architecture california ecology

Everything useful, two phone calls away

When the Whole Earth Cat­a­log (WEC) was pub­lished in late 60s and ear­ly 70s, the idea was to cre­ate a fine­ly curat­ed list of every­thing "use­ful, rel­e­vant to inde­pen­dent edu­ca­tion, high qual­i­ty or low cost, not already com­mon knowl­edge, and eas­i­ly avail­able by mail."

Whole Earth Catalog - J BaldwinThe Dymax­ion World of Buck­min­ster Fuller, Fall 1968. From Arts & Ecol­o­gy.

Steve Jobs once referred to the WEC as "the bible" of his gen­er­a­tion, and it's no won­der that he admired it: Each issue of the cat­a­log was sprawl­ing, ambi­tious, smart, lov­ing­ly craft­ed, and very much in keep­ing with the best of North­ern California's inno­v­a­tive spir­it — pro­gres­sive, irrev­er­ent, and (in its own way) ruthless.The title of this post refers to a (per­haps apoc­ryphal) account of the user expe­ri­ence con­sid­er­a­tions of the WEC. Report­ed­ly, the catalog's design edi­tor, J. Bald­win, said that the cat­a­log was an attempt to bring every­thing (of val­ue) in the world to with­in two1 phone calls for any read­er. Which was undoubt­ed­ly great at the time, but not quite good enough to escape the devel­op­ment of the one-call solu­tion — the dial-up modem. Doh! And the no-call solu­tion — broadband!And yet, when you com­pare the infi­nite vari­ety of the web to the refined encap­su­la­tion of the WEC, it's easy to see the val­ue of expert cura­tion. Doesn't it seem like the great oppor­tu­ni­ties for progress in web con­tent is to become more like the WEC — reli­able, read­able, smart? And even read­er-sup­port­ed? (After all, the WEC cost $5 in the 60s; $31.85 today. As one of the Whole Earth edi­tors wrote, peo­ple will pay for authen­tic­i­ty and find­abil­i­ty).1 For the record, I'm not exact­ly sure what the sig­nif­i­cance of "two" is, rather than "six" or "three." Would the first call would be the Whole Earth Cat­a­log, and the sec­ond would be to … the prod­uct cre­ator? Or the first would be to the prod­uct cre­ator, and the sec­ond would be to … some­one else?

ecology web

For the record, this is my favorite

BPGlobalPR - Shark v octopus

From the out­stand­ing satir­i­cal Twit­ter feed, @BPGlobalPR. T‑shirts here; book deal to fol­low, I assume.

california ecology outdoors

Mommy, where does Capilene come from?

I tend to obsess over out­doors gear. The pin­na­cle (or nadir, as the case may be) of this obses­sion was the spring/summer of 2001, when I hiked the Pacif­ic Crest Trail. Over four months, I sam­pled a ton of gear — six pairs of shoes, a few dif­fer­ent shirts, jack­ets, socks, shel­ters, cook­ware. I had dozens (maybe hun­dreds) of con­ver­sa­tions about this stuff, spent hours dis­cussing the var­i­ous qual­i­ties that dis­tin­guished some lit­tle piece of back­pack­ing equip­ment or appar­el as the light­est, strongest, dri­est, most com­fort­able, most long-last­ing, most whatever.What did I take away from these dis­cus­sions? Two things: (1) At some point, ratio­nal eval­u­a­tion becomes reli­gious debate. Gear nerds have deep, com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships with their hard­ware, and we have a hard time remain­ing lev­el-head­ed about the stuff saves our butt dur­ing a thun­der­storm, or keeps us con­sis­tent­ly com­fort­able as tem­per­a­tures change. And, (2), for me, Patag­o­nia appar­el last­ed longer, bounced back bet­ter, fit bet­ter, dealt with rain bet­ter, and just gen­er­al­ly worked bet­ter than the oth­er stuff I tried. Oth­ers poo-poo-ed it as "Pata-guc­ci." Froofy, high-end cou­ture pos­ing as out­door gear, i.e. stuff that "real thru-hik­ers" wouldn't be caught dead in.All of this is good and well, but I recent­ly came across anoth­er excel­lent aspect of it. (And I still wear it).

Patagonia - Footprint Chronicles - Nano Puff - OverviewCalled the Foot­print Chron­i­cles, they're a series of detailed accounts of how indi­vid­ual pieces of their gear are made — where the mate­r­i­al is sourced, how fair labor prac­tices are ensured, how the gar­ment is assembled.
Patagonia - Footprint Chronicles - Nano PuffThis exam­ple takes you through the design and con­struc­tion of the Nano Puff Pullover, made from recy­cled polyester.

This is a dif­fer­ent kind of mar­ket­ing, clear­ly: Doc­u­men­tary accounts that high­light the qual­i­ties of the com­pa­ny, rather than the per­for­mance of the gear. I'd be inter­est­ed to know how (or if) they mea­sure the return on invest­ment of this kind of thing.

california ecology outdoors

Origins & etymologies / Yosemite

Last Fri­day, we impro­vised a par­lor game dur­ing a vis­it to Sarah's par­ents’ house. They've got tons of books on Cal­i­for­nia his­to­ry, includ­ing a gem called Cal­i­for­nia Place Names: The Ori­gin and Ety­mol­o­gy of Cur­rent Geo­graph­i­cal Names by one Erwin Gud­de, a Cal pro­fes­sor and friend of Sarah's fam. There wasn't much "game" to the game; some­one shout­ed out a city or coun­ty or riv­er name, and then we all offered the­o­ries about its ori­gin before flip­ping to its entry in the book and read­ing aloud. A sam­ple. Yosemite:

From the South­ern Sier­ra Miwok yohhe' meti or yosse' meti [mean­ing] "they are killers," derived from yoohu- [mean­ing] "to kill," evi­dent­ly a name giv­en to the Indi­ans of the val­ley by those out­side it … Edwin Sher­man claimed dis­cov­ery of the val­ley in the spring of 1850, nam­ing it "The Devil's Cel­lar." In March of 1851, it was entered by the Mari­posa Bat­tal­ion and named at the sug­ges­tion of LH Bun­nell: "I then pro­posed that we give the val­ley the name of Yo-sem-i-ty, as it was sug­ges­tive, eupho­nious, and cer­tain­ly Amer­i­can; that by so doing, the name of the tribe of Indi­ans which we met leav­ing their homes in this val­ley, per­haps nev­er to return, would be perpetuated."

There's so much infor­ma­tion in here that it's hard to know where to start, but (1) Yes, majes­tic wilder­ness should be called things like "they are killers." This should be a require­ment for any place that is rugged and majes­tic and awe-inspir­ing. What words can match land­scapes like these? Those that involve vio­lent death, for starters. (2) I can guess at why were the Indi­ans leav­ing, "per­haps nev­er to return," but this seems like a detail that should be, say, expand­ed. (3) The "y" at the end, for my mon­ey, makes more sense. It was replaced by an "e" in 1852 by a Lt. Tred­well Moore. No expla­na­tion is giv­en as to why; the impli­ca­tion is, why not? More on Yosemite here, but the whole book is pret­ty great.

ecology flickr outdoors

Summertime / Camping in the Winds

Flickr photoWhen I start a camp­ing trip, the Van Halen song "Pana­ma" [Video on YouTube] often pops into my head — I wish I could rep­re­sent Eddie Van Halen's rever­by gui­tar open­ing in words, but I was hum­ming it and singing the cho­rus — Pa-neh-ma … Pa-neh-ma-ha — as this pic­ture was tak­en. That's the Wind Riv­er Range com­ing into view beyond my friend Nick. For the next 10 days, it would dom­i­nate us. In fact, this pho­to rep­re­sents the last few moments of peace­ful hik­ing. Our packs were real­ly, real­ly heavy, and soon enough the hurt would begin. Then, we would get rained on pret­ty often, and (for my part) suf­fer too many black fly bites and a few alti­tude-relat­ed headaches. Still, total­ly, total­ly worth it.

Flickr photoI could go on and on here, but my pic­tures on Flickr real­ly tell the sto­ry bet­ter than I can.

I'm a shame­less suck­er for gear, so here's some shout-outs:

  • Bridgedale socks. They were real­ly wet, real­ly often. But they stayed warm and they main­tained some spring, even when soaked.
  • Tarptent. I vis­it­ed Tarptent design­er Hen­ry Shires at his house on the Penin­su­la, and I bought the Squall [PDF] last spring. Since then, I've put it to the test in the Gila Wilder­ness, Yosemite, and the Yuba Riv­er. I was still skep­ti­cal about its abil­i­ty to real­ly keep me warm and dry, but I must tes­ti­fy that, even when it rains hard all after­noon (and even when the rain real­ly comes down), the Tarptent abides. Every­thing peo­ple say is true: It's a real­ly good, rea­son­ably light back­pack­ing shel­ter, and it's got every­thing you need to anchor and adjust it to respond to chang­ing weath­er and wind.
  • Blis­to­ban. Part of the rea­son for the shout-out to Bridgedale was that, halfway through, I switched to thin­ner Smart­wool socks, and they absolute­ly killed my feet in the mat­ter of a cou­ple of hours. Nick loaned me some Blis­to­ban strips, though, and they ruled. How does Blis­to­ban com­pare to my old back­pack­ing blis­ter-con­trol rem­e­dy: antibi­ot­ic oint­ment cov­ered by bandaid which is then cov­ered by duct tape which is then smeared with Vase­line? Jury's still out here.
  • Patag­o­nia Drag­on­fly. They call it the Hou­di­ni now, and it's a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, but I bought one of the ear­ly mod­els in 2003, and it still impress­es me. I wore it almost every­day, and it admirably repelled rain with­out ever becom­ing oppres­sive­ly warm.

Worms ate my garbage

Worms Eat My Garbage

Mary Appelhof's Worms Eat My Garbage is one of my all-time favorite gar­den­ing books. Not only does it con­tain the first prin­ci­ples of worm com­post­ing; not only is writ­ten in an engag­ing, warm and yet prac­ti­cal voice; it's one of those spe­cial books that says a lot about the per­son who dis­plays it on his or her book­shelf, a freak flag rep­re­sent­ing all sorts of affil­i­a­tions, opin­ions and predilec­tions. I was think­ing about Mary after I read a strange tid­bit about worm com­post­ing in today's Wall Street Jour­nal Informed Read­er blog. It linked to an arti­cle in Britain's Dai­ly Tele­graph called "Wormeries 'may add to green­house gas­es.'" Hmmm.

In fact, the green­house gas­es emit­ted by a large com­mer­cial worm com­post­ing plant may be com­pa­ra­ble to the glob­al warm­ing poten­tial of a land­fill site of the same scale, accord­ing to the Open Uni­ver­si­ty. This is because worms used in com­post­ing emit nitrous oxide — a green­house gas 296 times more pow­er­ful, mol­e­cule for mol­e­cule, than car­bon diox­ide. Land­fill sites pro­duce methane which is 23 times more pow­er­ful a green­house gas than car­bon dioxide.

What is this Open Uni­ver­si­ty? (Appar­ent­ly, it is a "dis­tance learn­ing" pro­gram in the UK). And how much nitrous oxide do worms emit as they con­sume garbage? Is it com­pa­ra­ble to the amount that the garbage would emit if it sat in a land­fill? Is it less? More?(Mary's web­site?, nat­u­ral­ly.)

ecology flickr outdoors

Yosemite rules

I'm usu­al­ly the per­son who rec­om­mends going any­where but Yosemite in the Sier­ras because it's expen­sive and tends to be over-run with peo­ple even in the high coun­try, where­as the Emi­grant Wilder­ness, for instance, tends to be pret­ty sparse­ly vis­it­ed, even on the busiest of week­ends. But let's keep that on the shh­hh. Any­way, I spent 3 warm, sun­ny days in Yosemite last week with my good friend and all-around good guy Andrew Goodman.We had nice weath­er, went to pop­u­lar places (North Dome, Yosemite Falls — which has its own Wikipedia page), and yet saw very few oth­er peo­ple. Maybe it's the time of year, or the fact that it was a low-snow year, or both? Or our route? We hiked down to North Dome on the Por­cu­pine Creek Trail, and then got back to 120 via the Yosemite Creek trail (where, inci­den­tal­ly, we took some excel­lent swims). What­ev­er con­tributed to it, I've now seen the good side of Yosemite.

Flickr photoYosemite Val­ley from North Dome, ren­dered via the mag­ic of Autos­titch. It assem­bled 25 or so pho­tos from my Motoro­la SLVR into a pret­ty com­plete panora­ma, and even the arti­facts — mov­ing clouds and ghost­ed edges — seem to make the result more com­pelling, I think.

Yosemite Val­ley is an incred­i­ble place, espe­cial­ly when seen from a place above the Val­ley, like North Dome or the out­crop­ping above Yosemite Falls. If you want a glimpse at the Val­ley was like when peo­ple were putting up the first routes on El Cap, check out Glen Denny's pho­to book, Yosemite in the Six­ties. It's real­ly nice­ly pro­duced and filled with amaz­ing black-and-white images of sim­pler times and the leg­ends who start­ed it all — Yvon Chouinard, War­ren Hard­ing, Roy­al Rob­bins, Galen Row­ell, and many more.

architecture ecology urban

Architecture / Teddy Cruz's urban acupuncture

teddy cruz - tijuana river

Last night, I saw archi­tect Ted­dy Cruz deliv­er a fast-paced, idea-rich pre­sen­ta­tion at the San Fran­cis­co Art Insti­tute. In a lit­tle over an hour, he tore through a slide show cov­er­ing his recent work on the social, cul­tur­al, polit­i­cal, and eco­nom­ic forces at work in com­mu­ni­ties along the US-Mex­i­co bor­der. The slide show itself was pret­ty impres­sive — a blend of research pho­tog­ra­phy, sim­ple Pow­er­Point ani­ma­tion, and pho­to col­lages (like the ones shown in this post, cour­tesy of UCSD, where Cruz teach­es) that looked some­what like maps but also some­what like actu­al pho­tos of urban density.I'd first heard of Cruz in the NYT Mag­a­zine fea­ture from last spring, Shan­ty­towns as a New Sub­ur­ban Ide­al. It details "Liv­ing Rooms at the Bor­der," his pro­posed project to turn a lot in the bor­der com­mu­ni­ty of San Ysidro into a mul­ti-use dwelling/community center/market. He dis­cuss­es it in more detail in "Urban acupunc­ture", an arti­cle he wrote for Res­i­den­tial Archi­tect Online:

Hous­ing and den­si­ty need to be seen not as an amount of units but as dwelling in rela­tion­ship to the larg­er infra­struc­ture of the city, which includes trans­porta­tion, eco­log­i­cal net­works, the pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics of land use, and par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al idio­syn­crasies of place … In a par­cel where exist­ing zon­ing allows only three units of hous­ing, the project pro­pos­es (through nego­ti­at­ed den­si­ty bonus­es and by shar­ing kitchens) 12 afford­able hous­ing units, a com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter result­ing from the adap­tive reuse of an exist­ing 1927 church, offices for Casa Famil­iar in the church's new attic, and a gar­den under­pin­ning the community's non­con­form­ing micro-economies, such as street mar­kets and kiosks. In a place where cur­rent reg­u­la­tion allows only one use, we pro­pose five dif­fer­ent uses that sup­port each other.

Cruz dis­cuss­es his archi­tec­tur­al mis­sion in this arti­cle at the Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Architecture's site: Bor­der Post­card: Chron­i­cles from the Edge.

ecology flickr outdoors

Food / Lakes and cheeseburgers along the PCT

Lakes and cheeseburgers in Oregon
Lakes and cheeseburgers - California

Dur­ing my hike on the PCT in 2001, my two favorite pas­times were swim­ming and eat­ing. When I was walk­ing — which was most of the time — cool swim­ming holes and siz­zling cheese­burg­ers filled my day­dreams. When my hik­ing part­ner, Nick, and I talked, it was more often than not about swim­ming and eat­ing cheese­burg­ers: How far to the next riv­er, creek or lake? How long would it take to hitch out to get a cheese­burg­er at the next road crossing?As the two attached lists indi­cate, we found lots of chances to fol­low these par­tic­u­lar­ly bliss­ful pas­times. Cheese­burg­er-wise, the best were found in the Cheese­burg­er Belt, which begins as the Sier­ras give way to the Cas­cades in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and ends a lit­tle north of Ash­land, Ore­gon. The best of the best in the belt were found at Buck's Lake Lodge near Quin­cy, the Pines Frosty in Chester (which also has kick-ass shakes), and Lake of the Woods Resort north of Ash­land. At the bot­tom of the list was Belden Town, which shouldn't real­ly be sur­pris­ing since they don't seem to like hik­ers too much anyway.The best of the swim­ming was between in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, between Sier­ra City and Etna. The Mid­dle Fork of the Feath­er (pic­tured below) was spec­tac­u­lar, though Nick pre­ferred Squaw Val­ley Creek, which he found a lit­tle cozi­er.

Flickr photo

ecology flickr outdoors

Personal history / Pacific Crest Trail five years later

PCT diary entry - August 10, 2001

Five years ago today, I was hik­ing on the Pacif­ic Crest Trail. I spent the sum­mer of 2001 hik­ing through Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon, and Wash­ing­ton; on the 12th of August, I was chill­ing out at Crater Lake, Ore­gon. Crater Lake had been a real­ly major des­ti­na­tion for me, not because of its leg­endary, oth­er­world­ly beau­ty or because I'd nev­er seen it or because I was look­ing for­ward to bum­ming beers off retirees in RVs, but BECAUSE I was hav­ing a new pair of shoes deliv­ered to the PO there. My feet, at that point, were thrashed. The trail can be unkind to feet in a vari­ety of ways — extreme heat in the south, fre­quent riv­er cross­ings and snow in the Sier­ras — and it doesn't help when you wear one pair of Asics Gel Tra­bu­co III's for the last two-thirds of the state of Cal­i­for­nia. I take a look at my PCT jour­nal a few times every sum­mer; the entry scanned above rep­re­sents some of the hap­pi­er times on the trail. A lit­tle ear­li­er in my hike, the heat and drudgery of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia would have fig­ured more promi­nent­ly. The words "heat rash" would have appeared, and I also would have men­tioned the fact that my girl­friend was break­ing up with me. Lat­er in the hike, my hik­ing part­ner, Nick Brown, broke his ankle and some reli­gious zealots crashed com­mer­cial air­planes into Amer­i­can land­marks. Read­ing over it now, August 12, 2001 rep­re­sents a dis­tant lit­tle peri­od of seren­i­ty and calm. My days were pret­ty sim­ple: How far should I hike today? Where will I get water? Should I stop and take a swim while I'm there? When should I eat my next snack? Should I take this alter­nate route? Should I stop ear­ly? Should I night-hike? Where will I get my next cheese­burg­er? It amazes me that it ever could be so easy … The pic­ture below was tak­en a few days before.

Flickr photo