Friday, April 5, 2013

Reference Library

Photo courtesy Flickr

The Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus has a living museum surrounding it: a small collection of native plants that is an easily accessed reference. This is a good time of year to experience the subtle blossoms of Oregon grape. Between now and June there will be a rolling display of the modest and fragrant charms that indigenous botany brings to the landscape.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Mesh Duffel

Photo courtesy Flickr

Much of my life is organized in commercial grade sixteen quart dairy crates that are easy to wash and handle. On a good day, a crate holds things that are equally easy to wash and handle, so I don’t even have to unload it to get some maintenance done. Plastic toys, for example.

Giddy with a large rebate last year, I slapped the racks at the Great Big Hiking Co-op and on impulse picked up a package of three smallish mesh duffel bags from Raptor Creek. I had no defined use for them, but they seemed like a neat idea.

Over the months, the duffels have displaced other storage systems. One makes a mean mesh laundry bag. One stores used cleaning cloths as they dry. Another holds various components of the emergency evacuation kit. I had been fitting the pack with various black nylon storage cubes, but it was too much of a muchness. The slack duffel corrals essentials while allowing them to fit themselves into small corners of the pack’s interior. Using a duffel allows me effectively to dump everything loose into the pack while still being able to retrieve easily.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Photo courtesy Flickr

A couple of years ago I sat through an awards luncheon stunned by a couple of news items. One was that the very museum in which I sat had had a near-death experience at the hands of the economy. The other was the not-so-news the keynote speaker had conveyed: knowledgeable science people have come to realize that local tribes had managed the forests with great skill, the elders who knew how that was done had died before anyone interviewed them, and that it will take several hundred years to recreate their techniques.

Skill generates economy of effort, and economy of effort is often invisible, only comprehended when it is no longer present. It’s worth a second, third, or even fourth, fifth, or nth thought when considering changing a basic system. I have consistently found that reverting to an archaic version of a basic task and then transforming it with contemporary technology greens and refreshes the business of life support. Susan Strasser's histories of American housekeeping are good references.

Transportation, for example, becomes trivial with a good-fitting pair of boots, a rolling backpack, and bus fare. Travel time becomes planning time that generates good meals at home.

Cleaning is simple in a space furnished to sparing but elegant eighteenth century standards. Dusting and floor maintenance can be managed with low-tech procedures kicked into high gear with synthetic fiber cloths and dusting wand, green chemistry, HEPA air filtration, and, if necessary, a vacuum cleaner.

Storing food staples as if electricity did not exist protects the household from power outages, forestalls the acquisition of a generator, and leaves the budget cushioned against momentary shortages.

Each of the strategies above takes advantage of the unwritten wisdom of hundreds of years of our forebearers’ domestic experience.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Back At The Ranch

Photo courtesy Flickr

An old friend mentioned she’d had a rigorous week: her divorce became final, the house sold, and her name change was eating her alive with petty detail. Oh, and the solarium in the house was a mass of dry rot. Alas, such a week is not unfamiliar, and I doubt that any of us has not lived through one.

The conversation shifted to current circumstances, and Louise and I agreed that the closer we live to our dorm days, the happier we are. One of my role models mentioned that if he hadn’t used something in three days, he got rid of it. That’s a little dire for managing the old manse, but it’s an attractive target.

I was brain dead on Saturday, and casting about for something useful to contribute to the day, I wandered through the place attic to sump looking for things to toss into the Goodwill bag. There wasn’t much, but the exercise is a good way to keep an eye on working inventory and at least know where things are. In a bad year, I spend perhaps a total of an hour looking for things.

Dorm-wise, I’m engaged in a slow experiment in designing the structure of my time. Bit by bit, I’m letting preferred activities, like getting enough rest, dominate the day’s to do list. Areas where entropy threatens are the ones to simplify.

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