01.05.18 | QUOTED

Accidents on purpose

I rode the #41 bus today, a highway route. The speed of the bus makes it bumpier than a normal route, but I only noticed this because I was sketching on my iPad. As we headed North on I-5, it was wiggly lines or nothing. So I imagined a dead tree and continued.

The situation reminded of something that Dan Snow, a master dry stone mason, wrote about incorporating accidents into design. He writes beautifully on the subject of masonry because he’s so in tune with the role that time and nature play in his work and he has a philosopher’s touch. I’m finishing two of his books right now, and this is from Listening to Stone:

As I wandered around the [Anasazi] ruins, their striking forms and intriguing spaces caused me to ponder a notion. If it could be said that accident played a strong role in their creation, then accidents must be a very good designer. I could do worse than to adopt accident as my mentor. And while I may not be able to design by accident, as happens in long-established, built environments, perhaps I could create accident by design; purposefully creating the space and opportunity for accident to happen. In a way, I could make pieces of work that grew organically within the parameter of a narrow time frame.

If I need another organic, squiggly line, it’s simple: I’ll catch the #41 and take out a pen.

01.03.18 | UNDERGROWTH

When that new shoot…

… is really a green stink bug with its head buried—to stay warm? avoid Twitter? It’s hard out there for a pest.

01.02.18 | QUOTED

Site empathy

In architecture, the design for a building may be new, but the design of a landscape is always a conversion of an existing place to something else. It is vital, therefore, to understand the context in order to establish a genuine empathy with the site.

I found Drawing for Landscape Architecture at the library today and have been devouring it. This “conversion of an existing place” reminds me of my favorite part of making magazines: redesigns. Could this be what’s led me to gardens? Anyway, the book is exactly what I needed to get me thinking and drawing in the new year.

Outtakes from 2017

12.31.17 A photographic look back on the year

12.25.17 | WINTER

Christmas in… Seattle?

It was a rare snowy Christmas here in Seattle. Crunchy and light, the snow was perfect for a Christmas Eve snowball fight out on my parent’s farm. The temperature never dropped below 31° and the roads were fine—an ideal hit of snow.

The bright green in the picture is a giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata). I keep it potted to move it around but also to protect it on days like this. They can get huge, so to maximize its size I’ll probably put it in the ground next year and sacrifice its container-based winter interest.

12.22.17 | ARTICLES

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure tree

When I ask him how many trees he’s moved out to the farm, he smiles sheepishly at Michelle, who’s just walked in with a load of groceries. “Come on, man, you ask me that in front of my wife?”

My friend Matt Halverson wrote a story about a guy who saves trees. It’s also about his own awareness of how quickly these big organisms can be reduced to mulch. You should read it.

♣ Southwest Magazine: “Bernie O’Brien’s Tree Sanctuary”

12.18.17 | QUOTED

Despotic desire

It would surprise no one if we learned that our current president has never planted a tree. As talk of authoritarianism becomes elevator chatter, an anecdote about Thomas Jefferson makes it clear how much our leaders have changed since we started electing them. In Urban Trees: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American City, a book that is full of rich historical tidbits, author Jill Jonnes relays something quite profound about how strongly one of our early presidents felt about preserving nature.

In 1801, while residents of the Capitol were running wild, girdling and cutting down trees in the dead of night, mostly for fuel, Jefferson surprised a dinner guest by saying:

“How I wish I possessed the power of a despot. Yes, I wish I was a despot that I might save the noble, the beautiful trees that are daily falling sacrifices to the cupidity of their owners, or the necessity of the poor.” When his fellow diners raised their eyebrows, Jefferson elaborated that with such “absolute power, I might enforce the preservation of these valuable groves.”

Today’s idea of absolute power, I think, is a little different. But did the president really lack authority over the city’s public lands?

It would, replied the president, require armed guards, which he could not posts at every towering tree. “In a few years, not a tree will remain, and when it is too late, the Legislature will regret that measures were not taken for their preservation.”

Two hundred years ago our president was deflated by his inability to preserve well-established trees in the nation’s capital.

Such laments did not surprise those who knew Jefferson, for every day he set forth from the White House to take “long rides in every direction around the city and [he] never [returned] without some branch of tree, or shrub, or bunch of flowers in his hand. He is acquainted with every tree and plant, from the oak of our forests, to the meanest flower of our valleys.”

ps. Ronald Reagan’s approach? “[Y]ou know, a tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?”