Ideas and Issues

i31coverMissoula Standing in the cold, clear water as it rushes by and pushes your knees around while you try to balance on glassy rocks with a rod in your hand and all manner of stuff strapped, suicide bomber like to your body, you are perfectly clear this is not your natural environment.  Gutting a beautiful trout, you find yourself looking more and more carefully with grateful admiration at the biology of the fish and how perfectly adapted it seems to be.  As awestruck as I always am at the pleasure and privilege of just being there under the sky in the midst of the mountains, rocks, and pines all patterned to perfection in their own way, when holding a fish, I can’t help but wonder at the beauty below as well.
There was a fascinating article kinda-sorta about all of this in the Missoula Independent by Erika Fredrickson about the locally headquartered Biomimicry Institute run by Bryony Schwan.  My Helena buddy, Jim Fleischman, said that she had had some connection with Montana Peoples’ Action back in its day, which originally led me to the piece, but as new age-y as it all sounded, having been fishing all week pushed me deeper into the article than usual.
The proposition is straightforward.  We can learn something about how to design things better and solve some difficult technical, engineering and other problems, by figuring out how these same situations were sorted out over millions of years, and then copying them:  biomimicry.
The article has a couple of fascinating examples.  One had to do with reducing sonic booms from Japanese bullet trains by modeling the way a kingfisher enters the water almost soundlessly with hardly a splash when hunting.  We used to have a kingfisher that graced Bayou Island camp, and I loved that bird and watched it carefully before Katrina and waited anxiously for its annual return, so I totally got that proposition.  Another example came from InterfaceFlor out of Atlanta, a company that worked with us on a volunteer day in the Lower Ninth Ward, just this year.  They were having a problem matching the color on replacement carpet tiles.  Working with the Biomimicry Institute they ended up modeling from the pine needles and twigs on the forest floor to create random patterns to solve the problem.
This is all wild stuff, and I’m hardly touching the surface, but given how we’re muddling along these days by our lights, I can’t believe there’s any harm in learning from birds, fish, and the rest of the gang how to do stuff a whole lot better.