An Army of Little Poopers

The clues started to emerge that they were coming, nay, that they were already here! Grabbing a pan from the drawer below the oven I spied small bits of play dough at the bottom. Strange that it would be there. No reason for it. I make it for my son and it goes from pot, to kneading on a cutting board, to official play dough container where it gets played with on the dining table. Most kids have outgrown play dough well before his age, but we could give it a new name to make it cool again, we would call it “brain dough” instead. Artists come by inspiration in many ways, and I would say even people who consider themselves “non-artist” have a form of art within them either unspecified or unnurtured.

For my son, the tactile feel of the malleable blob helps him open his mind to shape stories. The secondary evolution of these characters in his head have recently started to come out more through drawing. Maybe it all will stay as lifelong hobby, leads to an eventual career, or get put aside for other things. It doesn’t matter he’s only ten. This still doesn’t explain the play dough in the oven drawer though, but it was late, and I decided to deal with it tomorrow. Then yesterday morning my spouse remarks that the dog must have snuck down in the middle of the night and finished her last little bits of kibble. No, I knew then it was a mini intruder or intruders. A little play dough hoard, little missing bits of dog kibble, sounds like mice to me!

Sure enough I took all the pans out of the drawer find lots of hard play dough bits and mouse poo. I track the lines of poo along the edges of the wall. I can see where it’s been. It’s like they drop a turd for every step they take. How terribly inefficient. There was no smoking pile though, no obvious enter/exit point. I thought for sure it would be some small hole behind the refrigerator, that would be classic, but alas, I can find no entry point to block so I’m likely going to have to call for help. My regular guy recently retired. Despite being an exterminator, he was a nice guy, and like me doesn’t believe death needs to be unnecessarily cruel or painful. Some of the exterminators around here are shadier than any rat could ever be. They can fleece you out of thousands of dollars in their abatement schemes.

I just want the mouse or mice to not be in here, pooping along my baseboards. They should be out in the field, that’s why we call them “field mice” not “house mouses.” (Don’t get me started on that shady Micky Mouse either!) Another nature friend of mine, a former coworker, woke up one morning and felt a small fuzzy body curled up next hers once, it was a mouse! She did not freak out. She took it outside and let it go. That mouse was lucky! It knew it was curling up next to nice a human. We don’t really want to kill this mouse either. If I could catch it and put it outside to go live in the woodpile, we would do that.

When I was in India in 2004 I took an eight hour train ride from Bengaluru (aka Bangalore) to Raichur with my undergraduate group. We were there to study social and environmental issues in India as part of a study abroad program. I was the oldest student by about 5-7 years. Just before the doors closed in Bengaluru a mouse came on the train. Someone before us have eaten shelled peanuts and left them on the floor. Some of my fellow group members got all into a panic. The seats on the train were benches stacked two tall. So all the scared-y cats piled up on the top two benches and I got the peanut seat all to myself, until Kedar, one of guides/translators for the trip was happy to join me and equally chill about the presence of the mouse. I pushed the peanut shells deep under the seat where the mouse could pick through them without harassment.

Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

Kedar and I spent the whole train ride talking. We talked about his upcoming arranged marriage and drafted schematics for bioreactors. A machine that can speed up the rate of decomposition for solid human waste into organic compounds for fertilizer. The tricky part isn’t technical or mechanical issues but getting the “material” from the producers; everyone in society, to the consumers; farmers that can use it to help their crops grow better. In manufacturing this is called a “closed loop system” or “cradle to grave” product because it is continuously redistributed. This is how we need to revolutionize manufacturing throughout the world if we want to survive as a species. This is why “single-use plastic” is a loaded term. When someone is using this term, they are telling you; “This item does not break down. It can stay with us for a millennia.” There are billions of single use plastics polluting the earth. You can do your best to reuse it as many times as possible, you can recycle it to be made into a new bag perhaps, but eventually its going to end up in the landfill, waterways, or landscape. It delays the issue; it doesn’t solve the issue. There is hope on the horizon, by promoting certain strains of bacteria that has evolved to eat plastic and poop out inert organic compounds.

Don’t let the doom and gloom of climate change stories leave you resigned to a fate of destruction. While I too occasionally get depressed over terrible stories or things that I witness I’m incapable of giving up. Letting go is hard to do, but I can do it when I know it’s the right thing to do, but I won’t give. I won’t give up on the life of this planet, little poopers and all.

A few stops before Raichur with only Kedar and myself still awake during the all-night train ride we watched the mouse get off at his stop. I knew exactly where it was going as if it could feel by internal rhythm or the smell of the air that this was its stop. I turned to my friend and said. “Ah look, how nice of the city mouse to come visit his cousin, the country mouse.”

More to explore, External Links:

Amazing Facts about Mice | OneKindPlanet Animal Education & Facts

How Do Bacteria Eat Plastic? | American Council on Science and Health (acsh.org)

Bioreactors Types: 6 Types of Bioreactors used in Bioprocess Technology (biologydiscussion.com)

Bioreactor landfill – Wikipedia

Aesop’s Fables  The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse – Wikipedia

Mind the Gap, Beetnik

Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

I read an article in the Smithsonian magazine about Dasia Taylor, a high school student from Iowa that received an award for her research in creating color-changing sutures to detect infections by using beet juice. Her project idea came after she read about “smart sutures” which involves coating the sutures with a conductive material that can detect changes in the wound by the changes in electrical resistance. I don’t understand exactly how that works without a picture or video because I tend to be a visual and experiential learner, but that’s not what’s important here. What’s important is that these technology-based sutures capable of relaying the information to smart phones or computers are not cheap, nor are the materials to make them.

While Dasia was reading about these sutures, she thought about the racial equity work she does in her community and how universal something like wound care is. As part of her research, she found that in some African nations up to 20% of women who give birth by cesarean section develop infections at the surgical site. So how do you make sutures that can detect infections without smart technology?

Dasia’s solution was to look for something that could measure the Ph difference in the skin. Healthy human skin is naturally acidic at around pH 5. Infections raise the pH level to around 9. Many fruits and vegetables change color at different pH levels making them natural indicators for different pH levels. Red beets (Beta vulgaris) ended up being Dasia’s best candidate. While her research isn’t perfect yet, she was able to demonstrate that it works and that vegetable dyes can be a viable, low cost solution to wound care.

Photo by Chokniti Khongchum on Pexels.com

More works needs to be done, but I’m bringing this to your attention because it illustrates some important realities.

You can’t have racial or social justice without environmental justice (and vice versa) due to economic and resource disparities throughout communities, countries, and regions.

Technology will not save us. It can help in many ways but looking to technology as our first response to everything is both arrogant and irresponsible.

I’m currently researching the question: Can capitalism be Green?

I’m currently settling on the answer: Cloudy with a chance of sun.

Our current capitalistic systems of commerce are not green and never will be if they remain as they are. We must reject the fallacies of “trickle-down economics” and “companies being able to police themselves.” It’s like leaving a toddler alone with a cake. Why would you think that’s a good idea?

Here’s the sunny part though, I think if we breakdown capitalism at the particle level, we can reconstitute it into a true Green economy. We are the particles. We are the grains of sand that can change the color of the beach. We make economic-based decisions everyday by what we purchase and organizations we choose to support. I think true radical change has to come from us, the people. We need to change our behaviors. We need to choose to be Nature-led, Social Justice minded people and societies every day. New patterns and pathways take time for our minds to adjust. When I first started using reusable bags for the grocery store, I would forget a lot. I didn’t give up and I kept trying to do better until the new pattern became the norm and I rarely forgot them. By the time the Pandemic hit it was hard to leave my reusable bags in the car. We knew so little about the Covid-19 virus in the beginning though, but I wasn’t willing to risk my safety or the safety of others around me. I kept the single-use bags I was getting and when it was considered safe to do so I recycled them. Here in the U.S. we have special containers at the store specifically for recycling clean, dry plastic grocery bags.

More needs to be done though. We need to make bigger advances faster. How? How can I/we be a part of those advances? I believe we need the thoughts, experiences and imaginations of everybody, every age, every perspective to find innovative solutions. We need to be excited about working towards common goals. I think an innate part of us seeks to be part of something greater than ourselves. We are after all social creatures.

Links:

This High Schooler Invented Color-Changing Sutures to Detect Infection | Innovation | Smithsonian Magazine

32 Weird, Crazy, but True Beet Facts | Fact Retriever

Green economy | UNEP – UN Environment Programme

“Beetnik” – This is a play on words. The real word “Beatnik” was a nickname for “the Beat Generation.”: Beat Movement | Encyclopedia.com

Give me thoughts, or just your favorite Beet recipe, either will do!

I pressure cook beets with orange juice and add it to green salads with walnuts and goat cheese. Yum!

Nature-led Architecture: Biophilic Design

If this your first time hearing the term “Biophilic design” then I’m excited to be the one to share it with you! This is one of my core passion and sincerest beliefs; architecture should not only be inspired by nature but designed to benefit it. We as humans are a part of nature, not something outside of it. If we were, wouldn’t that make us the aliens? Why do we allow ourselves to be forced into drab little boxes? This is one thread in my series of “Thought Projects” to explore the possibility of what could be and I would argue, what should be!

My introduction to Biophilic Design came eight years ago when I watched the documentary: Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life. You can get a good idea about what Biophilic Design is by watching the trailer. There is also a book by the same name. In it Stephen Kellert offers a personal vision of what our cities could look like. I enjoyed those parts of the book. Since then I’ve looked to Stephen Kellert, Edward O. Wilson and Judith Heerwagen as role models. Sadly, Stephen Kellert passed away of cancer on Nov. 27th , 2016. I will always be grateful for his passion on this subject.

http://www.biophilicdesign.net/film-trailer.html

Now when I look at a building I look at it with new eyes. I think about what’s been done right and what could be improved to make it more welcoming to people and nature. It should be noted that biophilic design doesn’t always follow sustainability practices. I would like to see a more cohesive model that encompasses both. While this term “Biophilic Design” may be relatively new, the pursuit of working with nature is not. In fact, I believe it is one of our most innate traits when not suppressed by greed. The lowest bidder wins the contract, the developer that can squeeze the most amount of people per square footage at an affordable rate gets to make blocks upon block of housing units. I’ve looked upon street after street of uniform single-family homes and apartments complexes and wanted to weep. In my darkest thoughts it feels there’s nothing left to build except Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon in the center of it all. We’re left constantly overwhelmed, falling blithely into the role of prisoner in the name of capitalism, safety, and convenience.

Is the design inherently wrong? No, but architecture is like the clothes we choose to wear. It makes a statement about who we are as a people and what we value. There are a lot of sustainable buildings being built by Scandinavian architects and while I want to like them; I find the clean lines, muted colors and sparse, low furniture too cold. I prefer the warm colors and arches of Latin American architecture and the clever, functional designs of East Asia architecture.

Elements of Design include: Natural materials, natural shapes, colors, lighting and space.

  • A source of water and a source of fire or a representation of these elements through color or texture
  • Air or airflow; ventilation, temperature control or represented by light “airy” textures and elements (subjective)
  • Earth is represented by wood, concrete, rock or rammed earth
  • Metal commonly in doorknobs, hinges and railing. Uncommon ways to use metal include textured metal pictures.
  • Glass, wonderful glass, sand heated in the fire until its molten, worked with air and cooled with water. Gives us the windows we need to see the environment around us and beyond.
  • Mirrors or other reflective surfaces are great for bringing light into interior rooms by enhancing lighting sources already present.

Feng shui and Ayurvedic or Vastu Shastra practices are types of biophilic design, but biophilic design is not a religious or spiritual belief in itself.

Biophilic Design at home:

Author’s Living Room

The skylights have a light fabric covering (hand sewn by me) to diffuse the daylight, add softness to the wood ceiling and hide whatever grime or water spots are on the glass. I can peek to the edges to see if its raining or not. The downside is that skylights are noisy during heavy rains and you do lose some insulation value as a trade off for all the natural light. One alternative would be Clerestory windows, which are high sheltered windows that allow the light without being directly impacted by the weather. This would be an a better solution especially in areas that receive a lot of snow.

When we moved into this house the wood on the sides of the fireplace were a very dark wood stain. It made the whole wall heavy in an otherwise light-filled room. By painting the horizontal boards a light green the room became more balanced and brightened the color of the wood and brickwork with warmer tones that you couldn’t see before.

Inside plants, only cacti and succulents can survive me because I often forget to water.

More to Explore:

Chihuly Garden and Glass: https://www.chihulygardenandglass.com/about/exhibition

Little Boxes Written and Performed by Malvina Reynolds (1900-1978) American Folk/Blues Singer-Songwriter and Political Activist. (Not related to this Author.) Song rediscovered by younger generations when it was used for the intro of the American hit show Weeds by Jenji Kohan. Link: malvina reynolds – little boxes – YouTube

A panopticon is a building design where a guard/observer has a 360 view of prisoners in an institutional setting. It always make me think of the Tower of Mordor in Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon