Friday, September 23, 2011

The Medieval Chamber

Photo courtesy Flickr

A characteristic room of privilege had a four-poster bed standing in the middle of a space lined with storage chests. Over the decades, I’ve made numerous small choices that are beginning to add up to just such a room. It makes a world of sense, especially for small space.

Back in the day, a four-poster was the principal item of furnishing, costing roughly the equivalent of an automobile. Last year we cobbled together an experimental bed out of galvanized conduit and greenhouse fittings. It made a warm and comfortable winter sleeping space hung with fine thread-count cotton drop cloths from the Very Value Hardware chain.

This season I installed a plywood top in imitation of the Elizabethan version of a four-poster. The project was trivial, just cut, paint, drill four holes, and lash to the conduit with zip ties. It is not unsightly to store spare sleeping bags on the plywood top, and they insulate. The hangings are now trimmed to fit and secured with hot glue. That, too, was a trivial project that took only a couple of hours.

There's no need to heat a room that houses a bed like this. It’s an indoor tent. A real freestanding tent will serve just as well but look unusual. One can cover a tent with a decorative blanket or coverlet to integrate it with a conventional space.

Gradually, I am storing small inventory, like clothing and bedding, in trunks. Packing cubes and envelopes from the Great Big Hiking Co-op keep the contents organized. We’ve accumulated a motley collection of tool chests, hope chests, travel trunks, and military foot lockers. The system is flexible and convenient. It’s calmer to observe one chest than a stack of eight drawers or a shelf of umpteen items. A chest is instant seating, a ready side table, or, with companions and covered self-inflating air mattresses, a banquette.

Yesterday I was fiddling with stowing sleeping bags on top of the bed Transylvania-style. I found myself pulling a heavily carved chest on magical sliders toward the structure to step up. The carving offered good footing for my toes. As I pushed the chest back to its coffee table position I realized I had reinvented the Japanese stair chest, used in traditional houses to gain access to overhead areas. No doubt the stair chest was originally a collection of storage boxes.

A chest that’s full is stable, convenient, and easy to secure. In the Middle Ages, the dominant couple slept in the four-poster and the rest of the household slept on the row of chests against the wall. A hall house could be as small as four hundred square feet, and there might be ten or more persons sleeping in the space.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

I spent last weekend hanging out with field scientists in a patch of Eastern Washington forest. One of them said a colleague who left the day before had patrolled the campground and observed that this year’s unusual weather had produced enough berries to sustain an old-time tribesperson for two days.

The guys considered that for a moment and began adding things to the menu, like the few pine nuts that remained in the cones on the ground. They concluded that the best strategy would be to salvage the nuts and use them to trap the one chickaree that was scampering around.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Summer's Retrospective

Photo courtesy Flickr

Last week’s Eastern Washington campground was no quieter overnight than Capitol Hill.

Drug store 1x1 rib cotton tank tops are excellent hot weather clothing and very good value. A cheap imported rayon sarong is a good buy for Seattle’s two weeks of heat.

Closed shoes keep toes clean in the city.

The back yard “country place”, a thirty-second commute from the house, remains our leisure haven of choice.

Not watering the lawn also means not mowing the lawn. When it comes back to life with the rains of October, the turf will be thick and powerful.

Native plants grow furiously with the least sprinkling of rain.

Micro-watermelons fit city refrigerators.

It’s good to schedule a month to “keep secret house”, avoiding social engagements and catching up on maintenance.

And finally, spring housecleaning is best done in October, when the windows are closed and indoor traffic slows down.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Travellin' Lady

Photo courtesy Flickr

Hunter Thompson described Rosalie Sorels as a “king-hell songwriter”. Her Travelling Lady is an anthem of domestic liberation. She talks about “aprons and dust pans and such” and goes on to say “now I receive all my friends in a bar and none of those glasses are mine”.

The nest filled briefly and emptied again last week, reminding me of how much time I used to spend running domestic systems, of what a huge relief it has been to downsize in place by paring gear to necessities, and of what fun it is to use a medium-density city neighborhood as an extended home.

We don’t seem to need more than an elegant minimal six of anything as long as its backed up by the disposables in the emergency kit. Now and then I contemplate staging a state dinner, say for a wedding, and I realize that’s why God made party suppliers. With grandmother’s table cloth, who’s gonna know?

I love my down-tech kitchen and can cook anything I care to here, but we eat simply at home. If we want a large, complicated feed, we can walk a few blocks to many options of every-increasing sophistication.

We’ll be going to a group camp-out soon, an annual event that has confirmed what I learned at my mother’s knee. She grew up surrounded by genuine wilderness, spending much time in the field and on the water. She concluded that her favorite camp site was the Olympic Hotel. Our fellow campers are brilliant outdoors families, and I can do that, too, but I’d rather not bother at this point. I gave up trying to compete when it became apparent I was just contributing excess to tables that lacked refrigeration.

Last season we decided to let the cooks at a nearby resort fry the eggs for us, and this year we’ll do the same, eating one full meal at a commercial table and using deli and snack bars to tide us over the rest of the twenty-four. Three days’ disposable plates and cutlery may not sink the planet, and they’ll gain me hours to listen to the river and watch lichen grow.

PS: A first-rate bottle of Scotch seems to satisfy the most demanding pot-luck organizers, and it’s cost-effective.

PPS: I brought the cooks breakfast in bed on the day of the big meal.

More after the jump.