Friday, May 22, 2009

Sod Farms in Cowboy Country

Photobucket(Partin Ranch Sod Farms)
It's been super wet these days and the sod farms thirty miles south of Orlando are just as soaked as we are. It sure lifts my spirits going out to these broad open pastures. These guys grow grass on their 10,000 acre ranches that have been passed down through generations. They're definitely tied to the land. And half the time when they meet me they've just finished moving the cattle to a new field or some other chore. The animals are beautiful, the Partins sell theirs to people all over the world. This headland area to the Everglades sure holds the heart of Florida. The tourists for the most part don't have a clue. I guess I like it that way. But part of me wants everyone to experience it and love it the way I do. I guess that's why I like to paint and write about it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Houses are Too Big and Take Up Too Much Garden Space

Monkeys need lots of open space to live in, not so much with roofed over places. Bedrooms need to be big enough to sleep in with maybe a couple nightstands, lighting and perhaps a dresser and flat screen. A closet/storage/dressing space can accommodate all the clothing, linens and other personal items and keeps the space neat. I built a sleeping room for a client by enclosing a large hallway adjacent to her old bedroom. It was on the upper floor with windows looking out on trees and a view of the lake with the third side turned into an arch that opened to the sitting room we made of the old bedroom, which made a real retreat. Her sons were 16 and 18 at the time and the older son really liked to have lots of friends over so that having a separate living space let her gave the boys free reign in the living and family rooms without disturbing her.

How social you are is a big factor in how much space you need. I've known tons of empty nesters who were not social and did not like to entertain yet had giant houses with tons of empty, unused space. Such places seem extra lonely and they are a huge waste of resources. There is nothing wrong with a big house filled with happy people. But big for bigness sake is a wasteful shame.

Bathrooms have been another big source of misuse of space. An ideal bathroom might have a double sink, separate water closet and shower bath and could reasonably accommodate four people at the same time in a fairly compact space. As a practical matter very few people actually hang out in their parlor baths, they are again mainly showpieces.

And the so called gourmet kitchens are probably the biggest waste of money. A well stocked and organized pantry can greatly increase the food prep areas efficiency, but scads of cabinets stuffed with gadgets and superfluous counters can actually work against a really good cook. Tight and efficient are the most likely attributes sought by the truly talented in this arena.

For the average family of four, a great optimum living space can easily be accommodated in 1500 square feet. In fact, unless the home is used for business purposes or a lot of entertaining and overnight guests, a number within 500 square feet of this, up or down, would be more than sufficient for almost anyone, yet the average US home has grown to 2500 square feet( a number that thankfully has fallen off a bit in the last couple years). Think of the implications for waste by having to heat,cool, light, clean and otherwise maintain 60 to 70 per cent too much space. Reversing this trend could eliminate in one effort most of the need to increase electrical generation. Ultimately it would single handedly drop consumption to below today's levels. Let it be understood that I have had my hand in a number of large residences design and construction. It was always my hope that we would make them so special that the owners would feel compelled to share them with others, thereby justifying their size. I'm glad that Versailles was constructed on such a marvelous scale. But one shouldn't forget that it was inhabited by thousands.

Perhaps most importantly, tighter, better thought out spaces would promote greater happiness and a sense of well being. They would be more aesthetically pleasing, the way that properly sized things always are. The monkey is making drawings and then you can see what he means.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Home As Shelter

The heavy rains these last few days in Orlando have caused me to be reminded of the essential use of the home as shelter. The structure provides us with protection from the elements of nature that make us wet, cold, hot, vulnerable to insects and other animals. We need dry safe places to store our food, clothing, books, art, furnishings. These are basic needs- but the home should not insulate us from nature so completely that we lose our connection with it. The need for shelter has morphed into today's modern average home which has grown way beyond the need for shelter into a space that is so artificial as to lead its occupants to do a disconnect from the environment. Many are shut up in their shelters without a clue to the world around them. This causes people to begin to suffer from a sense of isolation and alienation that manifests itself in any number of psychosomatic ills.
The monkey wants shelter, but with a view of water and trees, of birds, butterflies and flowers that remind us of our link to the powerful natural environment that is the source of all that we seek shelter from. There is nothing quite so satisfying as watching a torrential thunderstorm through a big window or porch, safely protected by our home while still being able to marvel at the beauty and power of the weather. Many of us go on vacation to marvel at the splendor of mountains or canyons, of beautiful beaches next to turqoise oceans and then return home to our airtight cages set on top of our chemically treated patch of sod with a tree, some snipped and trimmed bushes and maybe a patch of concrete for a little gas grill. Is it any wonder that we can hardly wait for our next getaway? People would be much happier if they built their homes as if they were little vacation bungalows, endowing their surroundings with as much natural beauty as they would hope to enjoy if they got out of town. I'm working on some drawings of what that might look like - here in subtropical Florida the possibilties are practically endless. Especially if you let your monkey mind loose.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Global Warming

The debate about global warming is a bit of a red herring in the drive to live eco-friendly. The
prognostications of long term climate models are highly suspect. Meteorologists are not terrifically adept at predicting the weather a day in advance, much less a decade. By their own admission, reliability of forecasts drops dramaticaly when extended by mere days so crediting these extended predictions much credibility seems to fly in the face of reason.
What is most important is that the climate change debate is irrelevant when trying to formulate a rational course on how to live on earth. The arguments for a profound rethinking of the way we build, travel, work and do almost anything which we consider civilized needs a radical overhaul for a host of other reasons. Among those are a need to eliminate waste on moral, spiritual and aesthetic grounds. And the waste is everywhere.
Obesity is widely known to be a problem with serious health consequences. It also affects people in many other ways, impacting their ability to engage in physical activity- from sex to working around the house. It is a drag on their self confidence and consequently limits their sense of well being. Once that's out of alignment everything else begins to shift in a negative direction and the downward spiral begins to feel like an inescapable vortex.
The way we bulid our homes, communities, vehicles, infrastructure are just as gluttonous and ill thought out as patterns of overindulgence that lead to obesity on a personal level. We are a grossly overweight body living in grotesquely oversized houses and wasting almost every resource we can get our hands on.
When we start doing the right things with our personal environments as individuals, we begin to experience that revitilization that the obese feel when they begin to lose weight. Our spirits are lifted and each improvement spurs us on to get more in touch with that healthy animal we yearn to be. We start to become the happy monkey in the garden that our nature wants us to embody.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Garden Monkey in Florida Starts Blogging

This garden monkey in Florida portrays himself that way because monkeys are more clearly perceived as animals than are humans. And he wants to explore that connectedness which animals seem to maintain with their natural environment and humans have increasingly lost, This site is a celebration of the garden, as it has always symbolized the perfect synthesis of man and the world he lives in. It will be a place that expounds on the essential unified concept of existence and seeks to explore all its aspects through art, philosophy and natural sciences. It promtes a sense of happiness that comes from embracing the beauty and richness of life on earth and the simple pleasures that flow from nurturing a plant, painting a sunset, sculpting a hunk of clay or writing a poem.You will see photographs of gardens my friends and I have created, drawings of ones we might create and thoughts on what it all might mean. In true monkey style-Let the fun begin!