Friday, December 2, 2011

What Do You Do When You're Doing Nothing?

Photo courtesy Flickr

Answers vary, but the question never fails to generate a moment of peace and concentration.

Make the most of it by training core strength and learning good posture from a Steam Punk or zen person. Check Richard Baker's on-line Hsin Hsin Ming for further tips and consider looking at Masanobu Fukuoka's One Straw Revolution for an original perspective. Fukuoka's "do nothing agriculture" has been hugely influential.

More after the jump.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Marsh

Photo courtesy Flickr

My old friend Karmen wrangled a blended family with ten children. One day she told me she had ordered her younger son to clean his room after she realized she couldn’t remember what the rug looked like. The details are neither appetizing nor important, but I thought about floors the other day.

Rem Koolhaas’s Seattle Public Library takes architecture into the next dimension-if you’re in town, be sure to visit. A section of the main floor is called the living room, and the carpet is woven with a pattern of random leaves of rushes.
The photo shows the current, attenuated version of the carpet. It's been modified since the building opened. The design reflects the old English practice of covering the dirt floor of a hall house with a layer of marsh grass.

That’s still done: I have a layer of rushes under my feet at this very moment, but they’re braided and sewn into squares, and the thirty-second-of-an-inch layer of dirt has fir flooring under it. This sea grass matting, a Chinese export popular since the early eighteenth century, is my favorite floor. After fifteen years of service in a heavy traffic area, it is beginning to self-destruct. It will be trivial to replace it and use the old matting to mulch part of the garden. The matting will break down in a year or so.

Back in the day, when merry persons ate with their fingers at a trestle table with nice warm dogs under it, the dirt floor was known as the marsh for reasons neither appetizing nor important. Good housekeeping meant spreading another layer of rushes over the decaying ones already in place. In a spirit of contrary speculation, I’ve wondered whether the practice might be not quite as disgusting as it seems. Pathogens die in a compost environment that’s only a hundred and forty degrees or more for, to be on the safe side, an hour or so.

I wouldn’t bet the public health on this one, or the family’s either, but “the marsh” may have been a self-cleaning floor. It would have been unlikely to have held anything that didn’t biodegrade, general sanitation was so primitive that anyone who survived probably had excellent resistance, and constant daily foot traffic and the open fire burning on the floor in the middle of the room would have accelerated decomposition, increasing the temperature generated by the process. Compared to the stable next door, a hall house floor might have looked fastidious.

My kid met his first shop vacuum when he was eleven. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Where was this when I was four?” (and playing with Legos). All during his childhood, I muttered and wished for a vacuum cleaner that mulches until I discovered the very thing in a garden catalogue when the need was gone.

The key to the marsh is one simple rule: do not chew gum in the house. It is gum that connects mylar to fruit peels to socks to tissues in the incomprehensible dusty clots that accumulate like detritus from a shipwreck. When you clean this kind of thing wear a particle mask so the allergens don’t drive you into a rage.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Save the Whale

Photo courtesy Flickr

I planned last week’s Thanksgiving menu as if the Pilgrims had had the great good fortune to settle on Puget Sound. This is a turkey-free zone, although the wild birds are now regarded as an invasive species east of the Cascades.

I poured the in-house archaeologist a cup of coffee, and once it took effect, he started speculating about meat consumption near Plymouth Rock. Thanksgiving celebrated the pilgrim’s first successful harvest. Since November, “blood month”, is the season when hogs are butchered and smoked, people would have been tired of pork. So, turkey was the obvious choice for the main course. (Hams and bacon would hang safely in cool weather and remain edible until Easter.)

I reminded him of the year the Makah tribe invited the entire state of Washington to dinner. Let’s face it, Northwest tribes make even a twelve-course Russian dinner look like a Yankee’s saltines and sardines. The Makah really did that, after they claimed and used their traditional right to hunt sea mammals.

I wondered aloud how many guests had arrived, and archy said about four thousand, mostly tribespeople. At the time, there was some snickering about Makah cooks rummaging in their grandmother’s recipe files. Several years later there were chuckles about Makah freezers still being full. Apparently, one factor limiting the appreciation of a whale dinner is that it tastes like whale. Whatever the back story, Neah Bay whales have lived in peace since that historic legal hunt.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Please note that the photograph for November 14, "In Case the Duchess Comes to Dinner" is the work of Gerard Dalmon. More after the jump.


Photo courtesy Flickr

The idea of drinking wild turkey instead of roasting a domestic one met with universal approval last Wednesday. I simplified the holiday menu by using home-cooked cranberry sauce as dessert. The sauce filled tarts the first night, and the next day I served it with sweetened, flavored whipped cream and a cookie on the side. It was good on oatmeal, too, also topped with the cream.

Turkey ain’t quite the same treat when it’s a deli staple 364 other days of the year. It is, however, cause for thanks to have this kind of boredom.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

When you buy something that runs on electricity, look for a tag with UL on it. That guarantees that the product is approved by the people who sell fire insurance. ‘Nuff said.

-30- More after the jump.