We’re onto something here…

Something very disturbing.

It pains me to see birch wood– [oh, the beautiful birch! Jewel of the subarctic! It serves me peaceful reminders of cooler days with its snow-white bark when I look upon it from behind a cloud of June-horny blackflies. It burns hot and easy (I like my women like I like my birch wood), and is a sauna’s perfect match. I can peel thy skin and answer the thrush on your branches. After the rains you exhale the very embodiment of “aroma”, and I go a-roaming. oh, the beautiful birch…..!]– reduced to this. You see what’s going on here? First it was books, now it’s wood! The bookends of the timber industry have been fetishised. And indeed, Marx knew it was going to happen long ago.

Logging is my father’s new favorite hobby. Let’s see how he reacts to this.
This actually leads me to a general problem I have with globalization. We were on the road to instant gratification far before the internet. Many centuries ago, we began exchanging goods heavily as trading routes opened up between the larger civilizations. Today we move a lot of shit. By wing, wheel, or hull. Either us to the product/good, or the product/good to us. Both consume massive amounts of energy. In the short run, the benefits may seem great. But is it sustainable in the long run? One numbnuts step, at least for us architects, towards significantly cutting costs is bringing in materials from as close to the worksite as possible.
What is embodied energy? Here’s Sustainablog. (Be sure to check out the video.) The big idea: cutting down on shipping costs means that we strive to “control all aspects of our lives.” More abstractly speaking, a physicist would say that of all processes involving Work (aka energy expended in using a Force to move a Mass), the human body itself is among the most efficient in the long run. Inevitably, because we do not live in a vacuum (which I until recently could not remember how to spell until I realized it’s being pronounced wrong– if you pronounce it like a word of the same suffix, like continuum, the spelling becomes obvious), ALL work done and energy produced involves some “loss”. Usually it’s through friction. There is a long and still-unsolved history of finding the perfect machine. But this waste can come in many forms, from sensible heat to sound. One could calculate the waste produced in walking 10 meters there and 10 meters back– a theoretically zero-sum exercise, and compare it to driving 100 meters there and 100 meters back. Assigning as many tasks as we can to that which we can achieve with our own bodies is a very clear definition of sustainability. This is a call to immediacy.

I digress. We used to have to wait till summer to eat our avocados and peaches and bananas. Now we can get them year round. In sidestepping spoilage of our food, we have spoiled ourselves. Let’s hope the small-but-growing trends in support of localization can become… well, global.

Designer firewood brings to mind an incident I was present for several years ago at an old friend’s brownstone in Kips Bay. Her grandmother and uncle had just flown in from London and the hosts (my friend and her mother) decided to light a fire in the fireplace. I gave a “Eeeeeeh” but the only response was “Don’t be silly.” Somehow they light some wood that’s been sitting there, immaculately arranged (almost edibly arranged), and we all take a seat around it and chat. Smoke starts rising into the room. Hm. Soon the mantel (or where the mantel normally is) is completely black with soot, and smoke is filling up the room. The uncle keeps insisting, “No, no, don’t open the door. No, no, don’t put the fire out. I like this smell. It’s nice and… woody. It’s supposed to smell woody, isn’t it?” The fire alarm begins howling. By the time the fire department arrived, I could stand on one side of the living room and not see anyone at the other end (which I think I did intentionally to disassociate myself with them as much as possible). I think the firemen were dumbfounded and just didn’t have the heart to tell us “Next time, you should check if your fireplace has a flue. You know what a flue is?” Instead they told us not to ever use that… unusable… fireplace again.

For now I’m not complaining about the cold, and instead I’m enjoying the excellent oranges. Oranges often play a pivotal role in my feeling good during wintertime, partially because since orange juice is so sugary and the fruit is disgustingly dry in warmer months, my anticipation builds.

What is your favorite season? As kids the answer was obvious. But as I’ve learned to give trivial matters more and more unnecessary thought, fall has emerged as the new frontrunner (it’ll stay my favorite so long as it continues to support color diversity). Especially in New York, the weather gets dryer and cooler, right into that long-sleeved sweetspot. People all return from the holidays. And of course fall is the season of the harvest, the season of the fire, and the season of homecoming and storytelling. To come full circle here, fall is when we remember to work with our hands, together, and reap the rewards.

“Share this at your own discretion. Do you have this word, discretion?”
Credit: Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1863-1930, U.S. Library of Congress. Image found on Scientific American blog.

By the.vonz.himanen

Ivan Himanen is an architect, writer, and artist based in New York City.

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