Idea Factories

By Jim McCloskey

I can’t begin to count the number of times our watershaping writers have explored the topic of travel, either as the source of clearer thinking or for the inspirational value of seeing how others have addressed specific design, engineering or construction challenges – or how Mother Nature does things once you step beyond the constraints of “civilization.”

Just recently, for example, we extracted one of David Tisherman’s Details columns about his encounters with the sublime while traveling through Turkey, with its rich store of Greek, Roman and Islamic architecture.  For her part, Stephanie Rose dedicated more than a few Natural Companions columns to such excursions, often taking it down to the scale of joining local garden tours to get ideas on using familiar plants in creative, out-of-the-box ways.

I’ve used this blog and various Travelogues to make similar points:  I wouldn’t dare call myself a watershaper, but my own backyard pays homage to many of the ideas, arrangements and “room designs” I’ve observed in traveling through the United States and abroad during the past 40-odd years.

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I’m jumping into this topic again here:  We’re just back from visits to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, the crown jewels of Wyoming and, for those interested in water, the most completely immersive school for design ideas I’ve ever encountered.

One might assume that pond and stream concepts would dominate, but for me that wasn’t the case.  If I were a tile designer, for example, I’d be all over this place, camera and sketchpad in hand.  The remarkable effects that small flows of hot, mineral-rich water have on the terrain are simply astonishing, with whole “deck” surfaces covered by cloisonné-like lattices in startling rainbow colors.

If I were designing naturalistic swimming pools and spas, I’d be alert as well:  The geyser basins and thermal pots are arrayed in fascinating shapes and colors from plain to vibrant.  And fountain designers stand to collect basketsful of ideas about how water can be made to flow in infinitely various and wildly unpredictable ways.

I’ll get more specific about all of this in a couple future Travelogues.  For now, let me leave you with a simple thought:  Going to Yellowstone in particular is a great way to see nature in a wonderfully untrammeled form – and the cool thing is that herds of bison, elk and moose are thrown in for good measure.  We even saw a bunch of bears, not to mention a wide array of water-loving birds and smaller animals, including utterly fearless chipmunks.

Better yet, we extended our trip by a few days to include a visit with our daughter in St. Louis, another place where the roving watershaper can find much of interest.  Forest Park, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Mississippi and Missouri rivers:  It’s a region defined by water in so many ways, and it’s clear that local fountain and landscape designers have embraced the nature of the place by making spectacular use of local source material.

We started our vacation in primeval wilds and ended up in one of the country’s oldest cities.  The way I look at it, that’s the best of both worlds and just the sort of combination I look forward to recreating in future trips.

Bottom line:  Whenever you have the chance, choose a destination, hit the road and suck up your surroundings like a sponge.  As I see it, this is getting away from it all for a bit of relaxation while also restocking your internal shelves with new ideas, new possibilities and, best of all, fresh solutions to everyday design challenges.

Pack on up, head on out:  There’s no way you’ll regret it!

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