Thursday, August 18, 2011

New photo blog

Stop by at Symbiosphere, a new photo blog I created to give my friends on Facebook something to look at, since I don't post anything much on Facebook as it is, but that may change since blogger's social networking abilities seem pretty limited. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Sauna Book, by Tom Johnsona and Tim Miller

This book, published in 1977, is large for a book about saunas.  Its length (partially due to including material on general construction methods that is better found elsewhere) and dated material could make this book tedious reading for impatient people such as myself.  This is the second book (see also Hollander's) that goes into length about having a plunge pool with a sauna, which the authors consider nearly indispensable.  The text could use editing for length and flow of subjects – it gives the impression of being hastily slapped together, despite being well researched.  Some of the illustrations are very good, while others are poor.  If you have access to other more recent books, such as Konya's (which is one of the best on the subject), then look around.  That said, there was a lot of good advice that is sauna specific.  The author repeats several times the importance of having the sauna door always open outward. (72, 113)  And recommends the window area in the stove room not exceed five percent of the stove room floor area. (78)  On the sauna floor, “cover the joists with exterior grade plywood... smooth side up.” (94)  He cited possible health risks of using plastic products such as “cellular or foamed polyurethane and polystyrene and its copolymers” for sauna insulation due to the high temperatures they would be exposed to on the walls or ceiling. (105)  This is a topic I have yet to confirm.  Regarding interior paneling, he recommends looking for vertical grain boards as opposed to flat grain, nicely illustrated. (108)  Galvanized or hot dipped nails go without saying as the only rational choice for interior construction. (109)  A 2x6 door is large enough (112) and an excellent illustration of how to adapt a hollow core door to the sauna and build your own window into it is shown. (117)  The author recommends using insulated electric wiring for any fixtures in the sauna. (121)  A sidebar to the text (annoyingly common in this book) describes how to cure a sauna once it is built. (122)  Platforms 30 inches wide for lying down seem over generous, but are recommended. (124)  A stove guard rail is nicely illustrated. (135)  And how to keep a tight chimney flue is described. (138) 

On the first page of this book I read “[sauna] is a cathartic experience”, an idea I had supposed was original to me, but now I see it must be more obvious than I thought.  The part of the text I paid closest attention to was that on drains.  “We have built saunas with flat concrete and wooden floors without drains and experienced no problems.  A small trap door in the floor of an elevated sauna and a driveway broom is enough to sweep most of the water out of the stoveroom, but if you have the opportunity and money to put in a drain, do so.  If your sauna is to be built of sloping ground and you are using a post foundation, your drainage problems will be minimal.  Simply build the floor with a slight pitch, drill a few 1-inch holes through it, and let the water run out onto a bed of gravel beneath the stoveroom.” (91)

The Finnish Sauna in Manitoba, by Charles M. Sutyla

As the author describes it, this is a report about the origin and development of the sauna in Manitoba and its changing social meaning.  It was published in 1977, and like “Maquiq” which I also reviewed, this is a rare book.  I found it very readable, and enjoyed the many photographs throughout.  The author's way of describing each sauna with a little background and a detailed description using accompanying photos was great.  I'll provide the example that I found most interesting.  A description of “Bill W.'s Sauna (No. 7)” begins on page 65.  Four photos and two line drawings (interior plan and layout in relationship to surrounding features) and about two and a half pages of text are devoted to its description.  [copy two photos page 70].  After reading the book I want to visit Pointe du Bois in Manitoba to see for myself what makes this a desirable community for so many Finns in Manitoba.  Among the bibliography to this book is listed “The Finnish Sauna in British Columbia” which looks like another interesting read.  

Maquiq: The Eskimo Sweat Bath, by John Maressa

This book is not one you are likely to encounter in any bookstore. It is an interesting account of the relationship of several groups of native peoples in Alaska to the sweat bath. One part I found particularly interesting is the regional use of urine in sweat bathing, a subject I have not encountered before. Human urine, a mild acid, had broad functional value, and helped to clean oily surfaces including the bodies of bathers. (200) This practice seems out of place today and I would not recommend it, but considering the available resources of the time it was an example of a resourceful strategy for survival in an environment that could be very hostile to human life. Maressa's book also contains more general statements regarding the use of the sauna in any culture or time period: “That an individual is physically relaxed after a sweat bath is easily accounted for, when one recalls the physiological up-temp that the body has previously undergone. Reversing this process (rapid cooling of the external temperature) causes relaxation of the systems and organs involved.” (69) Quoting Wendell Oswalt: “The bath has, at times, a therapeutic effect upon a tired or angry man. Baths are also taken to relieve the soreness in a limb or perhaps in an attempt to cure a head cold. There is one additional aspect of bathing which is difficult to characterise; this is the intoxicating effect of extremely hot baths.” (329) Maressa elaborates on this point: “The benefit of this “natural intoxicant” can be appreciated in two ways. Firstly, it helped to relieve an individual from the strains of a physically strenuous existence.... Secondly, since the Eskimo were not known to have any other type of intoxicant before the coming of the fur traders [is this substantiated?], the sweat bath fulfilled a comparable function and in so doing, provided a safety-valve for frustrations in this potentially depressing environment.” (330)

Steam of Life, a review

Steam of Life (viewable in entirety online, until November) was a good documentary about Finnish men sharing stories of personal loss and tragedy, it was less about sauna buildings and use.  My eyes were drawn to reading the captions most of the time preventing me from adequately scrutinizing the scenes for building details.  And there were a few interesting scenes in it.  The next day it repeated several times on another PBS station and I recorded it (the first time I saw it I had the recorder set for the wrong channel).  I counted 12 saunas featured in the film.  I list them below with the approximate time that they appeared in the film. 
  1. [1] A scene with a husband and wife in a sauna, an experience that they had shared for at least 51 years together.  She is lying down with her feet propped up on the wall.  The sauna has a dark rough wood interior and smooth lighter toned benches. 
  2. [4] A sauna used by factory workers, with four men in the camera frame. 
  3. [6] An old camper trailer sauna shared by two men at a worksite in the woods (Northern Finland?).  The trailer interior looks typical with cheap prefab panel walls, some metal. 
  4. [13] A sauna used by a reformed ex-prisoner, shared with his three boys.  A three tier bench, the bottom one slides under the second for storage.  Tile floor, and a window behind the top platform and backrest to let in indirect light,  I though this was a nice feature.  A thin red curtain pulled to the side softens the light. 
  5. [20] What looks like some large farm equipment (a columbine?) whose capacious rear has been converted to a sauna.  Only the exterior is briefly shown. 
  6. [21] What looks like an abandoned car in a field of grass.  Two boys sit nearby.  When the door opens the escaping steam proves that this has been converted to a sauna as well.
  7. [21] What looks like a telephone booth along the side of a quiet country road; a naked man sits inside the steamy interior. 
  8. [22] A sauna scene very similar to the second one (listed above).  A long bench with five old men in the frame.  This appears to be part of a large health club for senior citizens. 
  9. [22] A tile and wood sauna where a man tells the story of a bear cub he adopted, but whose true identity is not revealed until the surprising end when the bear is viewed on screen with the man, presumably in his outdoor enclosure. 
  10. [27] A sauna by the ocean or a large lake, two men, one an Afghan war veteran.  A dark wood interior with light benches, illumination comes from under the benches, the large stove has what looks like small precast bricks in place of natural stones.  Next we see them in an adjacent washing room with high windows and lots of washing tubs. 
  11. [33] The setting is similar to the third one (listed above) in the north of Finland.  Two old gold miners at a campsite along a river.  There are lots of shelters made of tarpons and a staircase that leads to the river edge.  A do-it-yourself tent sauna with many sides and of pyramidal construction.  The interior is small with a central post and the sides are braced at increments of several feet by horizontal rough sawn slabs of timber.  Aside from these, the exposed foil faced sheeting is the only other main feature of construction.  Only later, about 49 minutes into the film, at the end, do we see a clear view of the exterior of this tent sauna. 
  12. [38] A very nice sauna by a lake, made of four sided logs and bricks (surrounding the wood stove).  A blanket hangs behind the platform where two men sit.  This is the climax of the film, one of the men recalls the loss of one of his twin children and relates the experience to the other. 
The documentary ends with a song that all the men featured in the film sing, cutting to scenes of each of them singing at their location, a few other men whose scenes did not make it into the finished version are included as well.  The symbolism is clear: separate people living separate lives, but united by their similar stories.  This begins about 49 minutes into the film, which ends with a total length of about 51 minutes.  Ending the film this way seemed strange to me at first, but may not seem so odd in Finland.  If you have any interest in saunas at all, or the human experience in general, it is a good film to see.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

rhizosphere, the real Eywa

I'd like to draw attention to the rhizosphere, a term coined in 1904 by Lorenz Hiltner, one of the founders of applied soil microbiology and organic farming.  This is the close relationship between plant roots, soil, and soil organisms within the detritus of the soil ecosystem; an amazing region of trophic interactions whose abundance and diversity exceeds that of any other.  I am reminded of Avatar's Pandoran neural network (or the Norse Yggdrasil), which in turn seems inspired by the Gaia theory.  But sci-fi comparisons aside, this is an extremely rich area for study.