To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Year 2: Part 6: Post 4: Homework

Remember, at the beginning of the semester, when I was all happy that Charlie's class only had one homework assignment? I was psyched. I thought I'd be able to focus on my other classes and basically not do much in that one class because there was only one assignment, due at the end.

Famous last words. I was wrong, of course, REALLY wrong. That one assignment is almost a dissertation. It's due tomorrow.

The class is Creating Campus, and it covers the ecological and horticultural theory behind the landscaping of the school. Each week, we've covered a different principle, like co-evolution, energy transfer, or spatial structure, using campus as an example. It's been fun and interesting. Charlie's assigned a lot of reading--he tends to assume that everyone can read as fast as he does, which is not remotely true--but he said at the beginning that the reading is for us not for him and he's not going check to see if we do it. There's only this one assignment he's really going to check.

We have to design a new feature for the campus landscape plan and fully document how and why it would work.

We're not actually going to build our features, it's just an educational exercise, but he says he's used elements of student plans before and might again. He's also had students go into ecological landscaping after they graduate and adapt their final projects for use with clients. So this is kind of a big deal.

I didn't just start the assignment today, I'm not that bad--I got working on it seriously about a week and a half ago--but I still left myself with too little time. I think I'm going to make it, and I'm doing a good job, but only because I've been staying up late night after night and working insanely hard on it.

Our design has to include at least two of the ecological principles we covered in class, plus is must be attractive, must not interfere with human use of the campus, and must solve some shortcoming of the existing plan. I didn't perceive any shortcoming of the existing plan, so that last part was hard for me. I ended up using as my starting point something Charlie said back in the spring, when we were on the Island together. He was sitting, looking at the water and listening to the waves, as he often did, when he sighed and spoke.

"That's the one thing campus is missing--water."

Allen was with us, and he pointed out that there is, in fact, a pond on campus, not to mention the lake nearby, but Charlie shook his head.

"No, running water, moving water," he said. "Something you can sit and listen to."

So I started thinking how I could design something to fix that. After all, you can build an artificial stream using a pump to take the water from a pool at the the bottom back up to a pool at the top. But even if the pump were solar powered, like the fountains are, I don't think Charlie would like that very much. One of the things he said in class was to pay attention to what the land was already doing. There is a time for making dramatic changes, by mimicking an earlier fire regime, for example, or removing an invasive species and starting over, but if you don't understand the system very well already, always default to going with the flow. "Let the land stay in character," he would say, or "help your site do what it what it was already doing. Don't make it do what it doesn't want to."

And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that our patch of land doesn't want to have a stream on it. But it might want another wetland.

So, in the end I dispensed with the stream idea, and my plan evolved into using the waste water from the Mansion to make a wetland on the Flat Field. I figured that would meet the human usefulness requirement, because that water now goes through a filter and then into a fairly traditional septic field, and I know they are working to come up with some more useful alternative. I figure, why not pipe that water into an artificial wetland and use it to fertilize some flowers? That field also receives runnoff from almost a quarter of campus, including most of our impermeable surfaces, so it's also a good place for a rain garden.

The Flat Field, as you may recall, is the graded footprint of a huge barn that burned down before the School took over this property. It's at least a hundred feet on a side, flat as the name implies, and boarded on two sides by a steep embankment going down and on two sides by an embankment going up. My plan involves scooping out a shallow depression at the corner where the higher ground slopes down to the Field and then grading it out so that the whole Field slopes in to the corner. Then pipe the waste water to a point just inside that slope, above the depression, so the soil could act as a secondary filter and there wouldn't be a pool of dirty water. When it rained, a pool would form for a while, but otherwise the soil would just be wet. I'd plant it with wetland flowers that like a lot of nutrients--yes, I listed them--put stepping stones through the middle of it, and a couple of benches around the outer edge of it. I even charted out the blooming times of the different flowers so it would provide nectar and look good continuously throughout the growing season.

It's taken me a little over a week to calculate the proper size for the garden to handle the water it would receive and to work out the species list. Now, I have to rewrite the whole thing, rework all my visual aids, my maps and plans and charts, and format it. Charlie gave us this detailed list of exactly how the thing has to be formatted, even right down to where the page numbers have to be and what size font we have to use--unusually, it does have to be typed. I don't expect to sleep tonight, especially considering that I have other classes where I also have homework due.

The thing is, I think I've gone completely crazy over the past few days. I'm not thinking about anything other than homework, I'm not doing anything other than homework, I'm like this complete homework zombie. I'm serious, it's mind-altering.

It's kind of the opposite of what most of Charlie's teachings do--open me up, make me more aware of the world. This assignment is making me less aware. It's my own fault, for putting this off until the last minute. I have nothing profound to say.

[Next Post: Monday, October 28th: Interlude]

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