Sunday, April 24, 2011

The New Green

There is one week at the beginning of spring when the New Green emerges. The leaves are the brightest green there is. This is the week at my house.

On a somehwat related subject, I gotta love the whole Earth Day thing, now expanded to Earth Week. Perhaps soon we will come to our senses and expand it to ALL YEAR! Now this is not to say that I am the most retentive conservationist in the land. Far from it. But I did grow up with one of the most unnervingly cheap skinflints of all time, my Dad.

I'm not just talking about "CLOSE THE REFRIGERATOR!, TURN THE TV/LIGHTS/WHATEVER OFF!" (apparently the TV was worth 500 watts) although consumption of electricity was at the top of his list. It was the more subtle things. Like saving EVERYTHING, because "you just never know when you'll need it."

A Wheelwright.
Most Probably Not My Great-Grandfather.

I think it came mostly from growing up in the depression and "never having two nickels to rub together", or "a pot to pee in". My Dad was born in Philadelphia in 1927, an only child. His father was a furniture maker in Germany who had his own business and never had to lay anyone off. Before that they were wheelwrights. And after moving to the US in 1925, he was making apple crates for 2 cents each. Welcome to America.

We didn't have air conditioning growing up, but we had a dense canopy of trees. My Dad swore this made it 10-15 degrees cooler in the summer and that was probably true. But he used to hang strips of toilet paper from the doorways so he could monitor the flow of air throughout the house. Summer or winter.

And there were other, more bizarre experiments going on all the time. I recall going to the Izaak Walton League shooting range and raking down the bunkers for waste bullets, later melting them down in the fireplace and casting new ones. So the basic principles of conservation were ingrained in me. My Dad had a saying hanging in his shop:

"Use it up, throw it out. Make it do, or do without."

One Small Corner of my Dad's Actual Shop, that was like 1,500 SF of this.

The entire basement was paneled in 1x12 tongue & grooved knotty pine that was made from the JFK Inaugural Stands. My Dad went down right after inauguration and got like 1 billion board feet of the stuff. Each one was run through 8 operations on the Shop Smith Mark V.

More Machines During the Great Cleansing. Note Handmade Pine Panels.

I had plans to become an architect. Perhaps because our house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (albeit bought from Sears plans and modified by my Dad), and because I enjoyed watching my parents finish the basement. I wanted to build affordable, energy efficient houses. In high school I built a model home that had a sunken fireplace, recirculating geothermal heat in the cork floors, solar panels and fresnel lenses in the front soffit to melt ice on the walkway, and sustainable materials for the walls and roof. That was 1975.

I never built those houses. But I have managed to finish 3 basements with help from my friends. I know how to work with my hands. I had a Shop Smith once. I bike and walk when I can, save tiny parts and restore bicycles for a hobby. I used to make up bedtime stories for my son about zachwert - the value of things - and of experience.

The point is that we must hand down the stewardship of our environment, the things of value, the truth and beauty in ideas that is the essence of quality - and pay it forward. Do your part to make an impression on the New Green. GO EARTH!


  1. I am not very good with my hands, I can do the basic DIY and gardening. My garden is built like you would expect an engineer to build it, Sub-base for the patio with each slab concreted into place, each log roll which hold up the raised lawn is also solid in concrete. If/when we ever move the people who buy our home had better like the garden as it isn't going anywhere without a fight.

  2. Ok, your dad was a rock star. And those panels are gorgeous (I <3 knotty pine... all the cabinets & trim in our house are knotty pine, built in the 1940s). :) It's funny, my husband is the one, like you, who dreams of building efficient housing while I try to tackle feeding our family sustainably. Some day, when all the ships come in, we should have the house of his dreams. Until then, we, too, are trying to make as little environmental impact as possible, while most likely failing miserably in too many areas. Still, the goal is to do what you can, and keep trying harder. I try to teach these things to my son. Some of it gets through... I think. :}

  3. @Simon: My wife's grandfather lived in CA and spliced lemon and lime trees together. He didn't like mowing grass so he CONCRETED (verb?) the WHOLE THING. and painted it green.

    @Firespark: I think more gets through than we tend to give credit for. Sounds to me like you both are good examples for us all.