024 Water, Wilding our Gardens and Sewing

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Kelly and I return this week to discuss a recent talk I gave to a bunch of Master Gardeners about water harvesting and encouraging wildness in our gardens. On the second part of the podcast Kelly discusses the process of learning how to sew. During the first part of the podcast Erik mentions:

In the sewing portion of the podcast, Kelly talks about:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Camping on Halloween Night

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I was lucky enough to be able to camp this Halloween weekend. While I love the costumes and the candy and the gentle anarchy of Halloween in the city, I was very happy to be able to spend this Halloween out in nature. My only other nature-based Halloween was many years ago, in rural Ireland, where I wandered the countryside alone at sunset, hoping to spot a ghost or a fairy or a faun.

Maybe it is just the power of suggestion, or maybe it’s something else, but Halloween night has always carried a charge for me–it just feels different, whether you’re on the street with a bucket of candy, holed up in the house with a pumpkin beer or out in the woods. It’s said that the veil between the worlds is thinnest on Halloween night, and I’m willing to buy that, because somehow the air always feels full of potential.

This Halloween night, I was camping at 6,300 feet in the Angeles National Forest. The weather in Los Angeles has continued depressingly hot and clear and dry, despite the arrival of autumn. On Halloween evening, though, clouds gathered in the sky, obscuring the relentless blue. Around twilight  those clouds dropped. They just fell straight down from the sky, as if someone cut their strings, and they turned into a sort of high fog with feathery, creeping tentacles exploring the tops of the pines and the cypress. And those creeping clouds drifted ever lower as the light faded, and a breeze kicked up, which sent the golden leaves on the ground a-dancing. I sat by the fire, looking down a long path lined with swirling leaves, shivering bushes and tendrils of fog and waited to see a fairy, or maybe a Black Rider.

Then the daylight vanished abruptly, like someone turning out an overhead light.  Fifteen minutes later, I couldn’t find my hand in front of my face. Darkness swallowed everything whole.  We read scary stories by the campfire and ate apples baked in the coals.

Late that night, after I was safely tucked in my bag, rain started to fall. The first significant rain of the year, the first significant rain in maybe 9 months or so. All night long the wind in the trees roared and boomed–it sounded like waves crashing on rocks. The rain sheeted down on my tent while the wind shook the sides.  (A five year old tent which has never been tested in the rain–that’s SoCal camping for you!). It did not leak, thank the Great Pumpkin.

I have to say, I have never been happier on any Halloween.

At dawn I woke up to a world soggy and remade. The rain had carved deep channels and rivulets in the hard-packed soil. The scrubby, hard-bitten plants eking out their living on the granite slopes shimmered in the morning light, free of dust for the first time in months, revealing their true and gentle colors.

I heard water and ran to the stream bed. The day before it had been dry, now it ran with water. I knew it was a temporary flow, but the sight of running water after a long dry summer brought tears to my eyes, and I remembered that Halloween is the Celtic New Year. It’s a time of darkness, and a time of death (the traditional time for slaughtering stock), but in death there is renewal, and I felt that renewal in the moist loam beneath my feet and the cheerful dripping of the trees, and I heard it in the water, and I gave thanks for the rain.

And an hour later, it began to snow.

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In Praise of the Hedgerow

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No I’m not going to try to interpret those Led Zeppelin lyrics. But hedgerows? They rock.

The traditional practice of letting nature have part of the farm turns out to have many benefits. Beneficial insects love hedgerows. A University of California study, Hedgerows enhance beneficial insects on farms in California’s Central Valley, backs this up and discusses specific plants.

Wouldn’t it be cool if whole cities could function as hedgerows? What if we took out all those lawns and planted native and/or flowering climate-appropriate plants instead?

In a somewhat rambling lecture I just gave to a group of Master Gardeners, I sang the praises of that UC study and also linked it to another nice resource, the UC Davis Arboretum Allstar list of plants that look good, provide habitat and don’t need a lot of maintenance.

Combine these two resources with a third, Piet Oudolf’s magnificent ideas about plant design in his book Planting: A New Persepctive and I think we might just be able to save the world.

Saturday Tweets: Food, Simple Living and Bikes

A murmuration of starlings

I’ve discovered that there is an entire subgenre of YouTube videos on starling murmuration. This one that I’m sharing with you is short, has an exciting raptor cameo, and David Tennant, but it was hard to choose among them. I highly recommend getting lost among the starlings today.

As the poet Mary Oliver wrote in “Starlings in Winter” by (Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays), “Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us.”

And murmuration–isn’t that a fantastic word?

Introducing the People Washer

peoplewasher 1 Another gem from the June 1977 issue of The Futurist, an excerpt from Stephen Rosen’s book Future Facts: The way things are going to work in the future of technology, science, medicine and life (available for a penny on Amazon!).

Egg-shaped “People Washer” is an ultrasonic bath developed by the Sanyo Electric Company of Japan. The machine showers and bathes the body, cleans the skin, massages the muscles, and dries the person off.

To take a bath, the bather selects the water temperature, climbs inside the egg, and starts the machine. The machine first gives the bather a warm shower, then begins ultrasonic washing with bubbly warm water. Then the bath fills with warm water to a set level, at which point the water intake automatically shuts off and the hot water begins to whirl, cleaning the body even more thoroughly. While the water whirls, small rubber balls float around in the water, massage the skin, and relax the muscles. After seven minutes of washing and rubber-ball massage, the bath water drains from the sphere and the body is reshowered for two minutes. The shower and the ultrasonic waves cease and the water is drained out. Finally there is a dry cycle during which low moisture air circulates through the chamber. The entire cycle takes 15 minutes.

As crazy as this sounds, it looks like a version of it actually got made for taking care of elderly folks.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

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The combination of responsibilities this week and passing a kidney stone last night means that we’re calling a close to the first season of the Root Simple Podcast and planning new episodes for season two. That’s a pretentious way of saying there’s no podcast today. We’ll be back next week.

Who would you like to see as guests? How do you like the podcast so far?

The Future is Biomorphic

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One of Glen Small’s Biomorphic Biosphere Megastructures.

Thumbing through the June 1977 issue of The Futurist reminds me of the wisdom of what Nassim Taleb calls, “non-predictive decision making.” Why? Futurists and prognosticators are as accurate as a dead clock. Twice a day they get it right and the rest of the time they end up looking foolish. We can be especially thankful that the washing machine for people on page 179 of The Futurist never caught on.

That said, the point is not always to predict the future. Architects, artists and designers push the envelope of consensus reality to spark a dialog. Architect Glen Small, one of the founders of SCI-Arc and the subject of an entertaining documentary, “My Father, the Genius” is one such provocateur whose thoughtstylings appear in The Futurist. In an article in the magazine, Small describes his “Biomorphic Biosphere Megastructure (BBM):”

This union of nature and technology is what I am trying to achieve in my work. People say that the structures I draw look “alive.” They are alive–not in the sense that nature produced them independently of human control, but because they carry out all the different functions of living systems, respond to their environment, and grow. Certainly they are not “dead” as are many of today’s buildings which were constructed without regard for their surroundings or their effect on any form of life other than human beings.

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Inside a BBM life is a party.

Some of the ecological consciousness of Small’s work and other like minded architects of the 1970s later evolved into the environmental building standards of today. But Small is much more interesting. While my own architectural tastes lean towards the conservative Prince Charles end of the spectrum, I appreciate a  good harebrained idea when I hear one. Here’s Small describing life in one of his BBMs:

Your house is a self-contained personal flying module whose soft surfaces can be adjusted to any configuration from smooth planes to womb-like curves. These surfaces–walls, floors and ceiling–can also change in color and opacity. Are you feeling gregarious? Then live a while in completely transparent surroundings! Are you feeling reclusive? Dial walls of any color to shut out the world! You can even open your module like a flower to receive the sun, and close it tightly and inclement weather.

As Marshall McLuhan was fond of saying, “If you don’t like those ideas, I got others.” Among those other ideas, that have more of a chance of catching on, is Small’s passion to align the natural world with the build environment. Small says,

Too often in the past we have behaved like uninvited and unwelcome guests, looting and trashing our surroundings. . . We need a new global building code to insure that all future planning and construction will protect the natural environment and at the same time help establish a social environment that is truly responsive to man’s psychological and physical needs.

While we may not be soaring around in our own personal Barbarella-style floating pods, we do have LEED certification. I’m sure Small would say we could go much further than LEED. On a personal level we can help grow gardens in our cities. On a grass roots political level (pun intended) we can stop incentivizing AstroTurf and leaf blowers. Like Small, I hope the future is biomorphic!

Thanks to Anne Hars for lending me a copy of The Futurist.

Councilmen Want to Astroturf Los Angeles and Turn it Into a Big Minigolf Course

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Los Angeles’ political leaders have a tendency to say the right things and get all the details wrong. Offering homeowners rebates to replace water hungry lawns is a good idea. Letting them use those rebates to put artificial turf in the parkway (see council motion 14-1197–introduced by councilpersons Blumenfield and O’Farrell) is not ecologically responsible.

I disagree with a recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times, about giving rebates for artificial turf. It’s time for all of us in this dry Mediterranean climate to go beyond the lawn and bad topiary paradigm. Yes, we need to reduce irrigation, but we also need to create landscapes beneficial to all life: to insects, mammals, reptiles and human beings. And we need beauty. Gardens are both ecological and spiritual. If the author of the Times editorial needs a good example of what’s possible, I’d suggest visiting the new garden surrounding the Natural History Museum.

Artificial turf has a place on athletic fields and put-put golf courses. It does not belong in residential landscapes, especially in the parkway.

Thanks to Travis Longcore, science director for the Urban Wildlands Group, for tipping me off to this situation.