Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stupid Homes and Waste

Well, my last post was sort of an indulgence. I get excited by small homes, rural living, sustainable building, and so forth. Maybe most of my readers don't care about any of that, but I put it out there anyways. I'm not sure how I'll end up living, in what sort of home; I just know that I don't want to live in anything they're building nowadays. At least here in Florida, all the houses are these squatty, bunker-like homes. I know some of it down here has to do with hurricanes, building codes require certain things and these concrete buildings sure won't blow away. But I know these sorts of homes are being built elsewhere. I remember seeing a picture of a home on a news article about foreclosures; I said to myself, ah, an article about the Florida housing market, then read the caption. The home was actually in Las Vegas. I think it may now be the predominant "style" in America; style is in quotes because these homes have no style, no character.

Even the higher end homes are still made this same cheap way. You'd expect quality in a $400,000 home, but it is not so, it's still concrete blocks, the cheap looking knock-down finish inside and out, walls not square or straight, just plain cheap. They dress them up a bit with things like crown moulding, entryway columns, and other various "adornments" but the materials these adornments are made with are cheap. Anyways, they are all variations on the same theme, and all end up looking pretty much the same.

Now, uniformity is not the worst thing in the world, and of course, as they say, there's no accounting for taste. Who am I to declare them inherently ugly? Of course I'm reminded of Pete Seeger's song "Little Boxes" every time I think about this, but I say people get what they deserve, and they can have it. They want big, grand homes for cheap, and that's what they've gotten.

But this way of building is so unsustainable. Construction waste makes up about 33% of landfill trash (in 1998, can't find anything recent, but given the boom, must be worse), and I can speak from experience. When we go into a house to renovate it, the first thing is to do a "trash out." This is largely to empty all the garbage the former occupants left behind (you'd be amazed at how much people leave), and also to tear out whatever's being removed or replaced: cabinets, doors, fences, tile, carpet, on one occasion a wall. Of course, if compressed, removing the big empty spaces in the non-optimally loaded dumpsters, there's actually less, but still, it's a lot.

In addition to the above, often enough to fill up one or two 20yd dumpsters; over the course of the job we create more waste, necessitating more dumpster space. Example: the other day we were putting new casing on the doorways throughout the house, that is, the decorative wood moulding around the door frame. I'd cut the two upright pieces from a single stick of casing, which I think was 14 ft; the leftover piece was close but still too short to use as the top piece, and was discarded. We ended up throwing 3 or 4 sticks-worth away; hard to say, I didn't lay them end to end to measure on my way to the dumpster.

What are you supposed to do with that? Surely there is a better way to use it. Perhaps as part of energy production, by buring it. Then again, as it's not real wood but medium density fiberboard, so with the binders plus the white coating, there'd probably be fumes. (I just read that it contains formaldehyde, and the dust should not be inhaled. All the dust I breathe at work has forced me to stop running, as it hurts my lungs too much; now I find out I'm upping my chance for cancer. Fuck my life). But why not make them long enough to accomodate standard door sizes? That way for most uses (not sliding doors or double doors, but most uses), there's less waste. What about recycling? We throw out lots of glass, plastic, and cardboard; and wood that can be chipped or otherwise used somehow, even if it is downcycling.

I especially hate the garage in front, showcasing blankness
The insanity of our car culture strikes again.
Much of all the other stuff we throw out is still perfectly good, often it simply doesn't match the standard design the new owner, in my remodelling work generally a realty group, prefers. Often we replace the old with new that isn't much better. Cabinets are a great example: contractor grade stuff is ubiquitous in new homes everywhere, even in nicer homes; they're all cheap as hell and won't last ten years probably. And things like fans and lights, which may not be fancy enough, or clean enough, or new enough. We do clean some of them, naturally-- no real estate group wants to waste money. But they inherently waste due to standard construction practices.

So in comes my fascination with the old log cabins and the like. My boss says they didn't build so cheaply up north, but that here in Florida everything's so shoddy. That may be true, I don't know; the big housing boom surely produced junk everywhere it struck, but Florida is the grand-daddy of all the housing boomtowns, so there you have it. Nothing built to last here, not really, not beyond the hurricane-proof concrete exterior walls. (Of course, most of the land here will probably be underwater in a century, so maybe it's moot). But the point is that building this way is so unsustainable and monstrously wasteful that it sickens me to think about it. Not only is there massive waste in the building phase, but the furnishings and the homes themselves will be garbage far sooner than is right. We might as well just throw the whole house into the landfill from the get-go and be done with it.

In addition to that, little of the material used is local or sustainable. Concrete uses lots of fuel and pollution to make, and must be transported. Native cultures built with what was around: down here they'd have wood frame huts with palm-thached roofs, probably. So a log or wood frame home, or a cob home, or a straw-bale home, or brick, or stone, these make sense. Depends on where you live. Cob wouldn't work here because the clay would have to be imported, same with stone. Wood homes are less practical in the western deserts, where adobe would be the better material. Sod homes were common on the prairies once, for obvious reasons.

I would add to this Thoreau's critique on ornaments on houses in this section from the Economy chapter of Walden (about halfway down the page). Who needs all this crown moulding and silly columns? This annotation from the linked site says:
Thoreau disagrees with the idea of making the ornaments have "a core of truth" because he sees no value in the ornaments. To him, a beautiful building is not one with a lot of fancy embellishments but one that has been designed from the foundation up to fit its purpose. True beauty comes from function rather than from ornamentation.
...and that makes a lot of sense to me. Indeed, the Economy chapter is the best of the book, in my opinion; it blew my mind so much that for a long time I never read past that, it just rocked my world. But this is how we need to be thinking about things, if we want to start moving towards a sustainable, sensible way of life.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cool Cabins

All pictures from freecabinporn.com

Browsing some older posts over at Sustainablog (see links at right for the, er, link) I came across this site, Free Cabin Porn. It's got page after page of cabins, shacks, tiny homes, sugar houses, and more to drool over for hours. Beautiful. I've mentioned here about my dream of someday building my own home, often imagining a cob house with a reciprocal roof (a living roof, at that). But so far what I've seen on this site are your more typical sort of cabins, generally wood built; be it log cabin style, boards, or in one case, slab wood. Also featured are more experimental models, made of recycled materials such as shipping containers and such.

I like the idea of a mud house, which allows for some really creative designs, often appearing somewhat as "hobbit houses"; but, I really love the look of wood. Finished or rough, stained or not, there's no other material quite so beautiful to me. My dad was a carpenter, maybe that's part of the explanation, but I'm sure it goes deeper than that. At any rate, looking at these cabins has me thinking a bit more simply about what kind of house I will build for myself.

This example, from Sweden, is nice. I do love the log cabin style, and the living roof is a nice touch too. I'd like one a bit larger than this, and definitely more windows. I require lots of natural light, and would like to have some passive heating features built in as well.

This is closer to my ideal. The logs left round, not squared as in the Swedish one above, as I prefer the more rounded look with chinking. Also, the door not being on the gable end allows for a large porch under the roof overhang. The setting ain't half bad, though this is off limits, being a ranger cabin in Washington's Rainier National park. I'd prefer a better climate for growing veggies anyway; right now I'm leaning towards the foothills somewhere just east of Oregon's Willamette Valley. But, back to the cabins.

This one from Iceland is nice, I like the way it's built into the Earth, which would help regulate the temperature quite well no matter where you are; cooler in summer, warmer in winter. Turf roof also very cool. As a side note, I did not know they had trees in Iceland.

Here is your logger's wet dream; a home built of slabwood. Note the big ass chainsaw, axe, the series of red flannel shirts, the boots, and wood everything. Somehow this exists in Connecticut, which is generally conceived as New York's suburb, but I guess there's still some pockets of Yankee woodsmen in the southern New England woods. Strangely, this is outside of Hartford.

Finally, here is an amazing church in Arkansas, the Thorncrown Chapel, a stunning construction set in a (seemingly) forested location. Almost makes ya want to go to church, right? Definitely moving in the right direction, in terms of a natural spirituality. Of course, I'd probably spend the whole service staring both at the architecture and especially out the windows into the trees, so I might as well skip the middleman and just go hiking, right?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Leave No Trace

Despite my grumblings about how I dislike the landscape down here, I do still go out into it. Even the boring, flat, open savanna forests of endless spindly slash pine are better than walking around in a subdivision. I like it best when the wind is blowing, because you can hear the gusts coming in over the distant tree tops, closer and closer; that's a beautiful thing. And unless there's a plane going by, the wind masks all human sound, which, in my preferred haunt, is minimal anyways, being in a pretty undeveloped area. It's a mix between a large wildlife management area and extensive privately owned land.

Which means yes, I'm trespassing on that private land. Even when I'm not, I still am, because I have to cross through a large private swath to get to the WMA; and as for that, you're supposed to pay $3 to go in there. But I've walked too far in too many forests to want to pay for the pleasure. I'm just walking around; if I were hunting or something I'd pay. As for the private land, I sort of abide by the "possession is nine-tenths of ownership" maxim; absentee landlords don't have much right to the land as far as I'm concerned; at least not to keep me out. Same principle as "no cop, no stop." I've only seen people in there twice, and staying hidden is pretty easy in such brushy terrain, especially since I'm always bushwhacking anyways. Actually gives a minor element of danger to a land where the predators have been mostly exterminated.

And really, what a silly concept ownership is, if you really sit down and think about it. I, transient creature, own this piece of land, that has been here for millions of years. What an ego trip! Now, humans are a territorial animal, so there is a point to which it makes sense. When your relationship to the land is what sustains your life, you have a right to that territory, because without it your life is at risk. Everything has a right to defend itself, and in that case, defending the land is defending yourself. But beyond that, to think that somehow this piece of dirt belongs to me, just because I decided so, makes no sense. If you think about it a minute, you can see why the Native Americans just didn't get it. The Earth belongs to itself; if anything, we belong to it.

I've been thinking about Del's post about how Northern Arizona University cut down a patch of ponderosa pines to add another office building, leaving only a few token trees. It's like I said before, about how people have no relationship with the land save that of buying and selling, and "resource extraction," rape by another name, or just plopping down buildings that have no connection to where they've been put. Architects' drawings always look like this: a lone building in some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland, with no other buildings or people or anything at all. (Of course, given the new designs that seem aimed to make one feel uncomfortable and alienated, and which are usually freakish attempts for the architect to stand out, why bother with context? I refer you now to James Howard Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month series).

But his post really hit me, because it's the same issue as my day's irritation, that being trash left in the woods. Today I brought home four pop cans, and would have grabbed more, and the water bottles, beer bottles (broken and whole), random bits of clothing, and so on. I know there's a bunch out there, but I forgot, again, to bring a bag. How can people so blithely desecrate the land like that, even land they claim to own? They take their dirt bikes or ATVs out there, drink their beer, and leave the wreckage behind without a thought. I just don't get it.

I'm always especially amazed at it in the little patches in the city, since "nature" is so rare there; it's easier to notice that this patch of woods is beautiful because there's no human artifacts, given that it's an all-human world everywhere else in sight. I can't really imagine any reason anyone would be there save to enjoy that natural atmosphere. Well, I guess it's often kids out drinking illegally, or doing drugs, and the above mentioned vehicular "wreckreation." And in some state parks, I've even seen beer cans stuck on the ends of twigs, as if to showcase the fact that they've come all the way out to this natural space and decided to fuck it up with their garbage.

I don't expect everyone to be the kind of nature nut that I am, though a guy can hope... but a little respect would be nice. Is it really so hard to carry your trash out? You carried it in, and it even weighs less with the beer gone. Half the time the people are driving in a vehicle, with all that space to put a couple beer cans. Why do I constantly have to come across these things? One time, when working as a ridgerunner in New Jersey, someone had built a four foot fire ring directly on the trail, and had strewn about their beer bottles in every direction, several smashed against a tree, at least two six packs' worth, as if having themselves a competition; not to mention plastic bags, food wrappers and tin cans. It was part of my job to pack it out; which is alright, it let me get paid to hike, so to speak, but it's all just so asinine.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Paradigm Shift

Kirlian photograph

I mentioned in the last post about earthing, which is the process of grounding yourself electrically to the Earth. I made it seem like an offhand comment, but to be honest I've been a little interested in this lately; not so much earthing in particular, but the notion of the body as an electrical system, and the way science has not incorporated this truth fully. I mean, we're living in the age of electronics, but science still takes a mechanistic stance on most things.

I wonder how long it will take to catch up. Science seems to have switched from the spiritual-organic understanding of the body and world to the metaphor of "world as machine" or especially "world as clock" pretty quickly back in the 1500s. Not that machines were new: they'd had siege machines and mills and such for a long time, but the great refinements were recent. Astrolabes and especially clocks, as well as other new scientific instruments, were literally changing the world by allowing the Age of Navigation to take off. Shortly after, Newton and Descartes and others explicated a new way of seeing Nature. It was a machine, for them at least. This is the basis of most scientific investigation. I'm not sure how long it took medicine itself to begin considering the body in the same way, but I know that early on in this, scientists were looking at the muscles and joints in terms of levers and pulleys and the like.

Gears, pulleys, levers
But we've been pretty serious about electricity for a while now, call it a century and some. Not that electricity is new either; Ben Franklin's apocryphal kite experiment notwithstanding. The Romans were said to have bathed in pools filled with electric eels for the healing qualities, and there have been discoveries of supposed ancient batteries in the Middle East.

Clearly, though, we're now in a whole separate situation. It inundates our lives, shaping nearly every aspect. Yet science largely dwells in a mechanistic mindframe. Well, I know your more theoretical, physical sciences don't, things like field theory and quantum mechanics; but it hasn't filtered down greatly into the natural sciences like biology and chemistry, especially not in medicine. They're still treating illness as if it were a flaw in a machine, by attacking that flaw, either with surgery to remove it, or with drugs to kill it. Those are the only two legal methods in the US; drugs 'n' surgery. "Alternative" techniques cannot claim to cure or treat any disease.

I don't deny that the official methods have had great success; they certainly have. Polio, smallpox, measles, these things used to kill innumerable people, now they are gone or nearly so. But I've watched what the invasive treatments of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery can do to people, people close to me. It's sickening. I know that in many cases it works, maybe only for a while, maybe for good. That's great. But for many it doesn't work, and the patient's last days or years are spent in more misery than was necessary; besides the fact that such techniques weaken the body so much that it makes it hard for the body to aid in the fight. These techniques are only marginally more harmful to the cancer than to the healthy cells.

So, the mechanistic way of medicine is pretty damn effective, but, is it the best it can be, if it causes so much harm in the process? Are we taking all knowledge about the body into account? We know that the human body is an electrical system. You can measure current on the skin, that's how they do lie detector tests, which simply measure emotional response. The heart has its current, timing the beats, and obviously the neural systems are electrical... its a huge part of what we are. But the only ones who seem to really be taking this seriously are the fringe elements, your kooks, quacks, and New Age types. I know change happens at the fringes, but my point is that this shouldn't be fringe: it's solid science.

Take, for example, Georges Lakhovsky's Multi Wave Oscillator. I first heard about it years ago in the book The Secret Life Of Plants, starting with his experiment with geraniums. He had ten plants, all inoculated with a form of plant cancer. One plant he surrounded with a copper spiral, one turn, about a foot across and not touching the plant. Within a few weeks, all the plants were dead, except the one with the copper, which had healed and ended up thriving.

I did a similar experiment on my own, with some maple seedlings. I had 3 with the copper spiral, 3 without. I tried comparing their growth, but didn't find much variation and after a couple weeks decided to cancel the experiment. Only then did I find, while dumping them out of their pots, that the three seedlings with the copper had vastly larger, bushier root systems than the other three, which had very simple, thin, scraggly root systems. It was immediately visible, and I was taken aback by the evidence before me. I'd like to repeat this with better controls and possibly something that grows faster, so as to better be able to note differences, and especially a larger sample size.

Still, that's remarkable. Lakhovsky theorized that health was mainly about the various resonances of healthy vs diseased or germ cells, and whichever one can overpower the other. He though that rather than try to kill the disease, it would be better to empower the healthy. Rather than irradiate or chemically attack the cancers or whatnot, which hurts the healthy cells almost as bad, leaving one weak and thus vulnerable... why not work to make the healthy cells healthier? They can then take care of themselves.

Multi Wave Oscillator
But of course, if cancer could be cured in a few weeks of simply sitting between some copper coils a few hours at a time, without invasive techniques and hard to get medicines, a huge industry would flounder, and we can't have that. We all know there's no money in a cure, only in "disease maintenance." They don't want an end to cancer, they want patients. I'm not saying the doctors are evil or intentionally holding back research. I think mainly they just aren't exposed to ideas like this, certainly not in the schools, and they have a right to be conservative in their practice, where life and limb are on the line. I do blame the pharmaceutical and insurance companies, and hospital administrators, who see medicine only as a business venture with high profit potential, and the governments they are in bed with and partly control; they don't provide or encourage research in anything but "traditional" means (calling modern medicine traditional feels really strange to me). But mainly even they are stuck in a system that has somewhat gotten away from us, and taken a life of its own. Such is the nature of living in a paradigm; it shapes your worldview so much that it's hard to see things any other way.

But where control remains, big money and entrenched power prevent the fringe ideas from making headway, as it always has. Physics is already several paradigm shifts ahead of medicine, getting into bizarre territory where objective science is now proving to itself that objectivity doesn't exist, that the observer is part of the observed, and so on. Medical philosophy is miles behind, still thinking the body is a clock, with finely tuned, if organic, gears and levers. You'd think that with the general fascination with electronics in our Western world, we'd be thinking about everything in terms of electricity, but we are still stuck in the sixteenth century as far as scientific understanding goes, at least for the majority of us.

Of course, as with much of science, I suspect that part of the problem is that although the force of electromagnetism and its effects have been described quite finely, and the use of the effects are put widely into use, no one really understands electricity. It reminds me of this blind clam that lives in rivers that I saw on the series Planet Earth. It has an appendage that is shaped and colored exactly like the fish that it eats: the clam opens its shell, wiggles the mock fish around, and when the real fish come to investigate, snaps shut and feeds. But ask the clam how it evolved this perfect little mimic, and it'd come up blank. It uses it, but has no idea how it got that way or why it works, or even what's really going on.

Likewise, we create these fabulous technologies that make use of great universal forces, but just because we've named them and come up with structured models of how they go together, we don't know how it works at all. I mean, gravity was described hundreds of years ago, but they still don't really understand it. Same with electricity. It's still magic, but so commonplace that no one even stops to think about it. No one but those moony New Agers, that is, who often muddy the waters and destroy the credibility of what could be real and important ideas by going too far with them. Admit it, it's hard to take someone seriously who not only believes in the healing powers of resonant vibration, but also that humans are the slaves of a race of shapeshifting intergalactic reptilians.

I just wonder what medicine might look like with such a paradigm shift.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Charlotte Harbor

Wow, it's been weeks since I've written here, sorry for the lag, my loyal readers, whoever may remain. (You know your blog is in trouble when you start with the apologies about the lack of posts, haha).

I went walking yesterday down at Charlotte Harbor, which is really the estuary for the Peace River down here in southwest Florida. There's a little park there, with a boat ramp and a little beach (if you can call that a beach, it's more of a sandy area held away from the water by a concrete wall); I personally favor the area to the right of the "beach" which is undeveloped. There's a little path, no more than a quarter mile (if that) along the shore through the mangroves, and that's where I usually go when I stop by the place.

The scenery does very little for me. I certainly try, but the sea just isn't my thing; though born on the urbanized flats of the Midwest, I have become a man of the mountains, and although the shore has its own beauty, it is not my asthetic or atavistic preference. At least, not this shore. I can dig the Northwest coast, with its wild forests marching down the rugged mountainous land to the sea in a dramatic flair. Same goes for the California and Maine coasts; they are interesting at least. Here on the dreary coastal plain, it's just a slow, slow crawl under the waves. There's a great feeling of lassisitude about the place, in more ways than one.

Firstly, the land. You can think of this in terms of some sort of spiritual energy, a fung shui or earth energy, or simply in terms of variations in topography, soils, vegetation, climate/microclimates, and so on, but either way, the feel of this place is as flat as it looks. The rivers are sluggish, the tides are almost nil, the soils are a near-uniform sand, the forests repetetive. The soil probably explains the repetitive forest, as well, in conjuction with topography: there are no hollows, no north or south side of a hill, no high dry ridges to affect vegetation patterns, save for the little ponds that harbor pond cypress instead of endless slash pine-and-cabbage palm.

Mangrove islet

Mountains give you that. You walk for ten minutes anywhere and you stumble into little microclimates, new forest areas. Some places the rivers rush, some places they slow, there are little hollows where water, and soils, build up, ridges where there is little water or soil, and so on. You can easily find "special" places in such areas. I can think of several I found even back in some tiny nature preserves back in metro Detroit that I used to visit. Like that bend of a branch of the main branch of the Rouge River; just the way the river turned, and ran over some riffles, where I sat up above the undercut bank. Or at various moments hiking along the Superior Tail in Porcupine Mountains State Park, just little places where the rocks and trees and light all came together to feel unique and set apart. You know what I'm talking about if you've spent any time walking around in the woods. But I can't find anywhere like that down here, though I've spent a lot of time out in the woods, which around where I live there's still plenty of, in the form of preserves and wildlife management areas and just undeveloped private land. It's all same same same.

I really think the flatness is a large part of this. If you like, you can think of energy flowing and stalling in the same way as water; I only bring it up because it is something you can feel, rather than merely knowing about, in terms of hydrology and soils and such. I don't understand it, don't know what it is or how seriously I take the "energy" thing, but I'll put it out there all the same. I figure, the more complicated the terrain, the more interesting the energy flows. It can gather, it can seperate, form in pools and eddies, or rush away. I think this is the reason the standing stones over in the British Isles were set up where they were, at least in part. Here, it's sort of spread out, diffuse, stagnant.

It's a matter of having a relationship with the land. Most people reading this will think I'm a crazy fool for even entertaining the notion of "Earth energy," but consider the fact that we spend out lives almost entirely cut off from it. Even in terms of electricity: we are insulated by our buildings (wood, concrete, carpet and tile floors), and the ubiquitous rubber soled shoe. I remember, years ago, suddenly realizing that it had been months since I'd last touched the Earth with my skin. I don't know how much there is in the notion of Earthing, but, being that we are electrical beings, it's worth thinking about. And as far as our view on land, it's just something to buy and sell, and something to build on. That's not a relationship, especially considering that what we build almost always has zero relation to the land it sits on. If any trees are left standing, they are tokens. We name streets after what we have destroyed: Iroquois Avenue, Cherry Hill Lane, Swan Hollow. We do things in the buildings that have nothing to do with what's outside, which, these days, has often been homogenized into bland suburbia, replanted with non-native trees and plants to suit our tastes.

Horseshoe Crab shells

Another aspect of the dullness around here is that, there's no industry. I'm not huge on big industry, of course, but I simply mean that no one produces anything down here. There's some fishing and shrimping, and inland, mostly cattle (dying out thanks to development), some citrus, and some vegetables being grown. But the economy here depends for its very existence mainly on two things: tourist dollars, and retiree dollars. Both classes of people are down here to relax, to lay around in the sun on the beach, to bask in the all-year warmth (half the year living in A/C, of course). I call the place Vacationland. The place is a sort of energy sink, in terms of money and in terms of activity.

On the other hand, I do admit feeling a sort of ease down by the water. There is a reason that the beach is relaxing to people. Electrically, you can ground yourself to the earth and sea, because you're probably barefoot. There's the warm sun on your skin, cool water to swim in, pleasant breezes, and so on. You can listen to the sound of the waves, endlessly repeating, at least when the power boats and constant air traffic allow you to tune in to it. Among the mangroves, there's plenty of life, birds and crabs and offshore, pelicans, manatees and dolphins occasionally, depending on where you are (I have yet to see a dolphin).

Yesterday, I happened to see a Golden Crowned Night Heron hunting crabs among the mangrove roots. At first, when I spooked the big bird out of the trees, I thought it was a Great Blue Heron, which are far more common; fortunately it only flew about fifteen yards away then proceeded about its business, so I got a good look. Couldn't get a good picture, but here's an old video of one I saw on Padre Island a couple years back. They "dance" before striking for the crab, to distract or entrance the prey, I suppose. Sorry, I couldn't catch an actual strike.