Chapter 4: Pattern Understanding

Chapter four of the Designers Manual is what sets apart permaculture from other design sciences like landscape architecture.  Both interface with buildings and landscape, yet

Serpent Mound schematic, ancient pattern application

Serpent Mound schematic, ancient pattern application

permaculture is more holistic due to its focus on patterns.  The principles chapter shows natures workings in space and time and gives us tools on a broad context to design with the intelligence of nature.  From there we zoom in on this chapter to bring more detail and reinforce the old permaculture adage from patterns to detail.  This is a vastly important facet of Permaculture as the development of the pattern eye is what makes this design science flow more easily as your development as a permaculturist evolves.  It is a very subtle understanding that brings us out of the strict material focus and asks us to zoom out and see interconnections and looks for unique ways of construction; Patterns.  It was a form of intelligence that was once reinforced by art, by music, by storytelling but as our education got more rational and dualistic, well we broke from this tradition and invested our energy into breaking things down more and more into smaller parts and their own individual compartments.  Our renewed focus on patterns asks us to look back into indigenous wisdom and reassemble our pattern eye so that we may leap forward in a new state of relationship with people, our environment and financial systems.

Thus Creation is inextricably linked to patterns. When something comes into fruition it is through patterns that the creative intelligence of the universe has expressed. From the smallest particles to the largest hurricanes to how our galaxy is arranged, this unfurling of motion in both time and space creates an epic conversion of energy into form. It’s a form that generates energy, saves energy, and allows for evolution to occur on a geologic scale which can be incomprehensible.

Harmony is apparent throughout nature and can even be seen in this image of our planetary rhythms. Despite their differing oscillations the solar system, that we have, exists in harmony, each planet varying but not producing discord. This above diagram represents a heartbeat, or pulsation essentially, just as our hearts will oscillate at different frequency depending on physical activity or even emotion.  Ever felt your heart beat rapidly in fear or love?  It is the relationship in this diagram that is important, despite the different frequency, we have harmony.

Another large scale pattern that affects our local climates and topography and thus our designs is the geological rhythms that are at play. Geology being the history book of our planet, reveals a rhythmic pulsation showing an inward and outward stroke so to speak. Our planet is dynamic rather than static and operates again on this geologic timescale.  Earthquakes and volcanoes give us a glimpse of the changes that happen over long periods of time with these disturbance events causing immediate change.

In the picture above you can see my home state of Ohio, USA in a more sub-tropical location and North America off kilter in comparison to today. As the tectonic plates have shifted over a vast period of time so has the Ohio’s location and it once with through several waves of being shallow sea. This subtropical location and aquatic environment caused a geology of fossiliferous limestone to be created through continuous compression of shells from mollusks and the like. Thus when you look at the bedrock of Cincinnati you see layers of shale separated every so many feet by thick layers of limestone. This limestone is from the Ordovician Epoch and these rocks are some of the oldest exposed rocks on planet earth.  This limestone thus makes our landscapes round and have a soil pH in the alkaline range.  Thus geology is an important facet of permaculture design because it from the base material of our soils which leads to many design decisions; i.e. earthworks and gardening techniques.

fossiliferous Limestone

Another major landscape shaper and defining regime of patterns in the landscape on the geologic scale is the climatic rhythms. When the planet has warmed and cooled this has caused glaciers to form or great rivers to flood.  These factors shape our landscape and just as the shallow sea shaped the local region of Cincinnati, Ohio, my hometown, so have glaciers shaped the area around.

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Four major glaciation periods have happened in Ohio and the greater midwest region producing the corn belt region through the grinding of various stones including this calcium rich limestone. Corn thrives in these sorts of soils and now dominates this landscape. However the glaciers advance never quite made it to Cincinnati and we still have our rolling hills that define the hilliest city in the midwest.

Sandstone from Southeast Ohio on right and unique sandstone from New Zealand called Pancake Rocks on the left.

Sandstone from Southeast Ohio on right and unique sandstone from New Zealand called Pancake Rocks on the left.

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Southeast Ohio Sandstone rock shelter or recessed cave

It also never made it to Southeast Ohio where I took geology class during my Fish and Wildlife Management degree.  It is considered Appalachia culturally as geographically it is the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.  The Appalachians are on of the oldest mountain ranges on Planet Earth and once towered as high as the Himalayas now do.  But over this geologic time they have weathered and rise just over 6,600 ft or 2000 meters.  As they weathered and hit shallow sea through fluvial motion, the geology of Southeast Ohio was formed and is totally different from the geology of Southwest Ohio, the Cincinnati region.  There it is Sandstone and a more acidic soil thus making our design decisions much different as the soils are sandy rather than clay like in Cincinnati.

Another rhythm or heartbeat of Earth that is important to examine in our Pattern understanding and design work in the pattern of seasons.  Our rhythms of planting change as well as our diets and even our moods.  Thus when we tap further into our local seasons, we also begin to understand traditions around harvest or planting and some of the holidays that correspond.  In the picture below from my family’s land in Kentucky, USA (zone 5, Cold temperate), you can see Nature working through fluctuations of solar energy and temperature.  From the frozen winter of inwardness, to the incredible burst of light and energy in the spring, to heat and humidity of summer as photosynthesis rages on, to one last flash of brilliance in the fall as the winter slumber approaches, Nature works in Seasonal rhythms. Do you?  Do you eat with the seasons, do you create with the seasons, do you enjoy the seasons?

Treasure Lake Kentucky, USA

Treasure Lake Kentucky, USA

One Response to Chapter 4: Pattern Understanding

  1. Pingback: On the Road Consulting in Ourique, Alentejo, Portugal | TreeYo Permaculture

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