Nature Directs Us for Best Design

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Holy Wellington, Bat Man, the winds have wreaked havoc on Whanganui holiday-makers and on our recently groomed local beach. On the heals of what has been called the windiest October in decades we’ve been hit by another blast in late December/early January.

This tumultuousness appears to exhibit what has been observed by climate researchers, such as Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University (USA): The hotter the world’s climate gets, the more energetic its weather tends to become.

The good news is that eco-design can address this to a certain degree. The bad news is that non-eco-design is likely to fail with greater frequency over time.

One essential part of the eco-design process is looking for patterns in nature. This can be as simple and predictable as morning and evening sun angles during winter and summer.

For a passive solar building, the aim is to allow winter sunlight to penetrate deep inside the structure while preventing direct summer sunlight from entering. Along with the strategic placement of windows, something as simple as eaves can achieve these aims.

Other patterns in nature are slightly more difficult to observe, but still obvious to those who engage eco-design habits of mind. For example, part of the permaculture design process is called a sector analysis, which includes identifying the directions of both the prevailing winds and strong seasonal winds.

There are lots of ways to find out this information: live in a place for a year; do some research on the internet; ask trustworthy locals; look for sub-patterns in nature that reflect wind direction.

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In Castlecliff it is fairly easy to ascertain the direction of prevailing winds. One way is to look at the pattern of trees listing to leeward. On our section we have a large willow that grows 30-degrees from vertical, leaning away from the northwest as shown in the photo. To quote Paul McCartney (and Wings), “The willow turns its back on inclement weather; if he can do it, we can do it.”

Another way is to go to the beach and look at patterns in the sand. The photo shows small ridges that form perpendicular to the wind as well as scour marks that run parallel to the wind and appear to converge at a “vanishing point” in front of Duncan Pavilion.

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While part of eco-design is recognizing patterns in nature, and part of it is working with nature, another part is protecting human constructions from its destructive power. An easy example of this is the New Zealand Building Code’s strict rules on weather-tightness, and earthquake and wind resistance.

Another example is protecting fruit trees and vegetable gardens from coastal winds. We have spent many hundreds of dollars on wind protection on our section. Almost all fruit trees – even those that are marketed as tolerant of sea winds – need a certain level of wind protection to thrive or even survive.

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This is clearly evident at one poorly designed community garden in Castlecliff that lacks wind protection, and where roughly half of the fruit trees have died. Planting a tree without adequate site preparation is neither eco nor thrifty.

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It is hoped that the advice in this column will inspire others to engage in eco-design habits of mind that will result in a healthier, happier, more resilient community for us to share. Again, quoting McCartney and Wings, “With a little luck we can make this whole damn thing work out.”

Peace, Estwing

A Picture and 1,000 Words

Today we printed out the final draft of our family profile book for one last edit before we submit it on Monday. This is what birth parents and social workers will look at to determine if we are a good match for their child. They don’t get to meet us or talk to us. Just. This. One. Book. Can you say nerve-wracking?
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I seriously spent about 5 hours deciding on fonts. Don’t even get me started on pictures. And the words??

Honest, but not too honest. Selling ourselves, but not fake. Greenies but not too hippie (nah who are we kidding, we could never cover that up). I mean should we tell them that one time we composted a goat? Probably not.

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And now its done. All 40+ pages of it. All 150+ pictures. I can’t post all of it because they ask some pretty darn personal questions (fair enough). But I’ll post a few pages so you can get a feel for it.

Text is based on a list of about 50 questions we were given by the social worker. It was very difficult trying to pare down everything we wanted to say to birth parents into concise paragraphs. Because really what we wanted to say was “We will love this child so much, and are so appreciative, and look how cool we are, and we are really nice people.” But we felt like that wasn’t quite grown up enough.

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In the end this step in the process, like every other step so far, was a blessing. Allowing us a chance to reflect and learn as a family, that we otherwise wouldn’t have had. I mean how many times do you, as a couple, get to sit down and really think about the fibers that make up the fabric of your marriage? How many opportunities do you get to articulate your parenting philosophy? Or the goals you have for your children and family? To sit and really define what your important events and traditions are? To pinpoint who you are as a family?

So, if you have about 100 free hours on your hands, I highly recommend sitting and making a family profile book for yourself. It won’t disappoint.

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PS- for all you font-ophiles – in the end I went with KG Secondchance Sketch for the Headings, That’s All Folks for the Subheadings, and Tin Birdhouse for the text.

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