Book Notes: Introduction to Permaculture :: Chapter Three

Continuing my notes on the book Introduction to Permaculture (1991/2009) by Bill Mollison, here is Chapter Three: Pattern Understanding.  (Intro and Chapter One)  I am relying mainly on my sketchy notes here, without a book in hand to check quotes, accuracy, etc. (there is a version of the book online, with lots of illustrations by Reny Mia Slay). Any misrepresentations of Mollison’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional.

CHAPTER THREE: Pattern Understanding

3.1 “Patterned and rhythmic knowledge [stories, songs, arts, craft] is unforgettable; symbolic knowledge [alphabet, numbers] is unmemorable.”

3.2 Pattern in Nature. 

Discussion of a tree as being in the shape of a double-headed axe (canopy and roots on either end, trunk as handle). Cross-cuts of trunk, limbs, etc., reveal patterns: “A cross-cut of the trunk … gives us a classic target pattern which is an annular record of growth seasons, found in shellfish and fish scales.  We would get such a pattern in a nest of bowls. As Latin for nest is Nidus, we call this pattern annidated or nested (each in the other). In effect, the whole tree is an annidation of younger trees, grown-over year after year.”

Further: “The tree branches 5-8 times, as do rivers, and the number of branches rising from each larger stem average 3, while each is about 2 times longer than the next smallest. The angle between each branch is about 36-38 degrees…. This form is typical of lightning, mineral crystals, blood vessels, etc., which follow roughly the same rules. Such patterns are called tree-like or dendritic.”

(Reny Mia Slay’s illustration, at Scribd)

Everything in nature — animals, water, plants, etc. — occur in a very few sizes. Large things move slowly (inertia), small things move fast, and very small things more slowly (viscosity). “Orders are limited in their sizes at the elarger scale, by sheer mass and at the smaller scale, by molecular forces. It is becoming clear that the patterns in a single tree form represent all the patterns found in nature.”

3.3 Pattern in Design

Mimic natural systems with design.

An herb spiral a good example of applying pattern: “All the basic culinary herbs can be planted in an ascending spiral of earth on a 2-meter-wide base, ascending to l meter high. All the herbs are accessible, there are variable aspects [how much sun they get] and good drainage, and the spiral can be watered with just one sprinkler.”

Some types of trees grow on the inside curve of rivers (often large, leafy, white-barked trees), others on the outside curve (often dark trees with thick fissured bark), a sort of yin-yang effect, swapping over as the river meanders.

I admit that a lot of this chapter lost me, though some of it made perfect sense. The general idea is that by “designing with nature, rather than against it, we can create landscapes that operate like healthy natural systems, where energy is conserved, wastes are recycled and resources made abundant.”

Next time: Chapter Four: Structures

(* Featured photo: Backbone pattern in ice, New Hampshire pond, Dec. 2011.)



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