Saturday, October 31, 2015

Weekend progress


Renee, being the hard working girl that she is, has a "real" job that occupies here throughout the week, has her crunching numbers, strings of crazy long gene sequences AND teaching a class and students as well. Thank god she can relax and take things easy on the weekend.



Renee is also like a little excavator in human form, and I don't know where she finds the energy (She's nuclear powered, I suspect).


On Saturday, she had a vision, then promptly started to make it real.



Or maybe she just couldn't stop digging. The woman is, seriously, just a digging maniac. Ellie is searching for leaves, and the neighbors dog is searching for Ellie.


We've got soil in abundance, lying all rich, loose and crumbly atop the lava. The Aluhe ferns that were here before, blanketed the area with leaves and other decomposing matter for the last few hundred years, eventually producing this wonderful soil. Soil is truly an amazing resource, something that too many of us take for granted, but not us. We are conserving every bit that we can. After living here for nearly a year, we have seen just how rare this type of earth is. More common is to have the barest skin of dirt lying on top of large sheets of lava. This is the first place that we've been where you can actually use a shovel.


It is common here to ask, "How is your land? Is there soil?"



Ellie has been making birds from various leaves found in the forest. This one must be a cardinal, judging from the crest on its head (the next step will be working on camera focus :-)



Our baby cardinal friend lives here somewhere, and it's my hope that if we would start laying out some food, we'd see him again. None of the cardinals are about, so there must be some better food elsewhere.



Dogs and dirt.....what's the attraction?



I'd say that she is hunting up a gopher, but I'm pretty sure that we don't have them here in Hawaii, certainly not on this side of the island. She's just loving the dirt, digging and helping out.



This is the place on Sunday.



She dug out a big pocket of soil, separated out the jumbled chunks of lava, then layed a solid base for a parking area. She's a monster.



This entire island we live on, soil, trees, food, animals, everything that we know and see every's just a skin atop rock. Everywhere, the entire world is like that, but it's something that we've forgotten, most places. This miniscule layer is all that we have, that gives us life and sustains us. The big island of Hawaii is new, geologically speaking, and here we are reminded constantly that life is a short and wonderful thing.


The soil is life, and the lava underneath is the origin, the beginning. These volcanoes erupt continually, lava breaking free onto the surface and covering everything, then quieting down again for 10 years...100 years.... 1,000 years....


When the lava flows, it often covers, but doesn't always scour the earth. It buries. So what we are seeing as we dig our little garden bed, is evidence of a millenia of events. The lava comes, then life gradually colonizes. The native Ohia trees are some of the first to return, having evolved to be able to live in thin soil, putting out thin strands and clumps of aerial roots to aid them in obtaining the water they need, water from the air itself. Eventually you get a mature Ohia forest, which is what we have now. Then the lava returns, covers it all, and the cycle begins again.


Our little garden is thin lava, broken by time, atop more lava which is also broken, atop probably more lava. There have been many different lava flows here, and there will be more.....probably. The island is still moving, and as it drifts further from the thin spot on the Earth's mantle that caused the island to form in the first place, the island will cease to grow.


Anyways......dirt and rocks. Lots of dirt. Renee is in heaven.



She has exposed two ridges of lava, and right down the center, she is seeing in her mind a waterfall cascade of steps, the early stages of which you can see here, from the side.





The broken lava is an absolute joy to work with, coming in a wealth of different shapes, many flat surfaces, and some with square corners.



If you've done rock work before, you know that square corners are like gold, something to be saved and hoarded for the future. The rock above isn't a corner per se, but is even more unusual, shaped like an inverted "L". It's also blue in color. Renee is using blue and silver stones for the steps, placing the red and gray rock elsewhere.



And up above, she planted some Okinawan sweet potato runners.



This is a new favorite of mine, though I've never been a fan of sweet potatoes. This plant is gardener's ease personified, just drop it on the ground, place a few handfuls of dirt here and there on the runner stem and that's it. It will soon grow and spread everywhere that you let it, and it also works well as a cover crop/living mulch. The young greens and shoots are eaten steamed, and taste somewhat similar to spinach, minus that uncomfortable oxalic acid feel in the mouth. VERY tasty, both the greens and the purple fleshed tuber.


Part of being a good gardener (which I am emphatically NOT), is knowing what grows where. This is a new climate, and to be rigid in our thinking and demand that all of our old favorites be grown in the garden, well, that's just absurd. Normal potatoes, lettuce, tomatos, peas....there is a long list of what doesn't like to grow here, primarily due to the high rainfall. There is an entire new world of plants that DO love it here though, and "right living" comes from that understanding. Effect change where you can.....don't try change the plants (because they won't listen), change your diet instead.




I have a different set of time constraints than my wife, so I get to work on the new place most every day. I start out as I usually do, by clearing the building site of undergrowth, then piling materials dead in the middle where they are guaranteed to be underfoot, whether I need them or not.



I ran a stringline around a rough perimeter going from tree to tree at an arbitrary height above grade. The slope right here is about 1/10 and, where the patch of ground that Renee has been working has lots of soil, this spot has essentially none. That's why I chose it. It's a horrible spot to grow things. Keep life where it is most happy.



Raise the camera a bit, and the strings come into alignment.



The lines are level, but the camera is not.




Some of you might recognize some joinery here.





So honest to God, I drive myself crazy. This is supposed to be a simple elevated platform, a level surface from which to work, and a basic tin roof. I'm not even planning for walls. 80% of the materials are ugly and salvaged and I'm planning on using guava sticks for the roof members. A long service life is not a consideration, and take-apart modular is a minor design theme. I finally caved and bought a screwgun, so screws are here, nails are here, and I should just bang this out, right?


To all of you who know me.....I can hear you. Yeah, right, sure.


It starts with a simple splice......


This lumberyard 2x6 would feel so much nicer in the hand if it were planed....


Height above grade will be over 36" at the most likely side of approach, so maybe if the nicer sticks were used on that side, maybe introduce some curved elements......


And so it goes. I can't help myself. People kindly (and sometimes NOT so kindly, haha) call me a perfectionist, but it's not true. I'm an incrementalist. Perfection is an illusion that can never be attained, but nearly everything can be made just *sliiigghtly* better.


Naturally, this drives others crazy too.




I chose a site with a minimum of existing growth because I don't want to disturb the area any more than necessary but, because the guava is:

  • A) Considered a pernicious invasive that everyone wants to kill anyway, and....
  • B) is also a lively and resilient growing machine, that....

..... I start envisioning using the few existing trees as the foundation posts of the structure and extending up to serve as supports for the roof as well. These things are so tough, that I fully expect them to bounce right back, sending out new lateral growth, despite being viciously "topped". And if they die.....well, I was going to cut them down anyway.


But what if they DO live? Wouldn't it be cool if the structure was as "alive" as possible? Not only is the guava a vigorous and hardy tree, it's also enthusiastically innosuculate, meaning that it is self-grafting. If you want to weave a living wall, there would be few better choices of plant to begin with.


In any event, while I entertain grand thoughts, I also rig a tarp overhead, to keep the tools dry.



The sumi ink that I'm using for layout works great on damp lumber, but if the stick is actually wet, the ink just runs and bleeds. If I swipe the area with a rag, then lay down a very fine line, the ink will set enough to hold, but it's not the same as say, marking on dry wood. FYI, for those of you working in the rain. Fresh cut green wood, no problem. Compared to pencil, there still is no comparison. A pencil only works well on dry lumber, and it's been nearly 6 months since I've touched one for carpentry. I used one the other day...for about 2 seconds. How the hell do you cut to such a fat f***ing line, haha?!




I also built a new sharpening station.



Haha.....nice, huh?! I miss using good stones though. My standards are currently low.



  1. So much, forests, abundance of building elements...

    That living workshop wood be amazing. So much positive energy, and it sounds like something out of fantasy. If you need to add on, just grow a new room!

    Of course, if trees were sentient... then it is a little twisted. Forcing trees to watch you as you mutilate their fallen brethren, perfect for Halloween.

    Maybe you can eventually start growing trees into chairs, I have seen people do that, but it requires patience!

  2. Great post. Keep us up to date.


  3. Your description of the soil and rock, the island itself, reminded me of Michener's birth of Hawaii at the start of its geological age, beautiful! And the splice joint, hell yes!

  4. Typically, I really like looking at the pictures .... I use my screwgun more than any other tool, it's badass! I just wish there was one type of drive, not phillips. I kind of wish it would wear out, so I could get an impact driver.


Like all of us, I am figuring this out as I go, so when you see something that is incorrect or flat out wrong (and you will!), let me know. This is a learning process. Real people and names, please. Constructive comments and questions are very welcome, but hate speak/politics are not! Life (get one!) is too short.

Thanks, Jason