Ground Condition #7

Paradise in peril

This is the first summer I’ve ever spent away from the East Coast, and holy hell is it throwing me for a loop. Mid-summer in Northern California is fog season, so while my family in Tennessee and friends in Brooklyn were all sweltering—as one typically does in July—I was wearing hiking socks for morning walks.

Fog, at its most innocuous, feels like a hug. Time is suspended, coziness muffles whatever calamity is happening elsewhere. Bay Area summer did feel a bit like that—I had little idea what month or day it was in quarantine, and while there was much to stress about, nature provided some comfort.

At least until the fires started.

^^The Woodward Fire from Limantour Beach on August 19, via @thewestmarinfeed.

Wildfire season showed up much earlier this year owing to a potent combo of record-high temperatures, a century of fire suppression, continued dependence on fossil fuel for energy, lots of other factors I’m not expert enough to name, and, as of three weeks ago, freak lightning storms. Obviously the threat of fire to people’s lives and property is terrifying, as is the now-ever-present smog. Then again, California landscape was meant to burn as part of cyclical pattern of growth—info that is new-ish to me but not to forestry experts, as cited in this illuminating piece from ProPublica:

We dug ourselves into a deep, dangerous fuel imbalance due to one simple fact. We live in a Mediterranean climate that’s designed to burn, and we’ve prevented it from burning anywhere close to enough for well over a hundred years. Now climate change has made it hotter and drier than ever before, and the fire we’ve been forestalling is going to happen, fast, whether we plan for it or not.

Currently, land managers proactively burn approximately 13,000 acres each year. Compare that to the estimated “4.4 million [to] 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California.” It will take a monumental shift in thinking to embrace fire as a natural state, to harness its power rather than live in fear of its effects.

This week, of course, we descended into the next circle of climate-crisis inferno. On Wednesday, daylight never arrived in the Bay Area. I’d had some advance warning from friends up at the Sea Ranch who witnessed a persimmon sky the evening prior, but it seemed like an isolated occurrence. (The scientific explanation: “turbulent mixing,” wherein the smoke from fires across the state was pushed upward by strong wind. Only long wavelength light—red and orange—were able to penetrate the ashy fug that camped out above the marine layer.)

The smoke has since descended, which means the air quality is exponentially worse. Isolated occurrence, it wasn’t; climate experts are calling the confluence of current disasters across the state a cascade effect. And unlike the usual entreaties to curb climate change, this isn’t a future threat we’re talking about.

I used to have a theory that West Coasters tend to be avid environmentalists because the landscape is so stunning that to see it ruined would hurt worse. I suspect the reality is that climate change is arriving here first. In the meantime, there is bad news*, there is better news**, and there is an election in 51 days. Once the smog lifts, I hope we know what to do.

*In June, California governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, approved new fracking permits for a subsidiary of Shell and ExxonMobil near Bakersfield, quietly ending a moratorium instated last November.
**California’s Air Resources Board just decreed new emissions regulations for ships and trucks, which is estimated to cut 10,000 tons of pollution per year.

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  • A Venn diagram of my cultural obsessions: where fave fashion writer Rachel Tashjian overlaps with furniture design, vis-a-vis her GQ podcast with special guest, designer Adam Charlap Hyman. (Maybe you saw Charlap Hyman & Herrero’s Bed-Stuy brownstone for super curator and friend-to-this-newsletter Alexandra Cunningham Cameron in AD back in 2017??? If not, ENJOY.) This episode is one giant furniture rabbithole.

  • Graphic designer Jessica Hische bought a stunner of an MCM house in the Berkeley Hills last October and is documenting the renovation with a dedicated Instagram account. (No, I’m not at all envious of the concrete-block Hans Ostwald design, not at all, nothing to mention here, let’s move along.) Commenters bemoaning her decision to remove the erstwhile conversation pit made me think of this TIME magazine screed from 1963. 

  • Meanwhile, Ursula K. LeGuin’s house in Berkeley—a glorious pile designed by one Bernard Maybeck—is for sale. (She wrote about growing up there for a lit mag a few years back… Email me if you’d like a copy of the PDF!)

  • A redlined past means a sweltering future for these majority-Black neighborhoods: a Times deep-dive that is specifically focused on Richmond, Virginia, but universally relevant.

  • My friend Dung—who knows everything there is to know about design—just introduced me to the vintage IKEA catalog archive. Adjö, spare time!

  • Someone took me up on my threat to wax poetic about quilts. Read the summary, plus a few other very intelligent, extremely funny, especially beautiful people’s product recs. You know who you are ;)

  • Architecture memes to save the day:

September 8, 2020

Abandoning the frothy/functional rubric this week for a pairing I find to be mighty fine. One object is hand-painted, and available in a very small batch from Sincerely, Tommy (my old neighbor and forever-fave shopping destination); the other is a mass-market collaboration between Chicago-based designer Kara Mann and CB2. (FYI the lamp is actually taller than the stool, so arrange them near and not on top of each other, k?)

Crafting the Future is a fledgling non-profit that seeks to increase representation for BIPOC youth at renowned craft schools like Penland in North Carolina and Haystack in Maine. Fundraising efforts thus far are sending one student from New Orleans to a summer residency at Penland. Follow their efforts on Instagram, and head here to contribute.

Take care out there,