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Entries in climate (4)


travelling landscapes

from Google Maps: 21039 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California

It seems a bit intrusive to peer at the house that Hockney once owned and sold in 1999.  I doubt it had a pool as it was right on the beach beside the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.  Now is that a romantic address or what?  This google street view shows the row of fairly humble beach houses on one side of the road, and a rough hill on the other.  Looking up the native vegetation of such a hill, coastal sage scrub, typical of cismontane southern California and northern Mexico, consists of aromatic low-growing shrubs: California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), coast brittlebush (Encelia californica), black sage (Salvia mellifera), white sage (Salvia apiana), Lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia) and Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia littoralis). 

I only looked this up as I had been reading about the Corsican macchia, so aromatic that it is the unique scent of Corsica.  The macchia, or in other spellings the maquis, contains crocus (crocus corsicus, Corsican saffron), orchids (Conrad's orchid, serapias nurrica), colchicum, violet, romulea, aconite, garlic, aquilegia, daisy, cyclamen, carnation, digitalis, everlasting, hypericum, forget-me-not, mint, nepeta, ranunculus.  There is heather, narcissi, violets, passionflower, marguerites and mimosa. There is bougainvillea and oleander,  lilac thyme, white and pink broom. Lavender grows wild as does myrtle, rosemary, marjoram and mint.   

Corsica is an ancient and underdeveloped island, Malibu is a highway just north of the freeways of Los Angeles.  This might have something to do with the sparseness of plant life in the coastal sage scrub compared to macchia.  I read somewhere in all of this that one of the problems with coastal sage scrub is the word 'scrub' which gives it little value in the popular imagination. 

My project here, given that the Gulf Islands are said to have a mediterranean climate (ha! not after this winter) and that I am very close to the islands (albeit under a mountain, which might be a problem, part of that rocky spine that is Vancouver Island), is to develop a macchia myself, to turn one's garden into a wild, aromatic ground cover.  Almost every shrub in the Corsican macchia I have seen as singles somewhere in the yard, so they do grow here.  And there are olive trees up island.  And I will add eucalyptus, for that beautiful perfume that so characterises the northern California coastline.  And California poppies, which grow wild by the road.  I see the irony in all of this, but I'm also optimistic.

I think I would quite like to live in Corsica/California/Canada, with olive trees.  It is a bit of a dream, still.


the Tarpon Inn and hurricanes

The Tarpon Inn in the 1940s. Although built and burned, re-built and destroyed by storms before this version, its basic and original form and function is a barracks. It presages the two storey motel with each room accessible from an outside walkway. Compared the the Tarpon Inn in its current palm-treed beauty, this view from the 1940s seems to indicate a more motel-like attitude to travel and lodging.

The Tarpon Inn, in Port Aransas on the south east Texas coast, was built in the 1920s specifically to resist hurricanes and the storm surges that had destroyed its earlier versions.  A forest of pine poles are set each in 16' of concrete and continue through two storeys to the roof. There is a post in each corner of each small room.  There are no inside corridors, you get to your room from the porch.  The lobby is papered with tarpon scales – discs about 1.5" across – each signed by the fisherman who caught it, including famous people who came for the sport, mostly in the 1920s and 30s when there was a lot of tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, in the Gulf.  

Tarpon scales from the 1920s-1940s in the Tarpon Inn lobby, 7000 of them supposedly. Tarpon are warm water ocean sport fish, 4-8' long and up to 250 lbs.  It is alleged that the tarpon has suffered a massive decline along the Gulf coastline since the 1950s because of loss of coastal 'nursery' marshes: mangrove marshes in Florida, a seawall across much of Mississippi that used to be marsh, and increased commercial fishing of menhaden, a tarpon food source. 

Why am I revisiting the Tarpon Inn after twenty years since I saw it?  Perhaps because it is an ecology of people, architecture, climate and weather that seemed so precise, and so gone.

The Tarpon Inn today. These images are taken from traveller's blogs; although the inn is on the Texas Historic Register of significant buildings and properties I wasn't able to find a survey of it. The Tarpon Inn operates as a rather beautiful boutique hotel these days, Port Aransas's gritty past all but erased.


breakaway walls

Damage from Hurrican Ivan, 2004, in the southeastern USA where breakaway walls are necessary and mandated.

This structural detachment of structure and skin is very helpful in extreme weather: in hurricane-prone coastlines houses have breakaway walls which are ground level enclosed areas for parking or storage, where the enclosing walls will actually break away from the structure when hit by high winds and water.  The house is instantly piloteed, water and wind rush right under it.  Breakaway walls are bylaws in many areas, and there is a FEMA manual that outlines specifications. The principles appear to apply only to ground floors; the house itself is conventional construction where walls are meant to protect, not flee.  

Because of our northern climate, all our woodframe houses sit on basements that act like concrete boats: they resist frost heaving but in a flood fill up with water immediately.  And every time there is a tornado in a non-tornado zone such as happened in southern Ontario last week, the houses are deconstructed leaving piles of studs and shredded plywood.  In Places in the Heart, a 1980s movie set on the prairies during the Depression, a tornado was coming and Sally Field rushed about the house opening all the windows before taking the children into the storm cellar. The house was made as transparent to the wind as possible. A storm cellar is accessible from outside the house, no convenient basement stair, and so even if the house is blown apart, the cellar is a separate underground bunker.  This was in The Wizard of Oz, which we've forgotten.

In this new era of violent weather, our bulwarks against traditional weather where the worst that happens is that it gets very very cold — three weeks of -30, no problem, the houses are snug.  Our houses have always been built to resist — we feel the whole house ought to be a storm cellar — rather than to bend.  We are getting new weather, we are going to have to rethink it all. 


Saul Leiter's winter

Saul Leiter, Red Umbrella, 1957. Gelatin silver print; printed later 14 x 11 inches Signed in ink on print verso. Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

We've always had the winter, but not the photographers.


Saul Leiter, Postmen, 1952. Gelatin silver print; printed later 14 x 11 inches Signed in ink on print verso. Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.