unusual beauty and surprising functionality

i recently read the design book A Frame for Life (which I recommend by the way). In it the author Ilse Crawford talks about how good design integrates unusual beauty with surprising functionality. Could there be any better description of nature itself? i mean look at that stem. is there anything about it that is not unusually beautiful, or surprisingly functional?

winter teasel

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big spender

think i’ll belly up to a sand bar tonight and slide a few of these across. keep ’em coming, barkeep. i got a million more where that came from.

sand dollars

gulf coast of florida

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science and poetry

i’ve had occasion to laud my fellow scientists for the precision of their language. often the scientific description of a species or plant is as accurate and playful as anything a poet could come up with. but i just read the rain tree pods above described as “three-parted inflated bladder-like pods.” come on, fellow nerds. you can do better than that. how about “leathern satchels.” or “varnished skulls” or “matte mahogany.” let’s not take our eyes off the ball here.

golden rain tree seed pods

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conifers

in minnesota one of your jobs growing up is learning to identify conifers. some of our best trees are “pine trees” although most of them aren’t really pines, they’re firs. you learn to distinguish the flat needles of the balsam from the round bottle brush tips of the spruce. you learn that the white pine has five needles per bunch and the red pine has two. you learn that white cedar has a strange spicy cherry smell when you run your hand over it in winter. and you learn to love the tamarack, not only for its spectacular golden fall phase before it (unlike any other minnesota conifers) drops its needles. but you learn to love it for the comically large round buds it carries all winter long on its needle-less branches. it gives an impression of friendliness. it isn’t trying to blend in. it’s an extravert. like the lovable guy at the party in the loud blazer. hey, nice to meet you. i’m bob. what are you doing in these parts?

tamarack pine cones

st. paul, minnesota

  • Heather H. says:

    This image makes me feel things I’m not sure how to articulate. It feels vintage and mysterious and a little other-worldly to me. I love it. Also, I’ve learned to call all of our trees here in Portland “evergreens” simply because I don’t know a cedar from a doug fir, I just love them all. You should come here and take some photos!

    reply

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quill

owl feathers were not commonly used as quill pens. usually it was goose or turkey feathers. all i know is that some days, as i look out over a sea of my fellow human beings, heads bowed, right hands raised, staring intently into the screens of their iphones and androids, i want to go back to the time when everyone knew that the flight feathers of big birds made for good writing instruments, and if you were right handed, you wanted a moulted feather from the left wing, so that it would curve out away from your line of sight as you wrote beautiful, longhand script.

european buzzard feather

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