Wednesday, September 26, 2007

If a tree falls in the forest... can listen attentively to its sound, without standing in its path and letting it crush you.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Speaking of PVC . . .

. . . I was impressed by Mountain Equipment Coop's work on alternatives to PVC-foam in flotation vests. I particularly like their willingness to share.

The first MEC-brand PFD that uses PVC-free foam took a year and a half to reach production. As the first PFD manufacturer to use cross-linked PE (polyethylene) foam, we invested considerable time and money to get it approved for use. The foam meets all UL and ULC testing standards and exceeds many of them. It's lighter, more buoyant, better aging, and, best of all, doesn't require the same problematic chemicals in manufacture, produces no dioxins if burnt, and is easier to recycle than PVC foams. We think the benefits are such a good thing that we've made it available to any other manufacturer who wants to use it.

Taking a Side on Siding

This is one of those long wandering posts where I am writing mostly for my own benefit, for the discipline of stating things clearly, which requires me to think clearly.

Did I say that clearly?

I finally woke up to the folly of slapping vinyl siding on our house. My Dad told me about a catastrophic fire in Edmonton that is believed to have spread through the vinyl exteriors of the houses. (For a discussion of this and other similar fires, see this editorial.) Around the same time I stumbled across an old discussion with CG where she called some houses "plastic monstrosities." Now you might think I am overreacting to a couple of people's comments, but what was my basis for choosing vinyl in the first place? Somebody's comments about "low maintenance," and somebody else's comment that steel siding makes a house look like a shed.

Why would steel siding make a house look like a shed? Because everybody's always done sheds that way, and houses a different way? I have to wonder. Industrial and agricultural buildings around here are overwhelmingly steel clad. In these utilitarian buildings, I would assume that they use steel because it works. So why not on a house? Don't we want houses that work?

But as I started overlaying blocks of colour on digital photos of our house, my resolve began to waver. What if I create a metal monstrosity? The colours look too strong. Is it worth the hours of fiddling to try to come up with a realistic image that includes shadows and different light levels and so on, to see what it will really look like? On the other hand, how do I know that vinyl would look any better?

The present siding on the original part of the house is concrete shingles in need of repair. Repair is a neglected "R." I came across a very interesting article discussing the environmental, economic, and aesthetic merits of repair for traditional house materials such as wood siding and slate roofs, but I don't think that would apply to these shingles. They are quite unattractive to my eyes, sort of halfway pretending to look like wood. I think they'd look better if they didn't even try to look like anything other than thin flat slabs. Complicating the issue of repair is the possibility that these may contain asbestos. They have been painted, and the paint is peeling, but I don't want to start scraping them. So instead, we are planning to entomb the concrete shingles inside a thickened wall, thus turning them into a bit of thermal mass and giving us an opportunity to add more insulation outside them before adding the new siding.

And here I am back at the question of new siding. Shall I blaze a new trail, challenging the notion that steel siding is not for houses? At this point in the writing of this post, I turned aside to browse more sites about steel siding, since I had seen one for a U.S. company making steel siding that looks like clapboard - and I found a Canadian company making similar steel siding that is PVC coated. If you're choosing steel to avoid the toxic chemicals involved in vinyl production, you might want to know about that. Now I wonder. I don't even know what type of coating is on the steel we bought for the roof. So many questions! If I made sure to ask them all, I'd never get the house finished. Heck, I'd never even have got it started.

Deep breath. Why should steel siding be made to look like clapboard. It isn't clapboard, it's steel. Why shouldn't it look like itself?

And what about clapboard? Who says maintenance is evil? As that article I mentioned above points out, a zero-maintenance product is one that cannot be maintained, but must eventually be replaced. Which work and expense do you prefer, maintenance or replacement?

And then I get thinking about local materials. There's aspen. Does anyone make siding out of it? Perhaps they should. Perhaps we should. Somebody around here must have a sawmill. But would we also need to find a kiln?

I recall that the wood panelling in the Mother Theresa Centre at Kenosee is aspen. Where did they get it?

All these questions make me tired. Maybe I'll fall back on the idea that came to me in the midst of all this: this house would look great covered in cedar shakes.

I mentioned the idea to my Dad, and we were right back to the beginning of all this: the fire hazard. But as Dad says, the house is fairly well separated from its neighbours. And then there are those concrete shingles in the wall, which would tend to keep a fire from going deeper.

Well now. Did I decide anything?

I could get all worked up about the ill-informed decisions I've been making all the way through this project, but instead I'll put it back in perspective. It seems hugely significant, and certainly there is a lot of work and expense and energy and environmental impact involved, but it doesn't happen every day. Things that do happen every day, like eating, might seem insignificant, but they're not. So if I fail to find the best information about building because I'm too busy learning to garden by gardening, well, so be it.

And I'm learning to build by building. When I finish learning this way, I'll have a finished house.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

That Chill in the Air . . .

. . . and that smell of heated dust as the furnace starts up for the first time this season. I put it off as long as I could, and we're leaving the thermostat low, even though it makes for somewhat clumsy typing fingers. The original house is still closed in, but it's not quite as weather resistant as it used to be. And once we get the new part closed in, there will be a spell when I don't want it heating much, until we get the vapour barrier in to prevent condensation in the walls. Eek. 'Tis the season of desperately hard work before freeze-up.

Speaking of weather, I found a new source of online weather forecasts. I have used Environment Canada for years now, but in these days of eyes on the sky, I grew envious when I heard talk of a 14-day forecast. The Weather Network clearly uses the same observation stations, but they seem much more willing to go out on a limb with more detailed and extended forecasts. So far, I think the Environment Canada temperature predictions are closer to the mark, and the 14-day predictions are only a rough guide, but still useful.

If you're marveling at the temperature differences showing up between Moose Mountain Park in the hills and Carlyle on the flats nearby, look closer. The actual observations come from Broadview and Estevan respectively.

That brings up another issue. I have a CD of weather data for western Canada, and browsing through that, my impression is that the number of stations collecting weather information has declined steeply in recent decades. Does that seem odd to you? Here we are, all concerned about rapid climate change and perturbed regional weather patterns and more erratic weather events, and at the same time, we are relying on an increasingly sparse net of stations to tell us what is actually happening on the ground.

And in these days of increasing emphasis on "citizen science," I couldn't find anything on the Environment Canada website about opportunities for citizens to make weather observations, except the Skywatchers program for schools. I know Garth's uncle submits weather observations. I'll ask him.

But I won't be volunteering this fall!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Glow worms

Glow little glow-worm, fly of fire
Glow like an incandescent wire
Glow for the female of the species,
turn on the AC and the DC.
This night could use a little brightnin'
Light up you little ol' bug of lightnin'
When you gotta glow, you gotta glow--
glow little glow-worm, glow.

I was reminiscing recently about the glow worms on the shore at Saskairie. Someone looked doubtful: "I don't think we have glow worms here."

And I doubted. Was it something I imagined as a child? Did I only wish to see them?

I remember the song my mother enjoyed.

But I remember those crawling creatures among the leaves, lighting up the shadows along the edge of the sand.


Today, in the Missouri Calendar via Pablo:
"Watch for lightning bug larvae (glowworms) in low water."

Eureka! We have lightning bugs, at least I think that's just another name for what we call fire flies, and if we have the bugs, we must have the larvae!

And so I was off on another search, and I learned that fire flies are neither bugs nor flies but beetles, and their larvae do glow, and so do the wingless worm-like females, and both of these get called glow worms even though they are not worms . . . and I doubted no more. I did so see glow worms on the shore at Saskairie.

What kind exactly, I don't know. All the sites I found were very general in their discussions, rarely mentioning individual species. None told me what species we might see here in Saskatchewan.

But I've seen those twinkling lights over the brick ponds and right up into our yard, floating over the lawn. Maybe I'll wander down into the long grass and the cattails some night and see if I can see some little glows on the ground.


Do you remember the song? Check out the lyrics - did you know there's a word in there from the ancient Iranian language of Avestan?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Last night, via SimplyTim, I discovered this essay which nicely sums up many of the main currents of my thinking on ecology and our part in it: How To Save Civilization.

Then this morning I was startled by a new voice taking up the thread of an old conversation from my own blog, exploring the deeper currents of tragedy and hope.

And somehow it reminded me of all those moments over the last few weeks when things connected across time and space.

Many arose in Regina as I came and went to and from the hospital. There was the moment when I walked confidently along the now-familiar way from the doors toward the elevators, but suddenly the place turned strange as I noticed a small procession dominating the corridor ahead. There came a very tall lean young man, dressed entirely in bright yellow, shuffling but stiffly erect, his eyes straight ahead as though he did not even see this tiled hallway, those glass doors, these people drawing back against the walls. Close behind and beside him paced two very different men, much heavier, dressed entirely in dark stiff uniforms, their eyes sharply focussed on the here and now, on the yellow-draped man who shuffled before them. With a start I noticed the chain clinking between his ankles.

I had slowed my pace. The procession came on, and I realized that we would be meeting just at the point where the wide new corridor was constricted by a stone archway preserved from the old hospital entrance. I stood aside, just outside the arch, and waited while they passed through. As I stood there, I remembered how the arch used to be, with a glass door in its midst and a concrete step in front where my mother slipped and fell, trying to open that door for me as I tried to quell my nausea, tried to breathe through the contractions, tried to convince her and myself that I was still okay to make my way to the labour and delivery unit under my own power. I cried out when she fell, but she bounced back up again and hurried us on . . . and that's a whole other story, a beautiful story that continues right up to this day in the person of my daughter. But the tumultuous opening chapter was all right there, for a moment, as I stood by that old stone arch and watched a prisoner shuffle by.

Then there was that moment in the car somewhere in Regina, running some errand while waiting for something to happen, finding a small pleasure in listening to a favourite radio station that I can't tune in out here, when a Rodney Atkins song brought CG's difficult journey to the centre of my heart. And I wondered if it meant anything, changed anything, to have it there, but I hoped so.

And there was some moment somewhere, I don't remember what it was now, but something brought to mind all the beautiful men I have met since that morning when we woke early to "fire the grid." I don't think that was the purpose, to start me seeing beautiful men, but they have been everywhere since then. And come to think of it, the women and children are beautiful too.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

YouTube - Raymond Crowe - A Wonderful World

As I carry on with my own projects
and take on stuff that Garth can't do right now
and help Garth with the extra stuff he needs to do right now:

life is a bit hectic.

Too hectic to write much of a blog post.
But at the same time:

life is wonderful.

YouTube - Raymond Crowe - A Wonderful World