When the publishing industry went belly-up, I had the opportunity to do something new. I have always been fascinated by human shelter. I’m fascinated with animal shelter, as well–with how we all make our bargains with weather.
But we humans–we’ve grown soft.
Darwin, on sailing around Tierra del Fuego, was horrified, stunned, to find the local folk curled up in clumps, sleeping naked among the seaweed. It’s a super-cold place, always wet. The Tierra del Fuegians fished by hopping in and out of boats and splashing around like seals. Those who dwelt inland stomped over hill and dale in deep snow wearing mainly an animal hide cloak that could be ditched for unfettered spearing action.
We’ve grown soft.
Australian desert-dwellers, lacking cold seaweed, have been known to toss together a wind-breaking wall of branches, light a fire, and doze off in what appears to be a state of managed hypothermia.The evolution of human shelter is a yardstick for our desire to be free of nature’s meddling. The more sophisticated our shelters became, the more of the minute-to-minute miseries they locked out. The leaf-roofed lean-tos and palm-thatched huts ended our days in the rain. Chimpanzees still hunch under hand-held umbrellas of leaves when it rains. Not us.
The round walls of teepees and yurts minimized the force of wind, regardless of whence wind came. Our uncommonly damp skin chilled in the faintest breeze. Blocking the wind gave us the option of maintaining our sweat-cooling, which granted us magnificent running endurance. Gorillas are more windproof, but they are not marathoners.The ability to hold heat inside a shelter, that was a luxury. Hominids expanded to the near-arctic without that technology, just by dressing well and sitting near the cave’s fire. But windows and doors, and thick, insulated walls, these are recent developments.
As are air conditioners, heat pumps, central vacuum cleaner systems, entertainment rooms, and wine cellars; and attached garages, guest suites, great rooms, bonus rooms, and walk-in closets; and en-suite baths, front porches, back decks, and gardening sheds.
Each feature strengthens our defense against the rude whims of nature. I could easily last a week on the fuel and food I’ve barricaded in here with me.
And on days like this, when the rain is blowing sideways in a Tierra del Fuegian style, it’s tempting to think this system is perfect.
It’s not perfect. Modern housing is a giant consumer of nature’s own stuff. Never mind the drywall and vinyl windows: How did the drywall and vinyl windows come into existence? Where did those molecules of gypsum and petroleum come from? How many more molecules of petroleum were consumed to create the end products? And now I have to burn stuff to heat up every molecule of air and matter I trap in here with me.
Because I have gone soft.
But the hard truth is that the more stuff we enclose, the crazier the weather gets outside. The route we’re on, we’re going to enclose and climate-control the entire surface of the earth.
And then where would the Tierra del Fuegians sleep?
This is where my real estate work rises from: a fascination our fundamental dissatisfaction with the planet. I don’t talk about it much. Most people are looking for assistance of a more pragmatic sort, not an ad hoc introduction to comparative shelter ethology.
But if you’re in search of both, I sure look forward to working with you!
I work in Greater Portland, Maine, and on special cases elsewhere state.