Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day

A familiar trill rang through the afternoon yesterday as I was outside. Two black birds high in the early budded sugar maple chatted and sang a true anthem of spring. Their notes bring me back to the thrill of adventuring in the boggy meadows behind the house I grew up in on the North Shore of Massachusetts. There were flocks of blackbirds there every spring - and the songs they sang along with the wind through the reeds and the cattails created a magical soundscape that's etched into my DNA as an old timey recording would have been etched into a wax cylinder. This being New England - the moment I hear said true anthem of spring - there's 7 inches of snow on the way today - one of the more significant snow falls this season since the freak storm on Halloween. At times like this - I am reminded not to take my reverie too seriously and to keep in mind the admonition of Louis Armstrong....

Life is a jazz riff baby,
The Gods are laughing at us.

To hear a clip of the red wing blackbird - follow this link to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Happy Leap Day!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sugar Season

Nearly a month ahead of normal - Sugaring has begun around here. Sugar Houses have that sweet steam pouring out of the vents and the collection tanks near the road edges are nearly full. If you go up to the metal collection buckets, there's the tinny plink-plink of the sap hitting metal after they've been emptied.

It's a short walk to our neighbor's who is the last of generations of farmers who have tapped the trees, on this land that used to make up the old dairy farm where we live, since before the Revolutionary war. So it's with anticipation and a sense of gratitude to share that connection with this place for one more year that we all go over there. It truly is alchemy - taking the sap and cooking it and cooking it some more - to make the sweet, smoky syrup that we have grown to love intensely and use for so much more than pancakes and waffles.

Inevitably, there's our neighbor fueling the fire from wood that has been artfully stacked offering us that first sip of the season's sugar when we poke our heads into the steamy, atmospheric shed. It always comes in a little Dixie cup - a humble vessel for such sublime food. An espresso shot of this land's chi.

I love the time it takes to make the syrup. I love that there's no telling when the sap will start running. I love that it befuddles science and predictions and plans. Once it starts, you have to be there or you miss it. Where so much of our lives have been engineered for convenience, this is not convenient. I'd argue that that's why it tastes so good and satisfies me so profoundly.

Thanks to all our Maple Sugar makers.

sugaring yoke


Monday, February 6, 2012

Stone and Medicinal Herb Installation

I was honored to work with Dan Snow, a marvelous stone installation artist/environmental sculptor on a design competition in Bend Oregon. The site is a series of terraces that lead to a science library shared by Oregon State University and Central Oregon Community College. The installation is titled the "Tarriance" and integrates stone cribbing, beautiful found stones and medicinal plants to serve as a metaphor for the dynamic nature of one's learning experience. Some of what we envision follows: 

The use of the medicinal plants in the landscape drives me greatly these days. While the likelihood of  them being used for medicine in a place like this is minimal, having their forms and presence positions them more prominently into everyday consciousness. The terraces being broken into three levels provided a great framework for the concept of ascending levels of complexity in the learning process to mirror those ascending levels of complexity in medicinal plant potency and spatial relationships between cribbing, stone and plant material. One of the strengths of this collaboration is how well the structures of hard and soft work together to create a piece - that should it get built - all the meaning aside will just be beautiful.

I hope we win! 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Black Oaks Concept

I have been working for several months now with Black Oaks Center for Sustainable living in Pembroke Township, IL. The final design is nearly complete - driven by the melding of several concept models and an overarching concept of a fully-integrated ecosystem dynamic. Moving past the binary paradigm of man vs nature, this plan recognizes the inter-related nature of nature - the concept is as follows: 

The developing field of agro-ecology according to the UN definition: “seeks to improve the sustainability of agroecosystems by mimicking nature instead of industry..agroecology is highly knowledge intensive.” Agroecology is congruent with the sustainability mission Black Oaks has committed to. Altieri puts forward the idea that: “Many of the new models of agricul­ture that humanity will need to transition toward forms of farming that are more ecological, biodiverse, local, sustainable, and socially just. They will be rooted in the ecological rationale of traditional small-scale agri­culture, which represent long established examples of successful forms of community-based local agriculture.” (P 103 Agroecology, Small Farms,and Food Sovereignty)

Altieri in his article goes on to argue that small farms have higher profit margins than traditional industrial agriculture because they sell directly to the consumer. Doing so, establishes a regional economic system that is more responsive to the needs of local populations, and has more specific resilience to fluctuations of volatile global markets. To reach people directly, without diluting the power of the fresh food and medicine, to connect them to the land where their sustenance comes from and to support those ecological systems in place on the small farms without damaging petroleum-based inputs is fundamental to this integrated systems model. It is a model that is inherently community based, because it is knowledge intensive, with the transfer of specific skills like seed saving, compost making and harvesting being passed from one person to another. It is also ecology based, mimicking “natural systems” through a diversity of crops, water drainage systems, etc.  to handle fluxes in temperature, water volume, and disease that can paralyze a monoculture system. 

The vision for this concept connects people to the systems they are part of through the choreography of paths, gathering spaces, and planting design. 

I believe the concept below reflects those ideas and principles.