Saturday, February 27, 2010

Swedish Olympic Skiers

This won't be my first time being unpatriotic...not only am I married to a Swede, but previous posts confirm I admire much about Swedish land management and politics. Also, dear friends deserve congrats! Despite insipid coverage by American network tv (how about showing us the real thing instead of endless background fluff?), we managed to see a few minutes of these excellent up-and-coming skiers in Vancouver: Maria Pietila Holmner & Hans Olsson. [I have already written about Hans' older brother, Jon, who is a world-famous freeskier, and Hans' podium placement at Lake Louise.]
Since I generally don't put much stock in hierarchy, I am thrilled that both these incredibly hard-working young people participated and performed well in the Olympics even though they did not win medals...yet. As fixtures on the international ski circuit: keep an eye out for them. Right now that's Maria in Slalom and Hans in downhill.
Both trained at the state ski school in Are, Sweden. I can't speak to the specifics of their advanced training, but I can recount these inspiring words from Hans' and Jon's father, who was their coach for many years. Once when I was trying to reclaim what few downhill skiing skills I had once had, my husband grew exasperated with trying to improve my technique. He asked Daddy Olsson for advice. His advice (paraphrased): "Just try to encourage her to have joy for skiing." And isn't joy what we want to encourage and inspire as these young ones do?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Human Health and Well-Being

On February 25th, I will lead a session at our annual MELA Conference (registration full!) partnered by the Chicago Botanic Garden: "Our Future Is In Your Hand - Sustainability in Action." After many years on the board and as president, I am now happy to support the group as a speaker. The conference will focus on the five elements (Soils/Vegetation/Hydrology/Materials Selection/Human Health & Well-Being) promoted in the current Guidelines for SSI or Sustainable Sites Initiative. SSI is the national landscape component that is in the process of being developed to accompany and make up for the landscape lacks in LEED for green buildings.
What really thrills me is that our local "green" industry is finally jumping on the bandwagon of sustainable development. Currrently, there is a huge range of approach, but given the economy and the market, companies that dismissed sustainability in the past, now see good reason to learn about and begin to implement green landscape policies and practices. I am hoping that the recent fall-back in the US public's understanding and support of practices developed to balance climate change is only a temporary blip.

Given my long-term efforts at professional seminars to say, substitute almonds & water for coffee & donuts or question the sustainable elements in a site design or my role in facilitating the Earthways/AFOPADI Organic Agriculture & Reforesting Project in Guatemala, it fits my stereotype that I am leading the discussion on "Human Health & Well-Being." Putting together my presentation has forced me to consider many things...not the least of which is the fragility of life and what we can do to honor it.
Here I will post some photos from the Retreat I led last fall at the Red Spirit Retreats on "Exploring Landscape: Inside & Out." What I hope they capture, in terms of human health and well-being, is the essential nature of our connections to the landscape and to each other. Too, we must value those sacred trees as they mediate our earthly selves & the planet with our dreams and the skies.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ice Islands & Snow Art

Here's another view of Lake Michigan from two days ago, looking East out towards the horizon. Note how the ice is breaking up...

Below is evidence that somebody has left their artistic mark in the snow. Proving that you can often use materials at hand to shape something memorable.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lunar Lake

Michigan, of course. Fascinating to watch how the prevailing winds shift and the pack ice responds.

Took these a few days ago. As of yesterday, the ice was already beginning to break up into floes. Although I guess, technically these are not floes, since the lake water is fresh, not salt. So, what do you call the little ice islands then?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Back To The Drawing Board..."

Two Early Client Concept Drawings

Unlike most of my fellow designers, when I say that, I mean it...literally. When it comes to drawing by hand instead of on computer, I am a dinosaur by choice. Certainly, doing base maps digitally can be helpful and time-saving; sometimes we do that and sub-contract with another trusted designer for the initial stage. But mostly, we work by hand in the belief that it makes us inhabit the landscape space more fully and thus results in better-imagined designs.

As a kinetic learner, I also subscribe to the theory that there is a connection between the hand and the brain that etches things deeper when I do them manually. Not that one isn't using hands & eyes on the computer, but when using a computer to draw, everything has an even weight in terms of how you play with it. And thus, less creative depth or rhythm to me.

Working on a client landscape concept last week, I had an experience that will stick with me. Our clients wanted a formal design which makes sense with their formal house. Usually, when we design formally, nothing matches up....the architecture may suggest a form, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty, nothing lines up. The garage is always off by a foot or the proportions between house and land create awkward spaces. What I discovered and shared with these clients is that I gained a real (both in mind & body) appreciation for the architectural brilliance of their house because all our concepts worked so fluidly with the lines of their home. The building embodies a classic, pioneering & resolved design which endowed our landscape concepts with (hopefully) an equally integrated creativity. In other words: doing the landscape design was not easy, but it was blessed due to the architectural coherence. This became apparent to me through my mind, but even more strongly through my connection with the sweep of my hands, with the physical experience of how lines balanced on paper and in space.

Also, the ability to make a mess, to feel the weight of the different lines, to move organically versus geometrically, to have a visceral sense of what works and what doesn't, all these factors continue to have me plodding through primordial bogs. And embracing the process.

Above, you can see the darker area in the drawing on the left. This highlights a section where I did have to draw several different solutions to integrate the space. On the right drawing, you can't see where I have some details changed and deleted in the same area. These drawings remind me to pay attention to this section during the Master Plan stage, regardless of which concept the clients choose.

In a way, it is akin to different drafts, how they show us the way artists think. With changes in technology, that process may become less available to us to contemplate.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Back East 3: The Green Monster

OK. First there is the obvious regional envy: beeches as big as elephants. Here I stand for scale in a stand of them in a park in Brookline on the fringe of Boston. I can say I am practicing what I preach by visiting them instead of trying to grow them in my own backyard. Sure they grow here, but not for as long and not like this.

In addition, I was delighted by the resources at Mount Auburn Cemetery (see my post 1/30/10) such as the map locating some of their "most unusual trees." Our Graceland cemetery by O.C. Simonds is equally wonderful, but not as user-friendly.

But where I am really jealous is in the intellectual offerings. The Boston area is renowned for its universities, so they have the advantage of a smaller city with certain larger gifts. One of my favorite spots has always been the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum with its fetching courtyard garden and its couple of paintings by Anders Zorn (see my post 12/31/09). My friend had an announcement (below) for the Landscape Visions Lectures. If you were a "Six Feet Under" fan, then you might be intrigued by the talk on February 13 that features environmental columnist and author Mark Harris discussing the history and philosophy of green cemeteries. Sure to be well worth the price of admission is Maine landscape designer, Patrick Chasse's "The Monumental Landscape: New Ways of Remembering." The illustration below shows at least one of the installations he will be featuring: Maya Lin's amazing Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C. If you haven't been to see this national treasure: go! Not only have I heard Chasse speak, but I have a friend's who has been a client of his at several properties: can't recommend him more highly (Google him)...wish I could be in Boston on March 20, the day before the vernal equinox for 2010.

The Frederick Law Olmsted House has been closed due to reconstruction for many years, but perhaps when it reopens someday, I'll have an excuse for another visit.