Friday, August 26, 2011

Urban Wildlife Report

Photo courtesy Flickr

Crows dunk. Dry bread in puddles, jerked road kill in rainy gutters.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

On a recent outing, I confessed to my companion that I had rid myself of the freezer, cut my power bill in half by doing so, and now use the freezers of the nearby supermarket and the Big Box Warehouse Store. I think their power rates are cheaper than mine, and certainly the turnover is superior.

A cousin on Bainbridge used to sweat power outages until the family invested in a generator to protect the contents of the freezer. Can’t quite see the economy in that.

Keeping depth in the larder is an unquestionable virtue. Thomas Conran’s Kitchen Book has an inspiring chapter on the subject. Over the years, I have found that dried and canned foods are more versatile, compact, and cheaper to store than frozen things.

The old ways of preserving food are nearly invisible. Jam is preserved fruit. Pickles are preserved vegetables. Hard tack is dried bread. Cheese is preserved milk. Beans are beans. A real ham requires no refrigeration, even in the tropics, and wheat, I am told, stores indefinitely.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Native Landscape

Photo courtesy Flickr

Saturday a local garden commentator presented some shrub or other as a manageable alternative to the local snowberry, a pleasant blue-green deciduous plant that spreads by runners and carries delicate pink-centered white berries during the cold months.

Snowberry, in my experience, is out to rule the world, and the only thing holding it in check is rosa Nootkana that wants to do the same thing.

On a mid-afternoon coffee break in the back yard, I studied the elderberry that I inadvertently planted in elderberry heaven: a mildly shaded spot in the drain pattern off the roof of the garages. In six seasons, that small tree (the catalogue promised!) has grown nearly three stories high, despite being cut to the ground in its second year. It resembles the tropical trees on pink English pottery, and this year it is drooping under the weight of dozens of berry trusses nearly a foot across.

We will have well-fed birds on this block.

Something clicked when I looked at the elderberry and recalled the morning garden remark: I realized, and remembered, the sheer power of the local environment, and its ability to generate magnificence if we just leave it alone. The snowberry that’s such a bother to some and the elderberry that’s romping into the sky convert water, sunlight, and unfertilized garden soil into major biomass with no homeowner labor at all.

There are many reasons to garden. Growing food is one. Maintaining a botanical collection is another. Supporting wildlife is a third. I choose to maintain an island of local plants as a source from which birds can distribute seeds.

One of the local museums is showing a collection of nineteenth-century paintings of the West. A tv promotion commented that the painter skewed the land forms to demonstrate his passion for them. I doubt that is true. A landscape that is not stressed is overwhelming to eyes conditioned by old world folkways that literally cut it down to size.

In the early Seventies, the Quinault tribe closed its Pacific beach to the visitors who were scraping it bare of driftwood and using it as a drag strip. Twenty years later, I drove up to the southern edge of the beach and stood on the border between public and tribal sands. To my left was the contemporary usual, minor logs, tire tracks, a little junk. To my right was sky beyond measure and the great echoing unmarred shimmering gray and silver margin between rolling breakers and the towering forests that remain to the tribe.

That landscape had the same resonant qualities as the paintings a critic had deigned editorial. Twenty years of peace had brought it back as the open cathedral it is meant to be.

The power of the landscape is inescapable. It can be deformed, and we will pay. It can be poisoned, and we will pay. It can be protected, and it will pay us.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Skirted Table

Photo courtesy Flickr

If you want your house to look just like 1973, put a round table next to a reading chair (remember reading?), cover it with a patchwork quilt, and set a silk-shaded incandescent lamp and a dozen interesting small artifacts on it. Lord, how things have changed.

If you want your dressing table to look just like 1450 or so, put a six-foot folding office work table in your boudoir, cover it with the most gorgeous textile you own, perhaps a worn hand-knotted Oriental rug with the threadbare center covered with white linen, and set it with silver everything: mirror, candlesticks, tray, brushes. The space under the table will be a good place to store cases of beer and toilet paper, hiking equipment, small children, and spare dogs.

If you want your dining room to look residential, even though you use it as a home office, cover the table with a floor-length cloth that matches the rug (to minimize visual bulk), and stow the shredder, rolling briefcase, and waste basket at the extra places that aren’t used every day. Reserve a little empty space in the next room to store office gear when guests are at the table.

More after the jump.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Virtues of Wooden Seating

Photo courtesy Flickr
Seattle’s waterfront ferry terminal is a key building that serves bedroom communities and the Bremerton Naval Shipyard on the west shore of Puget Sound. For many visitors, the ferry terminal is their first impression of the city. The state rebuilt Colman Dock during the post-war flush of Fifties prosperity, an interesting and rational period in American design. 

Early public waiting areas, like the dock’s predecessor, the train station, and the bus terminal, were furnished with long, solid, high-backed two-sided oak benches that offer no place for bugs to hide. The new dock had the same thing, but a little sleeker and with heavy bent aluminum straps for intermittent arm rests.

I waited for a ferry the other day and noticed that the Fifties benches look like the devil: they’d been painted a couple of times in the last twenty years. Ordinary wear and tear has chipped the colors, and the benches look like funky urban walls. I fear they are at risk.

The benches had been painted during a long period of unprecedented prosperity, and the designer added a row of high-tech upholstered chairs with desk arms, all made of oil. Now that the economy is, to put it gently, contracting, the stylish decision-making that left fine oak and nearly noble metal (unmarred after sixty years of service) looking like trash and a row of showy, high-maintenance furniture that’s essentially no different from freezer bags looking temporarily splendid seems open to question.

Historic preservation is a viable strategy, especially when times are tough. The timber reserve that is Colman’s oak is worth restoring, and the sleek geometry of Fifties design makes the job inexpensive. If the benches had simply been refinished during the first round of paint, they would not have needed painting again so soon. Varnished timber is a fine maritime tradition, and I’d just as soon choose a classic, low-maintenance look and leave sassy innovation for high-tech areas that become obsolete.

-30- More after the jump.