Friday, April 6, 2012

Yellow Iris

Photo courtesy Flickr

When I set a slip of native iris in the overflow area by the pond a few years ago, I did not realize how rewarding it would be to watch the plant develop. At first, I was simply grateful that it struck root. The rhizome itself is interesting to watch, since it sits close to the surface and is expanding in its rick-rack way to form a tight mass.

At the moment, last year’s leaves lie along the margin of the pond like rushes on a floor. Any cool season sun generates new growth that is reabsorbed when conditions don’t favor further development.

The glowing seed trusses of autumn lie in clusters where the stalks toppled, and I anticipate sprouts that will expand the clump beyond the limits of the root mass.

The plant is untouched. I’ve cut no flowers, groomed no foliage, and spread no fertilizer. Its growth patterns are true to the light that falls on it and to the water that seeps over the lip of the pond. The plant is a study in the evolution of form.

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fly By Day

Sorry, no photo today.

I’m groping for the right term to describe a kind of intelligent poise that acknowledges the uncertainties of climate change and the economy while respecting traditional responsible domestic practice. Think about expanding hikers’ options rather than shrinking a McMansion, and think about establishing amenities with on-site materials that can simply be left behind when one moves on. The point is to define elegant life support and minimize the ordinary tonnage of a single family house.

I gave my new copy of Lloyd Kahn’s Tiny Homes to a contractor friend who has been becalmed. He skimmed a few pages, lit up, and kept saying, “Are you sure to want to let this go? I’ll bring it right back.” I didn’t have the presence of mind to say, “Don’t worry. I’ve mined the book for the information I need for my purposes.”

A few Saturdays ago I settled in with a pot of coffee, me notebook, and Kahn’s latest work to grab info-nuggets. Here are some ideas that make sense here and now for dormant or mobile quarters. They're a mix of Kahn's editing and my experience.

Adapt trailer utilities to a small house. I’d set up state of the art mobile solar, water conservation, and sanitary services, code permitting. In a perfect world, all those services would be portable.
Build on a car hauler trailer and use tie-downs.
Design to look good in a driveway.
Design around commercial trucker’s modular interior tie-down points.
Include the RV “toy hauler” ramp.
Use the “wet bath” that fuses toilet and shower compartments.
Cook and eliminate outdoors to keep the place smelling sweet.
Include European security roll shutters.
Store in the floor, perhaps including a Japanese-style shelter pit in which people can stand.
Plan for skirting around the foundation.
Fill a 2x6 frame with cobbles for an outdoor sitting area. There’s a power shaker table available that makes short work of screening soil for the garden while generating paving material at the same time.
Set up a freestanding wood storage tower in the traditional way, with horizontal siding at three or four inch intervals rather than overlapping. Fill with small wood from the site. Roof with sheet metal to collect rain water.
Split lengths of firewood to set up a puncheon walk through native landscape.
Avoid custom and built-in solutions, materials that don’t recycle, and toxins.
Use high-tech modular wire storage racks on heavy-duty wheels. Fit the shelves with standard containers. I favor industrial quality milk crates.
Code permitting, insulate with press-fit upholstered foam batts.
Use materials for which there is a secondary used market.


Key words are disposable, burnable, portable, ready-made, modular, knock down, and off-grid. Think cartridges.

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How to Wish


Photo courtesy Flickr

During the most strenuous throes of the Sixties, I stayed overnight on the Hill on my way to Portland. I had two sleeping bags with me and wandered into the living room to offer one to the group that was listening to music.

My hostess jumped up and exclaimed, “I’ve been wishing for a sleeping bag! Come into the hall, and I’ll tell you how to wish.” She explained that the trick is simply consciously to wish for what one wants. It has to be conscious, though.

One day around 1990, I woke up and realized that every single thing I’d wished for had come true. The experience was terrible, because I couldn’t figure out what to do next. There’s a world beyond wishing, where things one hadn’t known one wanted turn up to make life richer. Northwest tribes have a first salmon ceremony, where they honor that fish to make sure that others continue to follow it.

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More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kitchen Haiku

Photo courtesy Flickr

Three rocks and a wok is the kitchen at its most fundamental, I’ve been told. A couple of the small appliances I was using as automated substitutes for a conventional stove burned out last week. I bought them at the same time, and apparently they were engineered for the same life span.

I moved the recently acquired induction hot plate front and center and set a flat-bottomed wok in place so I could cook oatmeal. Several breakfasts later, I realized I had recreated essence of kitchen.

In a sort of domestic vivisection, from time to time I edit or remove a housekeeping system to see if the place works without an element I was raised to believe was essential to health and propriety. Nearly always, simplifying has turned out to be faster, cheaper, easier, and more profitable. I end up with more cash to spare for educational high-tech electronics.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Counter Culture


Photo courtesy Flickr

Recently, I was chatting about the blog with a new acquaintance. There was a “Say what!?” moment when I described turning a $5,000 upholstery estimate into $200 for materials and fifteen hours with a glue gun, roll of jute twine, and Diana Phipp’s “Affordable Splendor”.

Also recently, someone quipped about the time when counter-culture did not mean granite.

In the early Seventies, a long-established Seattle insurance company decided to rebuild its headquarters. The in-house archaeologist and an equally large colleague literally raced the wrecking ball to retrieve sections of marble and labradorite from the old building. As I recall, $10 would get them any panel they wanted and could haul away on the grinding springs of a VW bug.

A few years later, I was the happy beneficiary of the salvage: labradorite makes a good work top for carpentry and graphics, and marble is ideal for baking. Stone counters were so unusual in 1977 that a geologist came by to check them out. It was he who identified the labradorite.

The market has transformed simple salvage into major investment. A geology-loving acquaintance so coveted the stone that she added five figures to the second mortgage paying for her kitchen remodel. -30
More after the jump.