Daisugi, the 600-Year-Old Japanese Technique of Growing Trees Out of Other Trees, Creating Perfectly Straight Lumber

Image by Wrath of Gnon

We’ve all admired the elegance of Japan’s traditional styles of architecture. Their development required the kind of dedicated craftsmanship that takes generations to cultivate — but also, more practically speaking, no small amount of wood. By the 15th century, Japan already faced a shortage of seedlings, as well as land on which to properly cultivate the trees in the first place. Necessity being the mother of invention, this led to the creation of an ingenious solution: daisugi, the growing of additional trees, in effect, out of existing trees — creating, in other words, a kind of giant bonsai.

“Written as 台杉 and literally meaning platform cedar, the technique resulted in a tree that resembled an open palm with multiple trees growing out if it, perfectly vertical,” writes Spoon and Tamago’s Johnny Waldman. “Done right, the technique can prevent deforestation and result in perfectly round and straight timber known as taruki, which are used in the roofs of Japanese teahouses.”




These teahouses are still prominent in Kyoto, a city still known for its traditional cultural heritage, and not coincidentally where daisugi first developed. “It’s said that it was Kyoto’s preeminent tea master, Sen-no-rikyu, who demanded perfection in the Kitayama cedar during the 16th century,” writes My Modern Met’s Jessica Stewart.

At the time “a form of very straight and stylized sukiya-zukuri architecture was high fashion, but there simply weren’t nearly enough raw materials to build these homes for every noble or samurai who wanted one,” says a thread by Twitter account Wrath of Gnon, which includes these and other photos of daisugi in action. “Hence this clever solution of using bonsai techniques on trees.” Aesthetics aside — as far aside as they ever get in Japan, at any rate — “the lumber produced in this method is 140% as flexible as standard cedar and 200% as dense/strong,” making it “absolutely perfect for rafters and roof timber.” And not only is daisugi‘s product straight, slender, and typhoon-resistant, it’s marveled at around the world 600 years later. Of how many forestry techniques can we say the same?

via Spoon and Tamago

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

GPS Tracking Reveals the Secret Lives of Outdoor Cats

We track sharksrhino, and bears, so why not Boo Boo KittyPeanut, and Pumpkin?

The Long Island feline residents volunteered—or more accurately, were volunteered—by their human companions to participate in a domestic cat movement study as part of the international Cat Tracker project.

Each beast was outfitted with a GPS tracker-enhanced harness, which they wore for a week.

(Many cat owners will find that alone something of an achievement.)




In total, almost a thousand households in four countries took part—the United StatesNew ZealandAustralia, and the UK.

Scientists were particularly interested to learn the degree of mayhem these cherished pets were visiting on surrounding wildlife in their off hours.

Anyone who’s been left a present of a freshly murdered baby bunny, mole, or wingless bat can probably guess.

It’s a considerable amount, though by and large the domesticated participants stuck close to home, rarely traveling more than two football fields away from the comforts of their own yards. The impulse to keep the food bowl within easy range confines their hunting activities to a fairly tight area. Woe to the field mice who set up shop there.

Their movements also revealed the peril they put themselves in, crossing highways, roads, and parking lots. Researcher Heidy Kikillus, who tracked cats in New Zealand, reported that a number of her group’s subjects wound up in a fatal encounter with a vehicle.

Generally speaking, gender, age, and geography play a part in how far a cat roams, with males, younger animals, and country dwellers covering more ground. Unsurprisingly, those who have not been neutered or spayed tend to have a freer range too.

“Without the motivations of food and sex, most cats seem content to be homebodies,” zoologist Roland Kays, one of the US Project leaders, noted.

American citizen scientists who’d like to enroll their cat can find information and the necessary forms on the Cat Tracker website.

The cat-less and those with indoor cats can enjoy photos of select participants and explore their tracks here.

And what better fall craft than a DIY cat tracking GPS harness?

via National Geographic

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Sounds of the Forest: A Free Audio Archive Gathers the Sounds of Forests from All Over the World

Some of my fondest memories are of hiking the Olympic National Forest in Washington State and the forests of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, seeking the kind of silence one can only find in busy ecosystems full of birds, insects, woodland creatures, rustling leaves, etc. This experience can be transformative, a full immersion in what acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton calls a “natural acoustic system,” the endless interplay of calls and responses that evolved to harmonize over millennia.

Tragically, human noise pollution encroaches on the acoustic space of such refuges, and climate change may irrevocably alter their nature. But they will be preserved, in digital recordings at least, thanks in part to the efforts of a project called Sounds of the Forest, which has been documenting the pregnant silences of forests around the world and has so far collected audio files from six continents, with western Europe most heavily represented.

The Sounds of the Forest library, accessible via its interactive map or Soundcloud page, “will form an open source library,” the project announces, “to be used by anyone to listen to and create from.”




Nature lovers can contribute their own recordings, helping to fill in the many remaining areas on the map without representation. “Visit a woodland,” the project recommends, “recharge under the canopy and record your sounds of the forest.” The site gives specific instructions for how to upload audio file submissions.

Sounds of the Forest came out of the annual Timber Festival, an international gathering in the UK’s National Forest, which is the “boldest environmentally-led regeneration project: the creation of England’s first new forest in a thousand years… an imaginative and ambitious statement of sustainable development.” When the pandemic scuttled plans for an in-person 2020 Timber Festival, organizers conceived of the sound files as a way to bring the world together in a virtual forest gathering. They are also foraging material for next year’s fest, in which “selected artists will be responding to the sounds that are gathered, creating music, audio, artwork or something else incredible.”

If you can’t make it to Timber Festival 2021 next summer, or to your forest refuge of choice this autumn, you can still immerse yourself in the restorative sounds of forests worldwide. Open the sound map, click on a file, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in Nelson Lakes National Park in New Zealand, Yasuni National Park at night in Ecuador, or Chernyaevsky Forest in Russia. Experiencing the busy silences of nature brings us back to ourselves—or to the ancient parts of ourselves that once also harmonized with the natural world.

 

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Beautiful 1897 Illustrated Book Shows How Flowers Become Art Nouveau Designs

The art of drawing is not the art of observing forms and objects alone, it is not mere mimicry of these objects; it is the art of knowing how far and wherein, and with what just limitations, those forms and objects can be reproduced in a picture, or in a decorative work. – Eugène Grasset, 1896

Flowers loomed large in Art Nouveau, from the voluptuous floral headpieces that crowned Alphonse Mucha’s female figures to the stained glass roses favored by architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Graphic designer Eugène Grasset’s 1897 book, Plants and Their Application to Ornament, vividly demonstrates the ways in which nature was distilled into popular decorative motifs at the end of the 19th-century.

 

Twenty-four flowering plants were selected for consideration, from humble specimens like dandelions and thistle to such Art Nouveau heavy hitters as poppies and irises.

Each flower is represented by a realistic botanical study, with two additional color plates in which its form is flattened out and mined for its decorative, stylistic elements.

 

The plates were rendered by Grasset’s students at the École Guérin, young artists whom he had “forbidden to condescend to the art of base and servile imitation”:

The art of drawing is not the art of observing forms and objects alone, it is not mere mimicry of these objects; it is the art of knowing how far and wherein, and with what just limitations, those forms and objects can be reproduced in a picture, or in a decorative work.

He also expected students to hone their powers of observation through intense study of the organic structures that would provide their inspiration, becoming intimately acquainted with the character of petal, leaf, and stem:

Beautiful lines are the foundation of all beauty. In a work of art, whatever it be, apparent or hidden symmetry is the visible or secret cause of the pleasure we feel. Everything that is created must have some repetition in its parts to be understood, retained in the memory, and perceived as a whole

When it came to adorning household implements such as vases and plates, Grasset insisted that decorative elements exist in harmony with their hosts, sniping that any artist who would distort form with ill considered flourishes should make a bas-relief instead.

Thusly do chrysanthemum stems provide logical-looking ballast for a chandelier, and a dandelion’s curved leaves hug the contours of a table leg.

Grasset’s best known student, Maurice Pillard Verneuil, whose career spanned Art Nouveau to Art Deco, absorbed and articulated the master’s teachings:

 

It is no longer the nature (artists) see that they represent, that they transcribe, but the nature that they aspire to see; nature more perfect and more beautiful and of which they have the interior vision.

 

View Eugène Grasset’s Plants and Their Application to Ornament as part of the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections here. Or find illustrations at RawPixel.

via The Public Domain Review

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hear the Sound Of Endangered Birds Get Turned Into Electronic Music

Bird-watching is having a moment, thanks to the pandemic.

As non-essential workers adjusted to spending more time at home, their ears adjusted to the increasingly non-foreign sound of birdsong outside their windows.

Those sweet tweets are no doubt largely responsible for the record breaking turnout at this year’s Global Big Day, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s annual birding event, held earlier this spring.




50,000 participants logged 2.1 million individual observations, and 6,479 species.

Apparently, there are even more birds in this world than there are sourdough starters

…though for the immediate future, civic-minded birdwatchers will be confining their observations to the immediate vicinity, as a matter of public health.

We look forward to the day when bird enthusiasts residing outside of Belize, Mexico, or Guatemala can again travel to the Yucatán Peninsula in hopes of a face-to-face encounter with the Black Cat Bird.

Til then, the animated video above, in which a Black Catbird unwittingly duets with Belize’s Garifuna Collective, makes a soothing place holder.

The catbird and the collective appear along with nine other electronic musician / endangered native bird teams on the fundraising album, A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean.

Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager joins NILLO, a producer and DJ from Costa Rica who draws musical inspiration from the tribal communities around him.

Siete Catorce, a producer who helped popularize the popular border genre known as ruidosón—a mix of cumbia and prehispanic tribal sounds—is paired with a Yellow-headed Parrot.

Jordan “Time Cow” Chung of Equiknoxx seamlessly integrates a Jamaican Blackbird into his unique brand of organic, experimental dancehall.

The album follows 2015’s Guide to the Birdsong of South America, and as with its predecessor, 100% of the profits will be donated to regional organizations focused on birds and conservation—Birds Caribbean, La Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica, and Mexico’s Fundacion TXORI.

Birds, as the project’s founder, Robin Perkins, told Gizmodo’s Earther, are the most musical animals in the world:

There’s something really nice about focusing on endangered species and songs that are disappearing and not being preserved and to use music to raise awareness about the species. I believe music has a big power for social activism and social change and for environmental change.

Listen to A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean for free on Spotify.

Buy the album or individual tracks on Bandcamp to benefit the charities above.

Robin Perkins’ limited edition prints of the featured birds also benefit the bird-focused regional charities and can be purchased here.

via MyModernMet

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Explore Flowcharts That Japanese Aquariums Use to Document the Romantic Lives of Penguins

In recent years, viewers the world over have been binge-watching a Japanese reality show called Terrace House. The New Yorker‘s Troy Patterson describes its format thus: “Three men and three women move into an elegant pad for a spell, while otherwise conducting their lives as usual. The members of the cast are above average in their camera-readiness and their civility, and in no other discernible way.” Fueled not by the self-promotional showboating and ginned-up resentment that have become conventions of Terrace House‘s Western predecessors, “the show’s slow-burning action is sparked by the honest friction of minor personality flaws and conflicting personal needs,” making it “closer to a nature documentary than to the exploitation films that one has come to expect from reality television.”

If viewing human beings the way we’re used to viewing nature can give us such satisfaction, how about viewing nature the way we’re used to viewing human beings? Japan, as Johnny Waldman reports at Spoon and Tamago, has led the way in both reversals: “Two aquariums in Japan, Kyoto Aquarium and Sumida Aquarium, keep obsessive tabs on their penguins and maintain an updated flowchart that visualizes all their penguin drama.”




Waldman quotes Japan-based researcher Oliver Jia as tweeting the fact that “Penguin drama actually isn’t totally unexpected. They’re known to be vicious animals who cheat on their partners and steal other’s children. So basically, your average day in Los Angeles” — the cradle, one might add, of the reality-TV industry.

Though the lives of penguins may, in the eyes of the aquarium-visiting layman, appear to consist entirely of swimming, eating fish, and standing around, the animals’ “romantic escapades are fairly easy to observe,” at least according to Waldman’s translation of the penguin caretakers at the Sumida Aquarium. “Wing-flapping is a sign of affection and couples can be seen grooming each other. Penguins who are getting over a break-up will often refuse to eat.” This is the kind of observational data that inform the intensively detailed (and cuteness-optimized) penguin-relationship diagrams seen here, high-resolution versions of which you can download from the Kyoto Aquarium and Sumida Aquarium‘s web sites. Now that Terrace House has come to an end, perhaps the time has come on Japanese reality television for a bit of non-human drama.

via Spoon and Tamago

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Bird Library: A Library Built Especially for Our Fine Feathered Friends

“The two things I love most are novels and birds,” said Jonathan Franzen in a Guardian profile not long ago. “They’re both in trouble, and I want to advocate for both of them.” Chances are that even that famously internet-averse novelist-turned-birdwatcher would enjoy the online attraction called The Bird Library, “where the need to feed meets the need to read.” Its live Youtube stream shows the goings-on of a tiny library built especially for our feathered friends. “Perched in a backyard in the city of Charlottesville,” writes Atlas Obscura’s Claire Voon, “it is the passion project of librarian Rebecca Flowers and woodworker Kevin Cwalina, who brought together their skills and interests to showcase the lives of their backyard birds.”

Recent visitors, Voon adds, “have included a striking rose-breasted grosbeak, a cardinal that looks like it’s vaping, and a trio of mourning doves seemingly caught in a serious meeting.” The Bird Library’s web site offers an archive of images capturing the institution’s wee regulars, all accompanied by enlivening captions. (“Why did the bird go to the library?” “He was looking for bookworms.”)




Just as year-round birdwatching brings pleasures distinct from more casual versions of the pursuit, year-round viewing of The Bird Library makes for a deeper appreciation not just of the variety of species represented among its patrons — the creators have counted 20 so far — but for the seasonal changes in the space’s decor, especially around Christmastime.

As longtime viewers know, this isn’t the original Bird Library. “In late 2018 we demolished the old Bird Library and started design and development of a new and improved Bird Library 2.0! Complete with a large concrete base for increased capacity and a bigger circulation desk capable of feeding all our guests all day long.” Just as libraries for humans need occasional renovation, so, it seems, do libraries for birds — a concept that could soon expand outside Virginia. “Cwalina hopes to eventually publish an open-access plan for a similar bird library, so that other birders can build their own versions,” reports Voon. And a bird-loving 21st-century Andrew Carnegie steps forward to ensure their architectural respectability, might we suggest going with modernism?

via Atlas Obscura

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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