Monday, July 28, 2008

The Unending Bouquet of Summer

Another summer is racing by, no different from life itself really and we are already falling out of July. How could this be so? One of the hallmarks of our house are the roses planted by a previous owner. When we bought the place, none were blooming as the renters at that time had taken no notice of this array of beauties right under their noses. (Again, no different from things in general, eh?)

But now, each summer these roses and a symphony of other bloomers come out in a fierce orchestration of colors and petals and thorns. I can see why people have such a fascination for roses - unlike other flowers, the whole summer is "their season" to show off. They don't care to be a "spring flower" or one that waits until fall or other narrow time period. Each day, another few shout to the world that they have arrived. And because we watch over them, water them, and chase away the aphids that like to dine on them, we can't but notice them. And suddenly all those roses at the florist are so bland and unremarkable, in part because ours are fairly exotic types but I think it is also due to our attachment to "our babies."

It is akin to the words in the Little Prince:

"Just that," said the fox. "to me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world. . ."

"I am beginning to understand," said the little prince. "There is a flower. . .I think she has tamed me. . ."

"It is possible," said the fox. "On earth one sees all sorts of things."

1. Looking right 2. Looking up
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2008 (click for larger image)

Standing out - -
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2008 (click for larger image)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Uncaged Ideas

Sometimes the only way one realizes you've been "seeing the same old thing" is when you finally bump into a completely different, even outlandish, solution to the same problem. The City Museum in St. Louis, MO does this when it comes to children's museums ( The hum drum children's museum solution has the same building blocks: train section; water works; kitchen; some manner of playground.

The City Museum breaks so many rules! For example:
  • Don't obsess if what you create will nick / bruise the participant. Many of the exhibits just may scuff the knees and elbows, but how is that different from life in general (other than needing some excellent lawyers to protect your good work)
  • Don't explain. There are many places where things are presented, like cavities that either weave their way into serpentine ceiling or basement passage ways for people to discover on their own
  • Your best items are under your nose. Brilliantly, the museum staff scavenges old buildings about to be torn down for artifacts that create a rich tapestry of widgets, furnishings and exercises. For example, 2 spiral staircases that tightly wind upwards for 4 stories, sandwiching a spiral suitcase chute that looks like an Alice in Wonderland passage back to the bottom
  • Non-child items may work phenomenally. You are thunderstruck by what you see, and after a moment it is so obvious why kids love the experience. Below are images of catwalks 3 stories above the ground, connecting to gutted learjets that are then interconnected by suspended bridges to each other and to a slide that takes you whizzing back down.
  • Retain creative control. You've seen it before, be it Bramante, Michelangelo, or Jobs. One person with a vivid idea and uncompromising desire to see it come thru. In this case, it is sculptor Bob Cassilly who is fervently adding to the current work in progress.
The City Museum is a great lesson for anyone wanting to retool their view of what a fresh solution can look like. A close, analytically minded visit is among the best forms of adult education one can sign up for.

1. Catwalk to the Jets 2. Jet #1 (notice mesh bridge coming out of the cockpit)
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2008 (click for larger image)

Jet #2 (notice suspended bridge in background)
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2008 (click for larger image)

Colorful Spinning Bannister
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2008 (click for larger image)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Flouting Time

“How old would you be if you did not know your age?”

That is the introspective question I have asked countless times to people on their birthday and therefore asked myself today. The answer is meant to illuminate the personal perception of one’s youthfulness. I have found the reality is more closely tied to the actions one demonstrates. Consider Mrs. Buehler, our neighbor back in the 70’s when we lived in the Mennonite prairie town of Winkler, Manitoba.

She was of consummately sturdy Russian stock, a widow in her 70’s but with the fiber of a twenty-something. My dad, one of the surgeons in town, was called to the emergency room one wintry Saturday afternoon. It was Mrs. Buehler, who had broken her arm. Here’s how: to keep active when the weather was too harsh to venture out, she would briskly walk laps in the basement of her small bungalow house for 45 – 60 minutes. Next, she would put a small chair in the middle of the room, step on, and step off. For 20 – 30 minutes. (That’s right, step aerobics. Before fitness clubs, danskin outfits, and protein shakes.) Only this time, she pushed things a bit, got dizzy and fell off, only to break her arm. Again, this is someone in her 70's, but that clearly meant more and something different to me than to her.

The years flew by but she stayed young at heart, of mind, and in the body. Finally, well after turning 100, she was considered to have "aged" sufficiently to be granted residence in the local old age home. She is now 107 and the oldest living Manitoban.

Now how do you think Mrs. Buehler would answer the original question above? And relative to Mrs. Buehler, I am at most an adolescent, with more dreams than memories.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Free Like a Bird, Part 1

For a baby or toddler who is all too often stroller bound, what is the opposite? The best answer I can think of is swinging! It brings sunshine, wind, and exhilarating, electrifying movement (vertical, forward and backward.) No wonder kids dig it. I would too.

Perhaps the 1st time I observed such stark contrasts was the summer after my freshman year of Undergrad. I had the great dumb luck to work at Touch of Nature's Camp Olympia, a summer camp in the Shawnee Forest for special populations. It was not just the many headspinning excursions - - such as taking a set of 18 - 55 year old, wheel chair bound CP's (cerebral palsy) rappelling down a 75 foot cliff - - but the calm glee of the campers, in this case as they bumped, scratched and scraped their way down the face of the cliff, (while others controlled their descent via belay lines). The upshot: an invigorating visit with one's old friend Fear, akin to what you see from Paul below.


Stretching Out - -
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2004 (click for larger image)