Everything spirals. There really are no straight lines when viewed from an is-was-will-be perspective.
A tree spirals down, following gravity, toward the center of the earth. It spirals out following the sun. Because it interacts and reacts with the various media of atmosphere and soil, it branches out at regular, spiraling intervals, following the pattern most suited to reaching it's destination. Other events occurring over time can interrupt these patterns and cause irregularities. The roots may hit a rock, and have to navigate around them. A falling tree nearby might lop off several branches. A year of plentiful rain may cause a burst in growth speed, and so on. These events add up to the story of that particular tree, making it an individual apart from all others. Thus patterns plus stories together are needed to learn the ways of a landscape.
|Double spirals also exist on composite flower heads, like this chamomile|
When wind hits your face, it's not coming at you in a straight line, but from an arc. Weather occurs in spirals- cyclones and anticyclones around centers of low or high pressure, respectively. Water, when given it's way, as in a vertical drop in a drain, spirals down. It is not seeking the sea, but the center of the earth. The sea is just where it goes because it cannot get there. It starts as many branches, joins into one river, and again branches out into deltas and estuaries.
The muscles in our bodies, that operate the organs that keep us alive operate in a spiraling, peristaltic motion, and the vessels that carry supplies and information to all parts branch into smaller and smaller fractals.
Spirals and fractals, over time and in space, are the key to pattern understanding. How important to the permaculturalist is pattern understanding? I'll let Bill Mollison answer that.
"An understanding (even a partial understanding) of the underlying patterns that link all phenomena creates a powerful abstract tool for designers. At any point in the design process, appropriate patterning can assist the achievement of a sustainable yield from flows, growth forms, or information flux. Patterns imposed on constructs in domestic or village assemblies can result in energy savings, and satisfactory aesthetics and function, while sustaining those organisms inhabiting the designed habitat.
Patterning is the way we frame our designs, the template into which we fit the information, entities and objects assembled from observation, map overlays, the analytic divination of connections, and the selection of specific materials and technologies. It is this patterning that permits our elements to flow and function in beneficial relationships. The pattern is design, and design is the subject of permaculture." (from Permaculture: A Designer's Manual,, bold emphasis, mine)
Again, how to apply this practically? Directing and dispersing water evenly throughout the landscape is the first task of the designer. Water is the movement of life through the whole system, and it carries dissolved nutrients from rocks, plant and animal detritus along with it. An overlay of a spiral, or even the sunflower's double spiral, could be placed over a map of the landscape with the center at the lowest point. A computer graphic program could allow the lines of the spiral to be skewed to fit the contour lines. This would make it easier to map the progress of the water, and to place swales, berms, pond, rain gardens, culverts, and drains to either slow and spread to hydrate the landscape or concentrate the flow to drain or to operate a ram pump or water mill. The lines of the spiral would be the guide, parallel to which elements would be placed to arrest the flow, while cross cut branchings would concentrate and/or disperse it. The shape of the counter arcs from the double spiral, where they intersect from the clockwise spiral, might make a good shape for a berm designed to slow an erosive stream of water and deflect it partially uphill (a shape like a curvy check mark).
I am not going to pretend that I am positive any of these ideas will actually work, but they do present an area to experiment with and to put to use an understanding of the patterns that are self similar throughout an array of phenomena. But there are far more pressing issues that call for a recasting of our ways of seeing things...
I mentioned in my previous post that I was going to be on the lookout for art forms that displayed this time- and-space-in-flux-quality of vision. I was not expecting the form that it would take. The horror and shock and senseless cruelty of the deed, coupled with the artist's image of the child inside the grown man calling for his father reveals our blindness and failure to see people not as frozen objects in time, but as they were-are-could-be should they have had the chance. (I had to wait until I got to the shower so the kids would not hear my reaction, so if you are sensitive to depictions of violence, please be careful before viewing the image below.) In any case, it is a reminder to me just what I am here for, and why I have chosen permaculture as the most practical course for achieving a better world where this kind of fucking shit is not tolerated.