Noticing Patterns!

This week’s Permaculture lesson related to the repeating ever-present patterns exhibited in the natural world. Of all the infinite possibilities, you can lump just about everything into these seven patterns:

Branch, lobe, spiral, net/web, scatter, wave, holon (think fractal), and Overbeck jet (think eddies in a river)

This works on all scales, from the cellular level to continent-level weather patterns, to the structure of the universe. These patterns work and nest within each other, making up a complex whole.

Our task was to travel around our chosen property and locate patterns. My property for this permaculture journey is my home, our 2-acre parcel perched up in the hills of Fairbanks. As it is winter, observing patterns in daylight is somewhat of a challenge. We are currently up to just over 6 hours of daylight, all of which I currently work in town, away from my property. If only I had thought about this on the weekend! Alas, I had my partner, Grant, run around and take some photos of the property for me so I could check out patterns by proxy. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up with any detailed shots that might have shown a greater diversity of patterns, but some are better than none!


This photo shows off the branching pattern of the birch trees, and the web of the electrical lines bringing us power off of the main lines. There is also the web of roads that lead into our driveway. It shows the scatter pattern of the birch pollen blown around in the last storm. The snow is organized in a lobe pattern, mounded around subtle gradient changes in the ground surface below. This undulation and the layer-cake strata of the snow layers (seen here in cross section) could be interpreted as a wave pattern stretching back through time from pulsations of precipitation, or as a holon pattern repeating itself.

In this photo, you can see that we primarily have black spruce trees, with a smattering of birches. What you don’t see is the metric ton of willows we hacked down upon moving in. The black spruce forms a protective dense barrier around the edges of our property, while the birch occupies the honored places in the middle of the yard. Our property was homesteaded in the 1970s, and it seems like the original clearer of the land was partial to birch (as many of us are, I think). Everything else got bulldozed. The main section of the 2 acres is a large clearing in the back (see below) that the willows were more than happy to re-colonize in enormous numbers while the previous tenant neglected to maintain any of the outside areas for at least 5 years. The dense jumble of tree you see at the mid upper right of the next photo is the only ambassador for the species we agreed could stay. Pussy willows provide some of the first pollen for our foraging bees in the spring. While I don’t want to battle a full yard of them, I still need that early season food source!


Here is a different representation of a net or web. My pup has connected all the regular places her favorite buoy lands in the deep snow, so she can access it with great haste! Nearer the house, this network of trails necks down to a more branch-like configuration. It functions as a main conduit where it needs to (where there are few options and the travel is mostly A->B), and as a web where there needs to be many different options simultaneously.

The land is remarkable flat for being on the top of a ridge. The western edge of the property slopes, increasing to the north. This section is wooded with black spruce and an understory of mosses, cranberries, and labrador tea. There are mushrooms, too, in a wet year like last year! Nearer the house on the southwestern edge, there is another dramatic down-slope under which our septic system and leach field lie. This is open, and mostly fill rock, but is covered in a fireweed JUNGLE in the summer. Fireweed loves disturbance!


While the coop isn’t exactly natural, the chickens are! Their feathers are simultaneously branch and lobe-like, with a main rib providing support and nutrients, and many hair-like fibers that adhere together to visually present a whole. Their combs, eggs, and fluffy chicken butts are lobes.Their poos most certainly display a scatter pattern!


This super cute puppy face wonders if sharp teeth are lobes? Could thorns, predator teeth, and sharp obsidian edges fall into a different pattern category? Her nostrils are small spirals, increasing the amount of smells that end up in that adorable snout. The snow crystals, of course represent a classical holon pattern. What pattern are hairs, fur, and fuzz? At a zoomed-in level they are nested cylindrical scales, that form long strands.


In the lower left of this photo, you can see the remnant of an Overbeck jet in the aftermath of a winter windstorm. As the wind whipped around the corner of the greenhouse, it left a mushroom-shaped gouge in the snow. This might indicate that at least in this storm, the prevailing wind direction is from the east, or just gets funneled down the road corridor (what you see on the left is our second driveway leading out to the main road). This is good for the greenhouse window orientation (for better airflow and ventilation), but not so good for the little fenced in garden area behind it…

There is a gentle rise to the property along its eastern edge, bordering the road. This serves as a visual and audial barrier from to road, and may provide enough thermal mass to dig a root cellar into. It is a cap of slightly thicker loess – windblown glacial silt – over schist bedrock. The bedrock makes our foundation very stable, but makes the thought of digging down for a root cellar sound terrible.

That’s enough patterns for the winter-time. I’ll do another, more robust pattern observation in the spring (or when I’m home during daylight hours!).


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