Sabrina and I used our feet to fill the bucket. We smeared the plaster on the surface of the bench and slowly spread it on the sides. Then we evened out the mix. It was a challenge because we put too much and we didn’t realize how thick the coating was. We took out lumps that didn’t mix properly and cleaned up excess mix that touched the ground. When we finished, we rinsed out our workspace and placed ladders around the bench. Before we left I saw a thick layer of plaster beginning to dry up, it was pretty cool.