A Biomimetic Bedtime Story


Once there was a hunter who spent his days tracking the wide prairies of North Dakota with his gun and dog and sometimes with a small boy who would beg to trot along.

On this particular morning hunter and boy, far out on the prairies, sat watching intently a rise of ground ahead of them. It was pocked with gopher holes. From time to time a small striped gopher would nervously whisk from the mouth of his den to the cover of the matted prairie grass and soon reappear to dive back into his den with cheek food pouches bulging. “Smart little outfits, the gophers,” the hunter observed.

“I mean the way they have things figured out. Whenever you come upon a gopher village you can be sure it will be near a patch of grain where they can get their food, and close by a creek or slough for water. They’ll not build their towns near willow clumps or alders for there’s where the owls or hawks will be roosting. And you’ll not be finding them near a pile of rocks or stony ledges where their enemies the snakes will be hiding ready to snatch them. When these wise little fellows build their towns, they search out the southeast slope of a knoll that will catch the full sweep of the sun each day to keep their dens warm and cozy. The winter blizzards that pound out of the north and west and leave the windward slopes of the rises frozen solid will only drift loose powder snow on top of their homes.

“When they dig their dens,” continued the hunter, “do you know what they do? They slant the runway steeply down for two or three feet and then double back up near the surface again where they level off a nice dry shelf. That’s where they lie – on their ledges close under the sod roots, out of the wind, warmed by the sun, close to their food and water, as far as they can get from their enemies, and surrounded by all their gopher friends. Yes sir, they sure have it all planned out!”

“Is our town built on a southeast slope?” the small boy asked thoughtfully. “No,” said the hunter, “our town slopes down to the north, in the teeth of bitter winter winds and as cold as a frosty gun barrel.” He frowned. “Even in summer the breezes work against us. When we built the new flax mill, the only mill for forty miles, where do you think we put it? We built it right smack in the only spot where every breeze in the summertime can catch the smoke from its chimney and pour it across our houses and into our open windows!”

“At least our town is near the river and water,” said the boy defensively. “Yes,” replied the hunter. “But where near the river did we build our homes? On the low flat land inside the river bend, that’s where. And each spring when the snow melts on the prairies and the river swells, it floods out every cellar in our town.”

“Gophers would plan things better than that,” the small boy decided. “Yes,” said the hunter, “a gopher would be smarter.” “When gophers plan their homes and towns,” the boy philosophized, “they seem to do it better than men do.”

“Yes,” mused the hunter, “and so do most of the animals I know. Sometimes I wonder why.”

John Simonds

Landscape Architecture 1961


See more about HOK’s collaboration with the Biomimicry Guild, and how we’re trying to write our own bedtime stories here.

One Comment
  1. September 29th, 2009 - 1:25 pm
    john.cantrell said:

    This has my vote for best HOK blog post yet.

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