between here and there


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Manufactured Landscapes

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I’ve lived in Montana since 1998. When I arrived there was still a realness, a grittiness to the place, that, as I look around today, seems to be slipping quietly away. What is disappearing is that sense of a community when folks have slowly built up their surroundings responding organically to the place in which they live. The growth over time that occurs as people scrape together their savings to open a mercantile, or a bakery, or build their home. These are individuals who become a collective, who put down roots, people who truly commit and live in the place of their business. The collective of place that I am missing today evolves beyond the hands of trained designers who have learned to execute an industrialized model for living. What I see today are the designed landscapes that have vegetation spaced correctly, trees and shrubs (not bushes) growing from a  pattern of circles specified while looking down at a two-dimensional drawing instead of making decisions while standing on the ground, designers who have the landscape smoothed and weeded, and de-wrinkled the nature of the place.

I know, you’re saying to yourself , she’s just romanticizing the past. But I don’t believe that’s what is happening. Instead, I am witnessing my hometown of Bozeman transform into the sameness of the industrialized American development model. These are the manufactured landscapes that support the commercial and economic successes of Costco, Home Depot, Lowes, World Market, The Gap, and Starbucks (yes we finally have them here, too). These are the places that now look the same across the United States. The trees and shrubs that decorate and edge these big box stores ring them like imitation stones of cheap jewelry. The curb cuts and edging and bark islands, the four layers of vegetation from Trees, to shrub, to some ambiguous flowering plant selected for its long blooms and easy maintenance growing up against bermuda grass or its equal, these living things are used to make a new place that we know, but not really. The easily recognizable non-place.  A place that is everywhere but nowhere. A place that makes us feel comfortable so that we easily slip into the ridiculously large parking lots of suburban America without question so that we can happily pop into the big box store of choice. And as we drive in we think, isn’t this pretty, with the greenness of the world around us. When actually, we are just holding nature hostage for our own use, our own manufactured excuse of a natural landscape.

Who is to blame for all of this? We are. We all are, every time we forget where we are as we slip into that lull of commercialism that makes us feel better, or even good about shopping for things we don’t necessarily need. We, the designers, are responsible because we have passively accepted the instruction of “how to design” the edges of these places, that we have followed city planners who have created such sweet little places for their community to come and go from. We are responsible because we are not getting out into the wild enough to recognize the difference, or care about the difference of what this lack of understanding does to us or our impact on the world. We are, because we fail to recognize that we continue to use the natural world in ways that discourage and erase our sense of being a part of a larger whole, instead encouraging even the simplest use of the living world in dishonorable ways.

 

If we do care, how do we find that integrity of place, how do we retain it? How do we respect these places in their specificity and richness of conditions while knitting together our sense of belonging to these places, too? How do we honor where we live, and how do we create them?

Perhaps we start by not fully and completely erasing the world that appears scrubby and unresolved, the place that is living, cyclical, jagged, and constantly changing. The place that was here before we moved in, before we used that can of upside down marking paint and staked the land. We can start by standing, feet on the ground as Ed Abbey said, and feeling and observing and learning the world around us. By not accepting the lessons that we are taught at school without question, the lessons that are same all over, lessons of ubiquity for providing generalized backdrops where we live. By valuing the need to take time, to live local. To live the local, not the commercial, to live the place, not the sameness that is expanding across the United States.

I think you know what I’m talking about. If not take a look around. If your hometown looks like the one down the road you are living in a Manufactured Landscape. If not, then there is still time to give deep consideration, time and commitment to where you live, to not erase the community that already lives there, all of it,  plants and animals alike.

The Wilderness that surrounds us

The Wilderness that surrounds us


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Dreaming of Utah

Utah, South of Moab

Utah, land of dreams

I have been dreaming of Utah these past nights. Not those kind of dreams you have when you are wishing you could go somewhere. Not the melancholy type. But the kind of dreams that are had from experience, when your subconscious is so full of an experience that it pours out of you after you have had it. The dreaming is rich of the landscape. They are not full of saga or people, or any far-fetched narrative. They are full of the place, the feelings, textures, smells, and colors. Every night after I close my eyes I relive the place. The overwhelming beauty.

I have never had such realistic and vivid dreams before of a real place, portrayed in a true and actual dynamic. I am wondering what this means for my psyche. Have I found my spirit home? Or was the experience simply overpowering that my subconscious is relishing the intensity of the memories?

Utah. I await the next adventure.

 

rain falls on Utah, the mist of magic

rain falls on Utah, the mist of magic


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Remote Studio meets Cloud Nine Farm

on the way to Cloud Nine Farm, Wilsall Montana

on the way to Cloud Nine Farm, Wilsall Montana

 

In early April I visited Cloud Nine Farm near Wilsall, Montana for the first time. The ground was just thawing at this high-elevation farm that bases it’s growing techniques on Permaculture. Despite the fact that there was nothing sprouting green in the land that surrounds them, Allison and Seann, owners of  Cloud Nine, were following their daily farm activities. In order to make Cloud Nine profitable the farm is a year round operation. Green houses, chicken and duck eggs, and micro-greens help extend the seasonal potential for the farm. Cloud Nine is an organic minded farm and in the past few months that we have been planning the Remote Studio project for them they have been working through the process for gaining full “organic farm” status. This status not only is a great personal goal it also assists their product commitment with the CSA they work with, Market Day Foods in Bozeman, Montana. As the organic reviewer told them, they have the most diverse farm requesting organic status she had ever seen. Which means that the farm had ultimately more paperwork and verifications to deal with , because their application  for organic status extends beyond a mono-culture farm, and instead operated as a holistic entity. The holistic condition is representative of the permaculture farming that they have adopted. It is a best case operation that organic farms can reach toward. In May they gained their full organic status!

The concepts of permaculture farming are not so different than the architecture profession’s goals seeking to design their buildings to work with the environment of their buildings. Consideration of land, orientation, weather patterns, and best conditions for employing the “energy” and “productivity” of the place. While this may sound straight forward, its not simple. Certainly not simple if you are farming in the high elevations of Montana with land that had been previously overgrazed. And if you want to develop a closed-loop farm as Allison and Seann do, the challenges can be even greater. Closed-loop (just as in architecture) means that what you need you gain from your “ground” and what you produce in by-product stays on the land, and is not hauled away.

one of the hoop greenhouses growing micro-greens

one of the hoop greenhouses growing micro-greens

seeding for the upcoming growing season

seeding for the upcoming growing season

Artemis Institute is interested in supporting practices and experiences that recognize the relationship between nature and culture. With the Remote Studio program we focus our design/build project on community structures that assist this relationship. This year we are committing the Remote Studio project to Cloud Nine Farm because we believe that the food that they produce for our community helps ensure that we have healthy “connected to the land” choices. We are overly impressed with Cloud Nine and other such small organic farms who commit to find a way to grow healthy food, in less than simple environmental and economic circumstances. These young farmers work long hours, reinvest their meager profits in bettering their ground, seldom have time-off, and little financial opportunity to build the simple support structures we all imagine to be in place on farms. For these reasons, Remote Studio Summer 2014 students will be designing and building a multi-functional support structure that enables the farm to store their implements out of harsh conditions, hang their garlic and store their onions, better rinse their vegetables for market, and store their young plants in a more protected environment.

To achieve this new support structure Cloud Nine is providing the funds for all construction materials, and Artemis Institute/Remote Studio provides the design, construction management, drawings and construction of the structure for free. There is one more component that is on their list, but not in their budget: a refrigeration unit with a high-performing “cool-bot” that would allow them to extend the storage and delivery season of their products. We have estimated materials and technology for this portion of the structure at about $5,000 for Remote Studio to incorporate into the design and construction of the new structure. If supporting our developing American Organic Farmers seems like an important and necessary thing to do, then consider helping Artemis Institute build the new Refrigeration Unit for Cloud Nine Farm. Artemis Institute is a non-profit organization. Your donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. To make a donation click here.

Remote Studio students start designing the Cloud Nine structure June 16!

 

eggs and sunflower mico-greens from Cloud Nine Farm

eggs and sunflower mico-greens from Cloud Nine Farm


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Desert Land next Stop

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I have been in many places across this landscape of Utah, visited it’s canyons, rivers, plateaus and rock formations. But never for as long as I will when leading Quest. So today I begin the great “count down” for departure. In planning the trip I referred to the Utah Gazeteer, map book extraordinaire. But the scale of the plateau of southeastern Utah is immense and leaves me with only a fragmented sense of this expanse of landscape. I wanted a map that would guide me across this place that I could look at whole. I chose a map to order sight unseen, yet thinking it would reveal the mystery as a whole . Today as I review the readings the program participants and I will read encamped on some mystical spot of sandstone I unfold the map. Ha! The map covers the southern edge of the area in question. But the northern portion if the area I am interested to study is not to be found . Looking back to the map guide selection , you know the little overlapping boxes that denote which map covers what area, I realize the map I want does not exist! Maps ring the area in question , but not the place. And that is the magic of the upcoming journey. Seeing, feeling, touching, smelling for ourselves that power of a landscape we do not know from reading a map or previous experience. Soon the days will be of this journey, dust trailing behind us as we get to know the mystery.


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Winter Past

wind felled tree

wind felled tree

The forecast stated rain this morning. I was just hoping it was wrong. Dressed for a hike I headed out of the canyon where I live to more reliable weather. But the rain was already there. I turned back toward home as the rain followed slowly behind. Across the bridge with the creek raging snow melt below, past the arcs of snow that remain in the yard. Tennis balls lost in the snow to Noel over winter are emerging like little bright green treasures. We find a few and I throw them to her while watching the heavy sky above move closer to my head.

I have learned this past winter that  wind can be fierce in the canyon. We had some nights that I even wanted to crawl into the closet in the basement. The large Douglas fir trees and others that surround the house are close to 100 feet tall. I took stock of them last fall after I lost the top of one of them that lives so close to my house. Immense and powerful. The steep hill behind my house is all forest with heavy underbrush and I realized as the snow began to melt and I was spending more time outside that one of these great trees had fallen behind the house. Seems like a good time to explore the tree and experience just how big it was.

remaining trunk

remaining trunk

 

It had twisted and broke during one of the storms and the stump that remained was taller than me. I can see as I get closer that it had split and twisted vertically in two locations. The base was so large its difficult to imagine it giving way to the wind. But there it lay long and broken down the hillside pointed toward my house. I paid homage, I feel its bark, its skin, and appreciate the needles that remain green on the trunk that now lays on the ground. Heading back down the hill I follow the narrow deer paths that lead to one of the largest trees at the bottom. Exposed roots make me wonder how long it will live against the wind. This spot, behind the tree, has some collected garbage, things that must have come from the neighbors trash. And now I realize why this spot always felt a bit spooky to me in the dark of the winter night. Teeth holes in the plastic  milk carton tell me something has been there. Something large –  an animal – I heard moving up there this winter – has spent more than a passing moment at that tree. This tree has had a long life, including the  2x4s that remain nailed into it’t trunk.

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I look out at the forest. The rain has arrived and falls like a morning in the Northwest. Light but constant. My hike will wait for now. I will wait, and instead watch the male robin who has been sitting on the deck railing for the past few days expressing his dominance to the reflection in the glass window that separates me from him.


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tents for backpacking

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If you are joining us for Remote Studio or Quest- Utah you do NOT need to have a tent. We have enough for the trips. But if you are thinking that you would like to invest in one for the program (if you are attending Remote Studio you may want to camp on the weekends) or that you want one not to have one for the future, following are some tips I have learned over the years.

looks comfy, right? Don't expect to find a pillow in the backcountry...

looks comfy, right? Don’t expect to find a pillow in the backcountry…

1. A car camping tent is not really the best for backcountry camping, but a backcountry tent can always work for car camping.

 

3-season mountain hardware tent with vestibule and end entry

3-season mountain hardware tent with vestibule and end entry

2. Unless you live all the time and camp all the time in a temperate climate you should have a 3-season tent. And if you live in Alaska or want to trek in Nepal, you would need a 4-season tent.

3. A few years ago the tent manufacturers came up with a concept called an “integrated fly” for 3-season tents. I think the idea is that these tents weigh less.  I have not seen these perform as well as the traditional fly with tent system. What’s a fly, you are asking? Take a look at the images of tents here. The fly is the outer layer of the tent applied after the primary tent enclosure/structure. The fly is like the rain jacket or coat of a tent. It keeps the bad weather from getting to you. And the fact that it is on the outside of the frame structure means that it is held away from the surface of the primary enclosure. In nasty weather, which happens often enough in the Rockies or in the shoulder seasons most anywhere, you want a 3-season tent that has a separate fly.

Side entry with vestibule. Mountain Hardware

Side entry with vestibule.
Mountain Hardware

A very large vestibule, a new idea,could be useful if you need to "cook" in the vestibule, But not in bear country!

A very large vestibule tent from Big Agnes, a new idea, could be useful if you need to “cook” in the vestibule, But not in bear country!

4. A few more things about the tent fly. If its cold and rainy you want it. If its not you can leave it off and let your tent breathe, and you get to watch the stars. Worst case scenario if the weather changes you can snap it on in only a few minutes. (Unless you are totally convinced that the weather is going to be perfect when you are out in the backcountry and decide you can leave it at home or in your car.)

5. Quality of the tent. Walmart or a real technically designed tent? Seriously? If you are car camping or camping in your friend’s backyard you can last in a Walmart tent, or other “cheap” tent. But if you are hiking for miles into a place that has no alternative accommodations, not even a cave, you want to spend the cash to get a good tent. Why? Because they are built and designed to stand up in bad weather, and to last a long time. If you take care of the tent. I have watched cheap tents buckle under the weight of a spring snowstorm and almost blow away in the wind on the edge of the Great Salt Lake. I don’t think anyone was enjoying life inside those tents.

Mountain Hardware, Drifter . You could easily end up camping in snow like this in early June in the Northern Rockies, be prepared.

Mountain Hardware, Drifter . You could easily end up camping in snow like this in early June in the Northern Rockies, be prepared.

6. Tent profile: The “taller” the tent the more challenged the tent is in adverse weather, snow or wind. So, while the idea of being able to stand up inside your 3 or 4 person tent is cool when you are in the store, I recommend a lower profile tent. Being able to sit up is nice, and good enough.

7. Shape of the tent? Shape is relative to use and how many are using the tent and how well you know the person you are sharing the tent with and how much weight you want to carry on your back. Consider all of these conditions when considering the shape. If its low in profile and thin in plan you are going to want to be pretty comfortable with your tent mate.

Make sure you check the size of the footprint and the head height.

Make sure you check the size of the footprint and the head height.

7. How many doors? How many vestibules? This question relates to the question above. There have been times when I have slept in tents with folks I don’t know very well. I hate climbing over them to get in and out of the tent. So, consider that issue when you are looking at the tent layout. Also, double vestibules and openings allow each person the ability to simply slip out of the tent from their “side”. Long, slender tents with an end opening are nice. But they seem the best when you are intimate with the person you are sharing your tent with. Because most of the time you need to shimmy in and out of the sleeping bag and tent to get outside. One more thing about about multiple openings/vestibules. If you travel with a dog and you don’t want them in the tent with you, they can sleep in the vestibule. And if you are camping in a place that is not storming or has bears you can leave some of your gear in the vestibule and not in the tent. And lastly, if you are experiencing terrible weather you can heat water in your vestibule if the vestibule is big enough.

8. Weight of the tent?? Weight is certainly an issue. The more highly engineered tent, with the latest fabric and poles is going to be lighter than the others. But usually they cost more, too. So while you don’t want the heavy and inexpensive Walmart tent, you still want something lighter and affordable. Consider the issues above, how you are going to “live” in your tent, and where you are going to be living and then also consider the weight. There will be several tents of different weights to choose from even after you have used the above criteria to narrow your decision.

Another Big Agnes, 3 season, double vestibule tent. Removable Fly. Tent has screen above for night watching.

Another Big Agnes, 3 season, double vestibule tent. Removable Fly. Tent has screen above for night watching.

 

9. Color. Yes, color. I didn’t think too much about color of the tent when I bought my “blends into the landscape” colored tent. But here are a few things to consider if you actually have a choice in color. There is conflicting data on whether color makes a difference to a bear. Some say a brighter color attracts them. Some say they don’t care. I have no experience to offer regarding this issue. But what I can say is if you are having an emergency and need to be rescued, or send someone out for help in changing weather conditions and they need to find you and the tent again, a brighter color can help for identifying and locating the tent in the back country.

10. Best tent manufacturers? There are many. Marmot, Big Agnes and Mountain Hardware to name a few. They all make their tent details and shapes a bit differently. But are of a good quality and well engineered. And just about any tent you are going to find sold with these three will be similar quality. You can pay full price, or you could do a little research and figure out what you are looking for (size, type, weight, etc) and then buy one online at a site such as backcountry.com. Check them out for other gear, too.

11. Don’t forget the ground cloth. It goes between the tent and ground. Should be light weight. There is a specific ground cloth for the tent you buy. Well worth it when it is pouring rain and the water is rushing under your tent. The ground cloth can be turned up on its edges to ensure that water runs under it, and not into the tent. (true story).

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