We welcome the day with the morning tasks, as a farm manager my job is the delicious, multi-purpose Swedish porridge (also used as a paint additive…long story). Emerging from the dining yurt after breakfast, Richard turns up with an unfortunate fox he found on the road travelling back from Sunne on an early morning supply run. “We always seem to find dead things on compost making day” he says. I can testify to this having been an attendant on three of Richard’s compost making days, on two continents. And so the once wily fox will return to the earth in a highly celebrated and organic fashion as a primer for our 18 day hot compost this afternoon.
Speaking of primers, we jump into a little game before class to warm up our brains. This one is a logical task game that has us all standing on pieces of paper (could be some other mark) and the aim is to move, only occupying one mark at a time and coordinate as a team to protect a single empty ‘mark’ that Richard will try to occupy by standing on. Opposed to the last group I played this game with, this cohort are very interested in discussing how they are going to protect the mark. Lots of discussions break out, voices slowly growing louder and faster. As expected, chaos ensues. After several dozen interesting hypothesis and random acts of athleticism in attempt to gain attention from the group, they settle down to start practicing their ideas, or more the point learning from doing, eventually developing a synergistic pattern that manages to keep Richard off the open mark for a full minute and a half… a 117 second improvement on their opening attempts.
So what’s the game all about really? Cooperation, cohesive language and action, observation, listening, learning and adapting. As Richard explains, the key is that we all learn in different ways and that we can benefit from analysing and understanding the way we learn and to try and move towards observing our thinking patterns and use our brains as a cohesive whole.
And so pattern day begins with a short film by IBM called Powers of 10 (1977), giving us a visual scale of scale, “What does 1,000,000 really look like? We often have no context for the numbers we throw around" The film takes us from a picnic in a park in Chicago, straight out through the Milky Way, passed the Clouds of Magellan to a distance beyond 100,000 light years from earth, then suddenly zooming back in to the picnic and into the skin on the back of a human hand, it’s owner resting on the picnic rug. As we scan deeper and deeper, all the way to the level of DNA and right to the sub atomic level at 10-15, “to the carbon nucleus, so massive and so small” observes the narrator. We hear about exponential function, and how a misunderstanding of this basic high school arithmetic has thwarted our understanding of basic data we overlook on a daily basis.
Fluid dynamics, the nautilus shell, the golden ratio – 1.61 x 1 – all spirals. Look how a tree grows, how an eagle hunts to school fish on the surface before it dives, the movement fluids in our veins – all spirals, all patterns. Everything is ordered, symmetrical faces equal attractive people faces that mirror the golden ratio. Brad Pitt is put forward as an example; “…yes I’ve always thought his forehead resembled the Parthenon”, I ponder.
We explore practical applications of nature's patterns, from household products we may have never considered before to practical applications for farm and landscape management. We go deeper into Holistic Management; mimicking how herds of herbivores move in the wild, and the patterns found in grassland ecologies. We explore The Keyline Scale of Permanence further as an effective organizing pattern for larger scale Permaculture Design. Succession; the pattern of change in ecological communities over time.
During the morning tea break some of the students run to the garden to help Gabriel (the garden Manager also taking the course) and once again we’re getting knuckle deep into a gardening experience picking peas fresh from the garden to add to lunch, witnessing patterns within reach of our fingertips.
We hear of Victor Schauberger, an Austrian forester and you could also say brilliant observer and mathematician who, after his forced labour as a flying saucer engineer for the Nazis, developed inventions based on the bio-mimicry of water. Very useful ideas when you want the float Birch logs (which don’t naturally float) down to a timber mill. Well this guy worked it out, along with anti jamming log flumes and other little treats. Similar technology in the form of a rifle pipe (resembling the barrel of a gun) would be 30% more efficient in the transportation of fluids, think of that when applied to a city the size of London. And yet this technology is not applied?!?! Simple solutions really, all coming from the observation of patterns in nature. We here how Bill Mollison's real skill was as a pattern observer; and hence this wonderful and integrated study of design science has been coherently compiled.
We look at cloud formations, waves, explosions, branching and fractals, leading us to bio-char and their action as “little condominiums for micro-organisms” – now there’s a yield I wouldn’t fight the developers to expand upon, quality real estate to invest in.
“You want to build Solar panels? Look at the existing things that are effective photovoltaics, e.g. Sugar cane. Grass doesn’t track the sun, it’s already optimized to manage the suns energy.”
We turn our attention to tribal uses of pattern; embedded in song, dance, rhythm and art. How were complex societies able to coexist with natural systems over many generations without debasing their resources? We look closer at the Bajau Laut (the Sea Gypsies in SE Asia) the Kogi (Columbia), Amazonial tribes and Inuits. The incredible navigational feats of the Polynesians, who made complex maps from simple wooden frames.
We learn about The Tribe that Hide from Man, who navigate through dense jungle communicating with monkeys and birds. One problem is, as Richard points out, the other tribes also speak the same animal sound dialect, so the tribes peoples are never quite sure if they’re listening to actual animals or members of another tribe hunting for that nights dinner. Luckily they have a pattern language to work this out too. So their language is an inbuilt tribal and community pattern behavior, listening all the time. We have a lot to learn, and we see clearly how are brains are fundamentally patterned to understand symbols and patterns by looking at the symbols and patterns in our modern culture. Mention is made of work to help us make notes & synthesize information more effectively; a vital skill with such a broad spectrum of knowledge streams to explore.
Up come Overbeck Jet’s, or fruiting mushroom formations and we ponder the ‘Law of Continuity’ of Fluid Dynamics in relation to branching road connections. Consider 3 lanes of traffic moving at 15km p/h, how fast does the traffic move when suddenly reduced to 1 lane? At 45km. The class are a little stumped, small discussions break out to understand, I’m thinking “this is why the wind whistles” then start practicing a quiet whistle to understand fluid dynamics (air is basically water in a different form yeah?)
An Oak tree with 8000 leaves blossoms on the whiteboard and we start to investigate capillary action of trees sucking moisture from the ground in the action of transpiration. Who would have known the efficiency in the natural design of Rye grass through which water has been recorded travelling at 25cm per second. These are the flows of patterns existing in nature. Orders within the chaos; Chaordic you could say.
Armando grabs me before the break and explains that inspirational Catalan architect and designer Antoni Gaudi used spiral formations to support the towering structure of his masterpiece The Basilica in Barcelona. The branching pattern has Armando enquiring about pruning and if there’s ways to be conscious of how to prune with this pattern in mind. Gabriel fills us in on a methodology from Mark Shepard’s Restoration Agriculture, where he says if you can throw a small bird through two pruned branches then it’s the right minimum but if you throw a cat through the branches and it cannot claw onto the branches then it’s too wide. No animals were harmed in the making of the Ridgedale tree beds, well no birds or cats anyway.
The day closes with a tour to the outer reaches of the property boundary, including goals for the existing timber woodland on the northern edge and the installation of the ram pump to be used to irrigate the land from the top field to the heart of the farm, on to the proposed natural swimming pools and the rest of the trees lanes before re-entering the natural system.
The evening we all relax into the movie Flow: for the Love of Water, informing us of global water issues, the rampant privatisation of a natural commodity and the incredibly heavy impact this will have (and is already having) on most of the planet’s people’s.
So my fingers are very sore and so is my brain… I’m going to bed, see you in the morning