Go Plant a Million Trees

Kelly and I interviewed Akiva Silver, of Twisted Tree Farm, for the next episode of the sporadic Root Simple Podcast. Silver is the author of Trees of Power: Ten Essential Aboreal Allies (Amazon, library). The book celebrates the power of trees to feed us and solve a lot of the world’s problems including climate change and soil erosion. In the book Silver makes the provocative suggestion that we might all be better off with a greater emphasis on tree crops instead of clearing land for monotonous fields of wheat, corn and soybeans. He has an interventionist, Johnny Appleseed like passion at odds with the hands-off, leave-no-trace branch of environmentalism. Silver says, “Instead of trying to have as little impact as possible, I want to have a huge impact. I want to leave behind millions of trees, a bunch of ponds, enriched soil and wild stories.”

In our own small urban yard, we’re beginning to see the fruits, literally, of our own small-scale arboreal efforts that we began over ten years ago. This month we had a abundant crop of Mission figs, avocados, olives and pomegranates. And that pathetic vegetable garden I blogged about? My heretical thinking is to give up annual vegetables entirely and use the space to plant two small citrus trees. If I want vegetables I’ll put in artichokes which grow well here and return every year without any effort. We’ll outsource the misery of growing annual vegetables to the vendors of the farmer’s market.

Watch for our interview with Silver next Wednesday. In the meantime read his book and then go plant some trees.

My New Thoughtstyling Throne

As an aging gen-x blogger I decided it was time to build myself a throne from which to harangue, cajole, abjure and speak ex cathedra. Said throne is a replica of Gustav Stickley’s Bow-arm Morris Chair #336 from his 1901 catalog as shown above with a cat for scale.

The differences between the original English Morris chair and the American versions say a lot about our cultural differences. An Essex based carpenter, Ephraim Colman, designed the chair that William Morris would take into production for his company in the 1860s. While the English chair is delicate, Stickley’s American versions are beefy, aggressive and man-spready. The #336 begs for a cigar and whiskey accompaniment along with the assumption that you’ll be using it to oversee your various robber baron hustles. With its adjustable back the robust and elegant #336 is the spiritual ancestor of the BarcaLounger which shows you how far this American Empire has declined.

Making Stickley’s #336 involved an nerve racking steam bending process. The wood went in a makeshift box fed with steam from a wallpaper steamer. After an hour in the steamer the wood was quickly rushed to a form made with plywood. I had to actually sit on the arm to get it to bend. On the first attempt the arm broke and I had to do it all over again. When I was done with the arms I had to steam bend the back slats of the chair. All this took many, I should add pleasant, hours of focused labor blissfully apart from the distractions of the interwebs.

Of all the furniture in a house chairs get the most abuse. Each time you sit down and get up you stress the joints. The arms on the #336 attach to the legs via a sturdy, handsome and labor-intensive through mortise. Details like this explain why Stickley went out of business. His competitors made fake versions of through mortises to save a buck. While my chair was at the upholstery shop someone wanted to buy it but the price offered was way short of the amount of time required to do the steam bending and to fit the four (!) through mortises. The chair sold in 1909 for $31.50 which would be around $900 today.

It’s interesting how much Stickley’s design depends on the attractive ray pattern of quarter sawn white oak. I’ve seen versions of Morris chairs like this made with much cheaper plain sawn red oak and they look horrendous and primitive as if made by Fred Flinstone.

As usual, mistakes were made in building this chair. The principle one was not reading the fine print in the directions in the book of plans I was using that noted that Stickley added two inches to the legs between versions make between 1901 and 1909. I was able to counteract the lack of height by having my upholsterer make a thicker cushion. Since Kelly and I are of the tall tribe I need to pay better attention to customizing fit. If I’m going to go through the trouble of making furniture myself I might as well take the time to make sure it’s a custom job.

Now lets hope this latest DIY project doesn’t lead to the sort of bad ideas that afflict other throne owners:

Saturday Linkages: New Format!

Via @NigelDunnett a stunning habitat wall in the Castle Gardens public park, Malmø, Sweden.

A Sign of Silver Lake is Gone: The Happy Foot/Sad Foot comes down via @TheEastsiderLA

The history of the train — once a symbol of capitalism, now socialism — contains lessons for nationalizing digital infrastructure by David A. Banks

Spritz Cookie Gravestone

Man Spends 30 Years Regenerating NZ Farmland into Amazing Forest

Democrats’ Climate Plans Lack Vision for City Transit

Study Finds Urban Runoff Is a Toxic Soup Containing Dozens of Pesticides and Other Industrial Chemicals

The shady politics of urban greening

Surprise dip!

Our Hot Streets Are an Opportunity

I can’t remember where I got this idea from but I think it was Alissa Walker or someone she was writing about who had the bright idea to go out and check the temperature of our streets on a hot day with a IR thermometer. Since I have one of these handy gadgets for firing up my pizza oven, I thought I’d head out in the neighborhood at around 2:30 in the afternoon and take some temperature readings.

The asphalt in front of our house measured an egg-frying, temperature of 135.3º F (57.3 C).

A rare, tree-lined Los Angeles street one block over was a lot cooler at 80.9º F (27.1º C).

A few blocks north, and to much fanfare, our city coated an asphalt street with a gray coating as part of a “cool pavement” program. The temp on this street was 120.8º F (49.3º C).

Being a crank I have two conclusions:

1. Let’s plant trees.

2. How about instead of painting streets gray we do something really radical and pull them up entirely and start cooling people rather than serving cars?

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Recent research has found that when manufacturing emissions are taken into account, most cool pavements hurt the climate more than they help.”

So, as is typical for our mayor Eric Garcetti it’s all about the press conference and not so much about the actual science. The one glimmer of hope that I have is that people younger than myself are catching on to the empty gestures of neo-liberal, pseudo-environmental politicians like Garcetti and the rest of the Los Angeles City Council. They are beginning to see a more radical alternative to business as usual. As Mark Fisher says in a book everyone should read, Capitalist Realism Is There No Alternative?,

The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.

So how about we tear a hole in these hot streets and plant some trees?

Destroy Nature Before it Destroys Us

As philosopher Slavoj Žižek so wisely reminds us, we don’t spend enough time thinking about the ideology behind our assumptions and vocabulary. This is especially true with our vague and ill defined concept of “nature.” I really don’t think that we’ve all really thought through what we mean when we use this word.

Conner Habib takes a look at “nature” in this thought provoking episode of his podcast, Against Everyone with Conner Habib. Habib calls our concept of nature “fatally flawed” and connects it to Sigmund Freud’s notion of a death drive in the sense of something that we think is separate from ourselves that generates a feeling of longing that can never be fulfilled. Paradoxically, we revel in this state of separation, in a never ending spiral of longing that explains not only our twisted relationship to the environment but also things like gambling, smart phones and drugs. I’m not going to summarize Habib’s profound thoughts on the meaning of “nature” but let’s just say that he says that we need to destroy our concept of nature in order to save it. Have a listen and let me know what you think.