Monday, 11 June 2007

slow travel, slow talk

Three strangers, three conversations. Had I driven (as would have been my former inclination as everything could be visited (ie "done") in a day) then I would never have met these people, never would have had such interesting and stimulating exchanges with them. But as I travelled slowly, walking or by train (other than lifts to and from home, and one to a railway station), taking two days, there was time, and so I did. Taking it slow and being away also made it a mini-holiday and back home I feel energised and invigorated...

I went to Slimbridge, Britain's first wetland nature reserve last week. I travelled on to Bath to see the Batik Transitions exhibition at the Museum of East Asian Art, staying overnight in Bath Youth Hostel. Here is the first conversation, I will post the others later.

Conversation One
After being dropped at Slimbridge village by my lift, I enjoyed a pleasant half-hour's walk from the centre past cows moving field and a working canal lock-bridge. Just before the centre a sign invites you to view and read about their reed bed filtration system. All their waste water and sewage is filtered through several stages including gravels and different plant groupings. All the nasty bits for us are food for bacteria that live in the reeds root network. Clean water eventually flows out into a wildlife pond, proof it works! Adam Joseph Lewis Centre at Oberlin College both incorporates a reed bed system in their building and explains its workings well.

Last year I researched wax removal processes*, including disposal of both used wax and the cleaning agent (in my case, boiling water). It included the effects of disposal via the sewer, which I contrasted with direct disposal into the ground. But disposal via reedbed filtering hadn't crossed my mind so I seized this moment to learn more (had I been driving I would have already left, because of the intention of "doing" Bath in the same day). After a phone conversation or two, a WWT specialist met me and kindly gave some outline advice for my situation.

A reed bed filtration system would probably be impractical due to scale. Scale of my practice more than scale of space needed for filtering! The system would need to be regularly "fed" waste water to stay active/alive, so including household waste water/sewage would make sense. Umm, what about when I go away, say for two weeks? Yes, not advised, it's long enough to starve the reed bed. I pondered collective action as a solution but feel in my street only one household might consider it without thinking it weird. For now, anyway. Who knows about the future?

Every reed bed system needs to be designed precisely for the potential waste it receives, so my hypothetical one would need to take dyes into account as well as waxy water. Chemical dyes and natural dyes – I am still considering switching to natural dyes. Procions would need more than a casual conversation to analyse but I feel in the doses I use they would break down sufficiently and harmlessly (in the early 1990s I sought advice on their disposal via mains sewage from someone working for the then National Rivers Authority and a housemate working for Severn Trent Water authority; both OKd them). Natural dyes also might affect micro-organisms within the reed bed – they are essentially chemicals too. But what was made apparent during the talk was incompatibility of inorganic materials to reed bed systems – such as metal mordants used to fix natural dyes.

I have read and heard from time to time that chemical dyes are (or can be) more environmentally friendly than natural dyes simply because of the mordants used for fixing most natural dyes. I really doooo need to look into this properly... and the carbon cost of both. I also have an inkling that wood ash or just plain wood can be used for fixing. Indigo wouldn't have the same concerns, not requiring a mordant. Not to say it wouldn't introduce other problems.

But the biggest problem to adopting a reed bed system at my studio and house would be location location location... the garden slopes uphill from the back of the house. Aaagh! Completely the wrong direction! But a point to consider for when I move...

* The wax removal article needs a bit of amending before being posted here, I will try to do this soon.

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