Friday, January 7, 2011

Back to the Future

Photo courtesy Flickr

Recently I spent three days in the time warp known as Port Townsend, Washington. The B and B was close to the courthouse, and my hostess asked if the chiming of the tower clock had disturbed my sleep. Not at all, it was a deeply comforting sentinel marking the passage of a clear night. The slow tones echoed over the bay and onto the mountains to the south.

The clock holds the town together and has set a dignified pace across many generations. I half expected to hear a crier tell me all was well, but the quality of the timber in the B and B did that. It was comforting to experience time by the hour rather than the nano-second, and to enjoy a social rather than commercial timepiece of such magnitude .

Development in Port Townsend was disabled by a market crash at the turn of the twentieth century. The city is a reservoir of Victorian architecture and reads more than any place in the state. The internet erased distinctions between city and country. Local culture is far from provincial.

Although the clock tower looks like something out of a tranquil film set, it's worth remembering that it stood watch over the Straits of Juan de Fuca during the black days after Pearl Harbor. Tens of thousands of guys lived in rain-soaked tents on the shore, waiting for the enemy fleet to sail into Puget Sound. The entire West Coast was an official combat zone.

Forty miles to the west sits Port Angeles, planned by President Lincoln to be the western capital of the United States. PA was designed by the same French architect who laid out Washington, D.C. Its streets are a joy to travel, either on foot or by car. Interestingly, archaeology recently learned that PA had been, in tribal terms, a huge city before Europeans arrived. It was the biggest settlement on the West Coast. Did Abe have an eye for a site or what?

English designer David Pye commented around 1964 that “nostalgia is always lying in wait for us.” That’s a warning flag worth flying all the time. It’s great fun, though, and often richly rewarding to examine the past with an eye for good things that have been overlooked and even useless things that may be valuable again.

When technology changes, basic needs can sometimes be met with old ways and new materials. It’s a good strategy for saving energy and reducing the carbon load on the environment. The featherweight plastic bucket makes carrying water easy compared to hefting an oaken albatross. An LED hiker’s lantern with rechargeable batteries improves on kerosene while sustaining the elegance of cordless, lightweight illumination. An electronic pressure cooker does most of the healthful things of a hearth, but better, faster, and safer.

More after the jump.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Precious But Not Valuable, Valuable But Not Precious

Photo courtesy Flickr

One day at the beach, a friend whose spouse had gathered a significant collection of Asian art told me not to worry about possessions. She said, “No one will steal the things you truly value.” She must have known: the family did not leave town without sending the art to secure storage.

A few moments later, her partner carried a palm full of blue-green corrosion out to the floatshack's weathered deck and convinced me that the beach-weary scrap of hardware was an ancient bronze. Might as well have been, I suppose. I’m told those museum pieces were cooking pots.


s More after the jump.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

On the road recently, I gained perspective about what’s working and what is not in my beloved daily routine. Will power is not really my thing: won’t power is a more effective motivator, once I figure out what’s viable.

A diet free of salt and sugar supports a happy metabolism. “Treats” slow reaction times and impair muscle tone.

Living out of packing cubes and envelopes makes it a snap to travel. Since I never really unpack, it’s easy to get going.

On this trip, I saw a huge range of period home furnishings and realized that I prefer things large and small that function well, satisfy visually, and leave no after-image, no sense of style hook or dominance.

There was a time in the Seventies when the design community regarded a hen’s egg as the ultimate form. It’s still rewarding to spend time looking at one and considering its strength and subtle geometry.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Coming Up

Photo courtesy Flickr

I used to haunt the Big Thrift Chain between Christmas and the end of January when the end of the year brought the best pickings. Dark days are a good time to edit and refresh without investing more than time, labor, and a little material.

This is a good time to plan, even before the seed catalogues arrive. Perhaps there should be a seed catalogue for concepts.

I look forward to bringing some kind of form to the wildlings in the garden, and I look forward to turning newly emptied space into productive real estate.

After the storms come down, I’ll paint a little and tune the place into a barely dimensional backdrop for a life that’s up to speed.

A good friend taught me years ago to make a list of all the things I had to do, look it over, and then carefully tear up the list.

-30- More after the jump.