{ Category Archives: visceral inquiry }

Nettoyez les Champs

bonfire1

A bonfire on a chilly grey morning always reminds me of our time in West Africa. There was a common saying among village farmers, on doit nettoyer les champs, clear the fields, which pretty much always meant building a fire. Before the rainy season, entire fields would be burned to recondition the soil for next year’s crops of yam, millet, corn and sorghum. When crops were mature and needed tending, farmers would set out on foot at dawn from the mud huts of the village to collective fields ringing the compound, short-handled, hand-forged hoes hanging deftly from one shoulder.

Au debut, if faut nettoyer les champs. Before working the fields, the farmers would gather loose, dry debris to build a fire, harvesting a few ripe yams in the process. The fire would be built on top of the yams and the farmers would go off to rebuild earthen mounds, redig trenches for irrigation and harvest enough produce to carry back to the village. By mid-day the fire would be down to embers and the hot sun high in the sky. Charred yams would be raked from coals, their blackened crusts expertly removed with a few strokes of a razor sharp coup-coup, and the farmers would gather for a feast of roasted yams with spicy colico before an afternoon nap in the neem grove’s shade.

Our annual winter bonfires may be less prosaic, but they always give me a chance to relive our brief time in West Africa, where I was lucky enough to see the seasonal shift from harvest to rain au village. To contribute less of a carbon footprint, we typically chip or compost most of our green debris, but each year still yields a ‘burn pile’ of apple tree prunings, storm fallen branches and other less expected wood waste, and I always look forward to setting it all on fire, sans yams.

Tagged: , ,

Bull Kelp Harvest

kelp leg1

Each winter since we’ve lived on the Sonoma Coast and made a daily practice of walking the beaches, I become mildly obsessed with the bull kelp that washes ashore in great heaps after storms. I’ve tried weaving the kelp into seat blanks, drying it as an iodine-rich jerky, and brewing it for a savory stock. My experiments have not been utter failures, and the waste product makes for nutritious compost, but I have yet to find its ideal use.

This year, I harvested several large heads of the kelp, selecting the freshest and most well-formed. I’m considering casting these in bronze as a table leg for a new design commission, and have carefully cleaned and wrapped them for freezing until I’m ready to make the molds.

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Squalls of Fall

squall1

November morning over Bodega Bay

The first squalls of fall spiral ashore in waves from the open ocean, lending drama to the sky and purpose to our stores of dry wood and kindling. The whales have begun their migration past Bodega Head. American Coot bob in tight clusters like black shadows in the surf while the solitary Western Grebe dives and darts for fish just beyond. Hillside meadows are greening, apples all but gone from bare mossy branches, the few remaining having been sliced and dried and stored in glass jars for winter snacking. The sun drops behind a veil of dense downslope redwood by 3, the temperature drops and thoughts turn to winding down for the day, lighting fires and taking stock for next morning’s chores. Projects follow the rhythm of daylight and we move with more urgency and intensity in sync with the low arc of the sun, rewarding ourselves with long and languid nights of rest and rejuvenation.

squall2

Tagged: , , , , ,

Trim the Sails

Sailboat_wagon

What’s tried and true is just that. While training in any tradition might lead to a skeptical outlook, leaving one resistant to radical change, innovation can often be the result of baby steps, so there’s always room to trim the sails once a course is set.

Tagged: , , , ,

Learning from the Murmur

murmur4

I was lucky to catch the last rays of early September sun glistening off the ornately glazed tiles and finials of downtown Oakland’s deco treasures; the building facades just drink up this light, colors saturated against a deep azure sky. I had arrived on bike just as the Murmur was setting up, bought tickets at the Fox to see The Hives, and strolled the seven or so blocks of Telegraph closed off to thru-traffic for the evening, scanning food trucks and bicycle vendors for something yummy to eat before folks arrived en masse. Oakland’s Art Murmur is a phantasmagorical, largely improvised street festival happening on the first Friday of each month, whose current locus is several blocks between Telegraph and Broadway, 18th and 27th streets, but is fast spreading further downtown to the harbor. It was my first Murmur and I was seriously blown away.

murmur5

murmer3

I was on the final leg of reconnaissance as we prepare to design a permanent sculpture to be sited by the shore of Lake Merritt just a couple of blocks to the East, a public art project commissioned by the City Of Oakland as part of the City’s innovative Lakeside Green Streets initiative. One of our goals is to create a destination that better links the Lake with the social contours of the City, particularly in light of Oakland’s exceedingly popular Art Murmur. Like the lovely art deco buildings so associated with Oakland’s uptown revival, we want the sculpture to communicate a fine-ness for the ages, while encouraging the temporal exuberance of public events like the Murmur. It’s the ultimate design challenge for any successful public space to balance these extremes, so I was very curious to witness how people interact today, what draws them together, and how the built environment might act simultaneously as catalyst and stage.

murmur1

murmur2
As the Murmur wound down I walked my bike down 20th to the Lake, stood at each of our proposed sites, stared out at the black water and thought about what might attract people to Lake Merritt after dark. Though I could still hear bands playing and people laughing just a couple of blocks away, no one was around. I cycled south to Lake Chalet, a thriving lakefront bistro in the old Boathouse, and found a bustling crowd inside, spillover from the Murmur. Our site is almost exactly between the two scenes, an easy walk from either. I ordered a hoppy IPA from Lake Chalet’s own brewery and pondered the possibilities.

gondola

lake merritt1

lake merritt2

To learn more about our project for Oakland’s Lakeside Green Streets, click here and scroll down.

Tagged: , , ,

Drawing Seascapes

dillon beach72

Point Reyes from Dillon Beach

Tagged: , , ,

Sand Patterns 11

Click here to learn more about Deep Craft Atelier, a pop-up store at Storefront Lab.

sand121

sand122

20

white pelicans

white pelicans

Sand Patterns 10

Tagged: , , , ,