New Moon

April 13, Notes: Next weekend Griffin our about to be graduating high school senior will camp for three days at Coachella for the music festival. In August he leaves for Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. It's been almost a year since we moved into our house in the wildland/urban interface and almost two since we sold our home in Santa Monica Canyon. This evening Lorrie and I strolled down the property, to close the gate and pick up the mail, in the gloaming. Due west, just to the right of a transcendantly bright Venus was the new moon with the old in its arms. Somewhere in this is a new life for us all.

April 19, Notes: A few weekends ago Lorrie saw a five foot gopher snake lolling on a rock at Margot's and just yesterday Griffin tells us he almost stepped on a three footer on Besant Hill campus. I have been dreaming of snakes; Lorrie has been dreaming of snakes - classic dreams of transformation. The chumash and other native American bands saw snakes as metaphors of life, death and rebirth; the shedding of a snake's skin was associated with life and with a new beginning.

While the house was under construction the contractor told us of a big old gopher snake that lived in the rocks under the oak grove close to the house. Early last summer I saw its erstwhile skin draped over the rocks. It gave me quite a start. I have the usual fear of snakes although one of my earliest memories is of playing with a snake on a sandy path at Frensham Ponds in Surrey, England - until my older sister grabbed me away. I saw one young rattle snake last year in the shade of Griffin's 1977 truck almost invisible on the hardpan that is the compacted soil awaiting construction of a guesthouse next to the garage.

As our first year in the wildland/urban interface ticks away we are now able to gauge the flow of the seasons. As of the last week or so we are back in swimming season. It was probably still in March that, for a few days, the pool warmed up to just below 70 degrees and was comfortable for a quick dip. Now, at 72 it is almost ideal for swimming laps. What was a theoretical notion of a shallow pool being more energy efficient - should one choose to heat it - is now confirmed in practice as being more immediately responsive to the warmer days of spring, and thoughts of investing in a solar heating system are receding. The trick is to have the pool cover open on warm days and always closed at night. This is, after all, the most basic solar system with the cover functioning as both insulation and control valve.

A visitor to the house asked recently why we had raised the pool out of the ground so that the coping is 18" above grade - my glib answer was that it was designed to keep snakes out of the pool. We certainly had that in mind, but we also wanted the pool to read as a trough - like those for horses and cattle - so that it had an almost agricultural aspect and became a sculptural element in the minimalist gravel hardscape.

So despite living in a minimalist house and landscape there is room for metaphor. The house is fundamentally a representation of a barn and the pool a cattle trough. I was reminded of the function of metaphor (or is it simile?) in architecture when we all visited Otis College of Art and design for an open house for accepted students.

There are three buildings on the Otis campus in Westchester, a 1960's seven story concrete box raised on angled piloti (which I had always admired on my drives to LAX), a parking garage and Fred Fisher's skewed corrugated tin shed gallery and fine arts building. A few years ago I bumped into Fred at a gallery opening at his building (I knew him from my years teaching at the Macarthur Park campus of what was then Otis/Parsons) and he mentioned that he had long despised the adjacent concrete low-rise tower as representing everything that was wrong with modern architecture. It wasn't until last weekend that I learnt that it is in fact a notable building.

It was designed by Eliot Noyes in the early 1960's and built in 1964. Noyes was part of a group which also included Philip Johnson, Landis Gores, Marcel Breuer and John Johansen -- known as the Harvard Five. He was the house designer for IBM at the time and most famously designed their Selectric typewriter in addition to a number of buildings. The Westchester building housed IBM's aerospace division and utilized pre-stressed concrete panel cladding with small rectangular punched windows which were designed to echo the data input device of the time - the punchcard. I am certainly old enough to recognize the reference and for several years was employed by a company in Australia whose foundational business was the production of punch cards and their data input (think rooms of low-wage young women at punch card machines). It is a delightful, if dated, reference. More importantly it results in a playfully animated facade entirely independent of its hexadecimal origins.

Our long weekend as empty nesters (while Griff was away) has come and gone. The pool filter is clean and we are ready for a complete season of swimming. The snakes are all well and truly awake and together we await the fullness of spring.

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