“The things we want are transformative , and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation . Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration – how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory , about becoming someone else ?”
A Field Guide to Getting Lost
I have spent a great part of my life on the edges of the known. In design, art, home, teaching…there is a certain solitary condition to being on the edge, the boundary that separates what you think you know from what you really know. Like Solnit, whose mantra is recognizable if you read enough of her, is about letting go, disappearing in order to discover yourself in the world , while also discovering the world …I teach from a similar philosophy .
Creative thinkers have this ability to imagine possibilities . Imagining another way of being, existence . From these contrivances comes the future. But the future is long ahead , no matter how soon we wish it would materialize . No great transformation comes over night , despite the moment of the epiphany. Dreaming requires commitment to bring a vision into a reality.
I live in one of the wildest places that remain in North America. I did not say THE wildest, mind you. Its not Alaska, or the Yaak, or parts of Canada. But this place is Montana. Specifically up a canyon drainage and surrounded by Public Land, not far outside of Bozeman. I have had bears and mountain lion on the roof of my house. So of course they are walking the land around my house. But that does not mean I find their visits common. Nor am I so naive to believe that my 70 pound German Shepherd would be any match for one of these large creatures which is why she is not let out at night alone.
Tonight, just a few minutes before the curtain of night extinguished the remaining bit of light we took a walk around the house. Spring has arrived. Even early this year. But last night about two inches of snow fell on the ground. Nothing dramatic. But this is where it gets good, and where, no matter how many times I see the footprints in the snow around the house that are not hers, I am still impressed. Because the snow is new the tracks in the snow were distinguishable tonight, not the cacophony of prints that criss-crossed the land as the winter snow melted into the ground last week. As Noel followed whatever smells and tracks interested her I looked down to see some large melted spots not far from the entry of the house. The shape of the melt was not exactly recognizable, but it was not shaped like an Elk or Moose. I looked for others that were more distinct. And that is when I found them. There must have been a pair together in the early morning striding across the snow in front of the house. I checked the prints for size compared to Noel’s. My fist fits just nicely inside of hers. But these, these require two of my fists while the back pad of the foot that sits a bit up the leg was also impressed in the snow a good 4-5 inches behind the primary paw print. But the most amazing condition of the set of tracks was that there were four paw prints in a line very close to one another with a space of about four feet between each set of four. Each set of four taking about four feet, too.
If you cannot imagine this in your head, get out your sketch book and draw it. Two animals walking in-line, with one filling the gap between the first set of prints filling in the stride of the first animal for every other stride. The distance between a single stride being four feet, a large jump for me. I looked across the slope of the land where the prints emerged and then the other direction where they walked into Noel’s favorite place to visit when she was outside. Either a pack came across the land at one time, or this pair silently circumnavigated the land around the house making multiple passes and patterns. I will never know, but can only wonder and imagine.
Its dark now. Black outside, and we are inside. Until tomorrow. In the early morning we will again go check what remains of the snow for new stories, new reminders of the wildness I am lucky enough to live with.
This weekend was full of work . I’m not complaining. But stating a fact. Part of the work is a modest design proposal for an addition to a house.
There are always lessons in everything we do. And this little design has reminded me of a few things I have known. Confirmed things I know even in a cobwebbed corner of my mind:
1. It is necessary to know when to respond with modesty over exuberance, no matter how talented a designer you are. And perhaps the lesson I needed to be reminded of. There is a certain critical effort that must be made to design thoughtfully while at the same time working from a place of restraint . Not all creative answers should be dominate , some should be quiet and simply fit in with what came before. This is the case for the addition I am working on.
The existing structure is a dynamic , yet simple, 1970 contemporary house. It’s dynamism is in it’s sweeping roof that is a singular gesture of form. On the rural landscape it’s primarily living area is visible as a single sharp pitched shed roof reaching from the ground and extending to the sky.
To take away this dynamic and singular move from the primary living volume by way of a bedroom addition would be disrespectful to the hierarchy of architectural expression . The best response is one of support. Of course making the overall building better, but not by making an over-expressive addition. Instead by making a better whole.
2. Most architects and designers work today with the use of the computer for 2-d drawings and models . And this had been my primary method for a decade . But with this small work I thought all handwork would be best, and faster. Because I teach architecture students I am well aware of their current use of computers, 3-d modeling and laser cutters. And I recognize the benefits of these tools, and use them myself. But the work this past weekend using pencil , paper, cutting blades and chipboard also reminded me how critical it is for creators to use their hands to understand their ideas, their work. From this process a clarity arrives, like the clarity we gain through concentrated meditation. The slowing down of the process in exchange for the immediacy of current technology asks us to think and be sure and clear of our decisions. The tactility of hand to brain connects us to the world in it’s reality like feet to a hiking trail, bringing connection and surety.
The process also reminded me of all the things I am capable of with my hands, the versatility of expression, creating, and making . And the deep knowledge I have collected over thirty years with my brain connected to the actions of my hands that allow me to make the art I currently pursue .
Mind to hand. We are makers in the world . There is no better substitution.
Saturday afternoon was stunningly beautiful and warm. Warm for the mountains in Montana. A great time for being outside to work on the new studio. This object of work was to install the tubing for the radiant heat concrete floor. This is the last step before the slab pour and getting the frame up! Yay!
I hadn’t installed one of these for several years. The work was quick and smooth . The best new add to the method was the spinner for the Pex tubing which kept in from unfurling out of control. The greatest assistant ever…Noel who patiently watched and waited for me to throw the ball for her.
The concrete blankets have come off. The giant hole has been back filled with gravel and dirt and leveled…and the plumber has roughed in the drains and pipes that will soon be buried in the concrete slab.
Rigid insulation has been set on top of the gravel, along with wire mesh. And tomorrow it will be my turn for some work. I will be adding the tubes on top of the wire mesh that will serve as the loops that will be buried in the concrete slab to create a radiant floor.
There will be no selfies made of this process. So if you want to see the action you can come on out and take pictures . And maybe tie a little wire. If you are a past Remote Studio student you probably had a similar experience when we formed concrete for your project!