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All Around You

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WaterShapes LogotypeEric Herman

It’s amazing what can happen when you begin to look at the world through open eyes and with an open heart. More often than not, things that were once taken for granted or that passed by virtually unseen will suddenly gain great significance and interest.

In this issue, for example, you’ll find an article by Joe Nolan, a stone and masonry supplier. In “Flat-Out Gorgeous,” he takes us on a tour of the range of options available in flat stone for use in decks, coping, walls and more (click here). This might seem a pedestrian topic at first, but when you look more closely, an amazing spectrum of possibilities emerges.

While working with Joe on his article, I had my own moment of recognition.

In my own life, I’ve probably seen, sat on or walked across flat stonework many thousands of times without giving it much thought. Within the past few weeks, however, the situation has changed completely: I’ve begun to notice flat stones practically everywhere I look – the beautiful reddish and pink flagstone surfaces on the entryways, pathways and walls of my neighborhood’s stock of Mediterranean-style homes, the beautiful bluestone pilaster on the corner of small retaining wall in front of a nearby home, and the wonderful cream-colored limestone on the exterior walls of my bank.

With this single adjustment in my perception of the world around me, a tremendous beauty started jumping my way from all directions.

Now consider what might happen if you started looking at things like flat stone or architectural touches or watershape details in the world around you as fuel for creativity in your own work: What you might add to your store of design ideas is simply staggering. Certainly this explains why so many landscape architects and designers tell me how much time they spend looking at the way nature does things: Doing so feeds their creative fires and blazes across everything they do.

Take designers Suzanne Roe Dirsmith and Ron Dirsmith and the process that led them to write “Winter Delights” (click here): In their article, they briefly describe how they create fountains that are designed to run right through Chicago’s harsh winters as fascinating and ever-changing sculptures of ice and snow. Not surprisingly, the genesis of their winter fountains began with their observation of partially frozen mountain streams.

Had they walked by those streams inattentively, the delicate rivulets of water coursing through sheets of snow and ice would have gone unnoticed. But because the Dirsmiths were deliberate in their observations, an entire new breed of design has entered their working lives.

My point here is that, whether you’re perusing unusual or interesting or beautiful materials in a masonry yard, hiking in the great outdoors or flipping through the pages of a magazine, the seeds of inspiration are all around. As you open your eyes and mind, partake of these observations and figure out ways to apply what you’ve seen when you get back to your workbench, your personal store of ideas and possibilities becomes virtually limitless.

The great American poet Walt Whitman once wrote that curiosity is the most potent gift of the human mind. I think he’s right: When we open up to the complexities and subtleties of the world around us, all that we encounter becomes an infinite banquet, a true feast of interest.

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