Sunday, June 7, 2009

Zero Carbon Drying

Waking up from the slumber induced by the combination of technology, opportunity and cultural expectations requires a chainsaw to cut oneself (or, I should personalize this), me, out of the thinking (really, non-thinking) box. The other day I looked at the dryer and said: "Wait!" I've been using the dryer as part of the laundry cycle at the Garden House since it began in 1972. Hanging up clothes went out of style and my mind in the 1950's. After about 60 years, the clothesline looks appropriate, not dated. I notice that the towels are not as soft even if they smell like fresh air. Will the Garden House guests care? Would they rather have the expected softness of a machine dried towel vs the quiet satisfaction knowing no carbon was released in the preparation of clean fresh-smelling linens or is this entire issue below the consciousness radar screen? To meet the challenges of this century, I imagine we may all need to fire up our indivdual chainsaw's and start cutting the boxes we've quietly built.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Rudy, now about 9 years old, arrived as a puppy in February from the Lewis County Animal Shelter. No one really knew his pedigree; by now we've pretty much accepted him as mostly Swiss Mountain Dog (closeto, but distinct from, a Bernese Mtn dog). He loves people, as does his sidekick, Tillie the cat (variously called Attilla the Hun, Tillster, Tillmeister), whose way of expressing her affection at being petted is to drool. You will very likely be greeted by one or both of these animals, each claiming SADD (serious affection deprivation disorder) and gesturing (sometimes rather suggestively) that you Love Them Eternally. It will take virtually no prompting on your part for them to assume an open Garden House (or sometimes car) door means they are invited inside, regardless of what (obviously ineffective) instructions they have had to the contrary. You will likely regret that you left some food item on the picnic table while Rudy is anywhere with a mile when you return from a "quick run" back into the Garden House to retrieve something (salt, fork, whatever). Rudy assumes guide duties when you head for the water, patiently showing you the way and waiting for you to catch up, then, as noted in the guest entry and the photo above, serenely joining you in silence at the water's edge.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Moving Molecules

The Garden House has a partnership with two local farms. One, Brightmeadow Farm, supplies organic eggs and chickens raised like chickens were meant to be raised; the other, Orchard Falls Farm, supplies a variety of vegetables and flowers. I supply some equipment (mostly Kermit, a small John Deere Tractor) to both farms as needed; in return I earn access to the rich rewards of fresh food and working outside. Today found me moving special molecules: thousands of worms embedded in about a ton of aged horse manure. Kermit loaded the manure into the pickup; elbow grease unloaded the worms at Orchard Falls Farm. Later in the summer this partnership (the manure, the worms, Kermit, the farms, the sun, water, soil, seeds, loving attention, air, bacteria, birds, Nature, and hundreds of other players, most too small to see) will offer tomatoes, eggs, chickens, 6 kinds of basil, 7 kinds of broccoli, lilies of every color, peonies, beans, strawberries and more; some will find their way to local restaurants, like the Doe Bay Cafe, Cafe Olga and Chimayo's, and some will find their way straight to the table. Know your farmer; know your farm; know your food.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I stumbled across a reference to "Nudge" in a New Yorker article about Obama some months ago. The last time I was in the Orcas Island library, it was sitting, lonely and obviously waiting for me, on the New Releases shelf. As I read it, I was reminded of another New Yorker article, this one on Naomi Klein, author of "Shock Capitalism". The article included a photo—the photo showed her wearing a button entitled "Move the Center". I watch a number of presentations on line; a recent one was by Agassi on a bold idea to switch automobile propulsion to all electric (bypassing hybrids); it seemed plausible, appropriate, essential. But how to get there? How to move the center? How to Nudge?
Years ago I read "Iron John" by Robert Bly. One story described a young prince who was playing with a golden ball at the edge of a pond. An ogre emerged from the depths, grabbed the ball, then retreated beneath the water. The boy ran back to the castle; the king's men were instructed to empty the pond. Their only tool was a bucket. They emptied the pond bucket by bucket, giving rise to Bly's phrase "bucket work." We move the center through bucket work, pail by pail, not giving attention to the size of the pond and the apparent inadequacy of our toil.
Today found me unsatisfied with the degradation of the cleaning ability of the central vac in the Garden House. The diagnosis was some large but not complete obstruction, which had plagued the cleaning Goddess (Abby) for weeks. Since she was gone, it was my turn to personally wrestle with my own Cleanliness Goddess (and she was disamused at the dirt still on the floor after numerous swipes with the vac). I had installed the central vac and all its piping four years ago; it has worked flawlessly until now. My several attempts to non-invasively dislodge whatever was obstructing the air flow (by sliding various hoses down the pipe—that didn't work—followed by inserting a string that would hopefully be sucked all the way through the piping on to which a large rope could be tied, whose purpose was to be pulled back through the pipes to dislodge what was presumed to be some unknown obstruction) failed uncerimoniously. The only remaining choices were to "live with it" knowing that something was not right and not likely to improve, or to move from non-invasive to invasive. I chose to grab a saw. I speculated on where might the most likely obstruction might be, then severed the pipe. I struck gold (in the form of an egregious amount of dust and more). Another bucket from the pond.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Road nanoWarrior

I welcome your suggestions and opinions on the role that technology could, and should—or should not—play in your relationship with the Garden House, which, I imagine, is a relationship with your desire for a space to consider, or reconsider, a different way of being in the world, if only for a short while. The Garden House has wi-fi but no phone (virtually everyone has a mobile anyway) and no flat screen (many guests bring laptops and their netflix favorites). The original intention of the "no tv" concept was to assist in the transformation from routine to opportunity. If the Garden House were like every other place to stay, you might not notice where you are, as there would be no built-in incentive to consider your routines. In some ways I'm trying to sweep back the tide, as technology comes in the door anyway. Now I'm wondering if I should employ the adage "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" by moving more toward technology offerings, at least outside the Garden House threshold. To this end, I created the mobile-friendly "" to help travelers find their way here. What do you think? What would you add (delete, change)? On a broader social networking front, how might the Garden House be of use to you (if at all) were I to set up a Twitter account? Get more active on Facebook? Something else? Nothing else? Less is more? It's the first day of spring. Fresh air and ideas blow steadily across the water.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Topping off the hot tub in the early spring, when nights might drop below freezing, involves charging the outdoor pipes with water, then choosing, or not, to play roulette with the gods of Springtime. If I play, I don't have to drain all the pipes again to insure against a frozen pipe (which means a broken pipe, which means crawling under the deck and spending a lot of time doing something generally unpleasant that would have been so easily preventable). If I don't play, I must drain the lines. If I play, I replace certainty with uncertainty, which means, if I wish to stay alert (and save the self-generated irritation that would easily come when I'm under the deck having dirt fall in my eyes as I repair that line, again), that I have to have a weather eye out for those cold nights. Pay now (drain the lines and be done with it) or Pay Always (until spring is really here) by staying awake no matter what. I didn't drain the lines.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Squinting into the future

The front cover of my forthcoming book, Potholes in Paradise, was put together today. In Design, an Adobe page layout program, was the vehicle. I was the designated driver—Anita, the illustrator, was the navigator. I felt I was at the controls of a 747, knowing little more about how the software works than I do about neurosurgery. It took a long time to decipher how to change color, how to create various effects, what looks good on the screen, how different the hard copy looks out of the printer. A crib sheet helped us avoid several head on crashes as we drove forward in the fog, making liberal use of the "undo" button, which fortunately tracks a long ways backwards. 

I've generally felt competent to operate the tools of the 20th century, and discover a growing sense of disease as I encounter the tools of the 21st. I started working with computers in 1967, having talked myself into a position at the University of Washington's Urban Data Center writing software (as a beginning grad student) for which my only real qualification was that I'd seen a computer during the last 2 weeks as an undergraduate at college. There was the usual trial by fire. Now, decades later, my enthusiasm for looking under the hood has waned even as the number of options has grown enormously. I have more power and I sense it while at the same time I feel relatively powerless because I don't know how many levers there are, what they do, how they work together, why anyone would conceive of any particular feature and whether it is worth taking the time, somehow—unfortunately not by talking to someone who might actually know, since that person is unknowable and unreachable—to find out. I feel a performance pressure—the tools exist, the examples everywhere are superb—the excellence bar grows daily higher. May the impulse to create the best infect our bankers, corporate leaders, and politicians.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Tuning Fork

The Garden House  blog hopes to explore the spirit of the Garden House—a spirit built on attitude, values, intentions, behaviors. The Garden House has no obvious “scalability” as the crew would want, save its basic model: be honest, be authentic, don’t sell fluff, don’t really sell. These basic principles are what I imagine appeal to the folks who choose to visit the Garden House—I have no idea how many hits it requires to blow the wheat of subtext truth from the chaff of marketing hyperbole, how many virtual frogs have to be kissed in order to find a prince/princess among the acres of internet cottage’s and cabin’s wetlands for rent. My take on much of my competition’s marketing approach is some combination of selling a specific getaway image (generally spinning romance) along with a perhaps unintentional withholding of information. My approach feels naive, innocent, transparent; I want you to know just about everything I can think of that would help you decide if the Garden House is not just your kind of space, but more importantly your kind of place. I imagine you want to sense the kind of energy that will encompass where you will spend precious time and resources, to ensure that what is here resonates to who you are or what you need. The purity and cleanliness of that energetic, tonal resonance is the whole point—the time you spend away is intended to refresh, renew, relax, re-energize. Your time away ideally will create a glow in which just the memory can be instantly refreshing. A friend of a friend, in describing the quality of an agricultural product and the attention to detail that creating it required, labeled the item “temple grade”. May we all seek to find, and create, a temple grade attitude, where ever we are, with whatever we do, in our connections with others and the planet, as we make our daily way. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Profile: Abby

Abby, soon to be 17, lives a few miles down the road. She's smart, sassy, energetic, full of life. She's home schooled. She cleans the Garden House, executing a standard, set by her mother, Ruthie (Land Bank Steward for Orcas Island), which is just enough short of squeaky to spare her an OCD diagnosis. She borders and rides horses, tends the menagerie at Bright Meadow Farm (lambs, pigs, goats, chickens, sometimes a cow), and recently got a ten year old pickup in which to haul hay, horses, and feed. She's thinking about college, has a male friend who lives on another island, knows her way around boats. She talks fast, works hard, and doesn't smoke, or trash her hearing with earbuds, or always drive the speed limit. Her clothes show she is not afraid of mucking out a stall, and her quick insightful responses tell anyone to think and speak carefully lest they suffer a devastating loss at the hands of a skillful logician and wordsmith. It is a pleasure to have her take over the heavy lifting on this critical task (I've been doing it mostly solo since 1992). If I call ahead, she'll bring a dozen freshly laid eggs.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The First Step

The air is chilly, the sun is out. Spring returns. This year's spring carries a new, refreshing message: a contraction in the economy gives us an opportunity to expand in understanding, connectedness, and appreciation—the best things in life are free. A walk in the garden reminds me that the life of the planet's deep wisdom continues, so far in spite of what we have been doing to wrestle control in order to quell our ancient fear of the dark forest. The possibility to shift our focus from the daily intensities to something slower, softer, gentler, brought on by the sudden loss of jobs, income, asset values, sits quietly awaiting our awareness. Conversations can become more honest when the noise of distractions has receded.

In this spirit, this journal of possibility begins like a new unexpected plant emerging in the Garden House soil. Those who have been here speak of tranquility, silence, peace, simplicity. The idea explored here is to share more of the Garden House story. You are encouraged to add your observations, experiences, and thoughts. For example—what a retreat or sanctuary may have given you on your road of life, whether at the Garden House or elsewhere—what delight you discovered on Orcas or elsewhere—what changes you want to enable, or see enabled, to preserve or protect or enrich the experience of being in a special place—what memories, photos, stories you have to offer the Garden House community. My plan is to offer stories, comments, ideas to give you more of a feel for what goes on on the ground, in my head, in the air. (The pictures of the flowers shown here were taken this morning.)