Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Favorite Place (in Nature)

I wrote the following notes to myself when I was camping on a remote island near Salt Spring Island in British Columbia on a recent biomimicry trip:

Pitching a Tent in an Enchanted Forest
"I have always felt at home in the forest.  While humans should always be aware of predators, they are few and far between in the little woods behind my house where I grew up, so I've felt at home.  I go running through the woods near my home where I live now and I love the smell of wet wood and the moist protection of the canopy on a hot day.  While I love being in the forest, I had never gotten the chance to actually remote camp in one until this trip.  The "camping" I had always done before then was usually car camping with showers or even staying in a cabin, which is not camping at all but it is a compromise I make with my husband.   
The area where we set up camp was out of a storybook fairy tale where "old man's beard" lichen coated the live and fallen limbs where everything was covered in a blanket of green.  The forest floor was a mosaic of pine cones, leaves, twigs, and all the abundant life that lives in the soil.  The tree canopy protected us from the dew and kept us much warmer than the plains adjacent to our site.  Deer chewed on fallen apples no more than 20' away from us without fear and we had our small community of friends with dreams of making the world better for all of Life's creatures.  It was a magical place full of life and connections and I hope to bring the inspiration of those connections back with me to Chicago." 
It's interesting to note the idea of cover and canopy as protection.  The tree canopy provided protection from the dew for those of us below, which kept us warmer on a cold September night.  And our tents had emulated this function by creating a drop cloth above the actual tent enclosure.  The dew hits the top cloth and rolls off, keeping the tent enclosure dry and presumably warmer.  It's fun to see how we emulate nature sometimes without even trying.  We just know it works!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

(re)connecting with the genius of our place

Springbrook Prairie, Naperville llinois
One of my favorite things to do is go on long bike rides through the prairie – the sights, smells, and sounds of natural environments reconnect me with why I have dedicated my career to creating sustainable environments.  Getting outside allows me the freedom to explore and observe and inspires me to think of new possibilities.

As someone trained in the science (and art) of biomimicry, I have learned to look to natural environments as more than beautiful vistas and peaceful respites.  I’ve learned to look to them as a mentor through which I can learn new ways of thinking about the problems we face.  Through this lens, we can look to leaves as inspiration for more efficient photovoltaic cells, spider silk as inspiration for strong, light-weight materials with benign manufacturing, termite mounds for bioclimactic, adaptive architecture, and our native ecosystems for lessons in creating resilient businesses and communities.  Biomimics across the world are looking to nature for inspiration, harnessing 3.8 billion years of experience, and finding innovative solutions to the problems that we face.  You can do this too.

This fall, go outside as much as you can.  Observe and reconnect with the reasons you chose to work in sustainability, and begin to look to the “genius of our place” as inspiration for new ways of thinking and creating.  From observation comes inspiration and innovation.  The possibilities are endless!