From Raindrops To Rivers

 A raindrop is a connecting force in Nature

 

” … in this beauty is the power of rain. It is a life force required by all living things. It is a shaping force that defines both our earth’s surface and how we live. And, it is a connecting force because water is central to everything.” — In Praise Of Rain                                                                                                                                                                        

The beautiful raindrop is a connecting force in Nature. Water is the ultimate chemical solvent and transporter in the functioning of life on earth. That raindrop it is also the beginning of a river. It can be transformed from a beautiful reflecting globe to a forceful, high energy fractal shaped river that transports water to all forms of life and directly affects the shape and composition of inanimate forms of Nature.

It all starts when that rain drop falls on a patch of soil. At first, the raindrop is absorbed into the soil – perhaps percolating by way of gravitational force to a sub-surface water table sometimes called an aquifer.   As more rain drops make contact with the soil, the soil becomes saturated and a thin sheet of water, called surface run-off,  rests on the soil surface. The impact of raindrops on bare ground dislodges soil particles and causes rain splash erosion on a very small scale. The sheet of runoff water travels a short distance, but an interplay between gravity, the slope of the soil surface, the composition of the soil surface, and the water now begins to take place.

The water becomes turbulent and forms into rivulets. If the soil surface is sloped, gravity causes the rivulets to move downward in a path that is defined by the nature of the soil surface. Small soil grains are moved by the water. But, large grains and rocks cause the water to move around them. Small channels in the soil are created. With sufficient rainfall, the rivulets join together to form streams and gouge gullies in the land. From this interaction between soil and water, streams of water become guided by gravity and soil to become joined with other streams to become larger streams. These dynamics result in the self-similar fractal structure which we know as a river system. This river system has the same shape and structure as does our lungs, trees, and our cardiovascular system.  

From the mountains to its delta, a river does not just flow. It also changes the surface of the earth. It cuts rocks, moves boulders, and deposits sediments, constantly attempting to carve away all of the mountains in its path, Ultimately a river can create a wide, flat valley where it can flow smoothly towards an ocean.

And, it all started with that beautiful raindrop.        

Rivers in Nature are classic examples of how energy flows in and between patterns in Nature. How everything is connected. Like soil erosion,  this energy flow can define the design of a pattern in Nature. This phenomena is the basis for Adrian Bejan’s Constructal Theory which proposes that the shape and structure of patterns in Nature arise to facilitate energy flow. 

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

  

Please Comment and Subscribe

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

 

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Patterns In Time – Synchrony

Synchronous oscillatory activity is a universal phenomenon that occurs in biological systems.

 

“At the heart of the universe is a steady, insistent beat: the sound of cycles in sync. It pervades nature at every scale from the nucleus to the cosmos. Every night along the tidal rivers of Malaysia, thousands of fireflies congregate in the mangroves and flash in unison, without any leader or cue from the environment. Trillions of electrons march in lockstep in a superconductor, enabling electricity to flow through it with zero resistance. In the solar system, gravitational synchrony can eject huge boulders out of the asteroid belt and toward Earth; the cataclysmic impact of one such meteor is thought to have killed the dinosaurs. Even our bodies are symphonies of rhythm, kept alive by the relentless, coordinated firing of thousands of pacemaker cells in our hearts. In every case, these feats of synchrony occur spontaneously, almost as if nature has an eerie yearning for order.”

A quote from Sync – The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order by Steven Strogatz

Patterns in nature are connected systems that use complex networks as an internal means of carrying out their function. These networks have a structure that is usually composed of a small-world architecture.  These networks also contain dynamic processes that are routed within the network’s architecture. The fireflies noted above can be thought of as network nodes that contain lighting mechanisms. The links between the nodes are the communication or signaling processes that go on continuously between individual fireflies. In this case, the links represent dynamic patterns in time. The Black Bear catching as Salmon is an example of synchrony in time. The bear has arrived at this river during that time of the year when Salmon are running.

This post addresses the subject of synchrony and how synchronous patterns at all levels provide clues as to how nature’s patterns are formed. How they are dynamically driven by processes occurring over time. A synchronous pattern is the relation that exists when things occur at the same time, the simultaneity of events or motions.

Oscillators

Synchrony at a local level can be the energy or force that ultimately results in self-organization  at a system level.  Two animate or inanimate individuals who operate as coupled oscillators in a synchronous mode at a local level can result in the emergent behavior that is characteristic of complex systems.

According to Wikipedia, “Oscillation is the repetitive variation, typically over time, of some measure about a central value (often a point of equilibrium) or between two or more different states.” Examples of oscillation include swinging pendulums, heartbeats, and tidal rhythms.

There is growing evidence that at the heart of every synchronous pattern in nature is a “coupled oscillator”. An oscillator is a device that causes oscillations to take place. To provide some form of energy that moves in a regular pattern or cycle. There are oscillators that are electrically driven, chemically driven, or behaviorally driven. It appears that any rhythmic pattern is based on an oscillator of some sort.

A coupled oscillator is a series of single oscillators that, with time, cause each other to act or synchronize to a rhythm. A coupled oscillator is a series of synchronized single oscillators.  The fireflies noted earlier are an example of coupled oscillators in nature.

Many of nature’s coupled oscillators produce and drive unseen forces that are temporal in nature. These invisible forces are patterns themselves. They are many times the energy or connecting links between visible or more obvious patterns in nature. Sometimes these connecting patterns are the precise rhythms of natural clocks. Others are forces between objects that vary in intensity and period. Nature’s coupled oscillators include circadian clocks, inanimate clocks, human menstrual synchronization, the earth’s moon, and social behavior.

The Circadian Clock

The Greek work “circadian” means “about daily”. Intuitively, we are all familiar with our own biological clock and, at least in general terms, the rhythm of nature. Our own internal circadian pacemaker is a group of cells that act as a chronometer to keep us in synchrony with our world. That pacemaker is a chemically driven coupled oscillator.

One of the effects of a circadian clock is our internal cycle of sleeping and being awake. According to Strogatz, our body’s synchrony operates at three different levels. First, cells within an organ are mutually synchronized much like a coupled oscillator. Second, synchrony occurs between organs keeping the same periodicity even though function may vary. The third level of synchronization is between our body and the world around us.

Our body’s basic clock is a cycle of daily body temperatures. The mechanism within our body that varies body temperature is a coupled oscillator. It is our body temperature mechanism that has a direct effect on the amount and quality of sleep.

Inanimate Clocks

A common experiment in physics class involves two pendulums in close proximity.  Each pendulum is started with its own periodicity. With time, the pendulums move in synchrony (sometimes called sympathy). The sympathy of pendulums was originally noted by Christian Huygens in 1665 when he found that the pendulums on his two clocks ultimately oscillate together.

Strogatz notes that “the sympathy of clocks taught us that the capacity for sync does not depend on intelligence, or life, or natural selection. It springs from the deepest source of all: the laws of physics”. From this recognition of inanimate sync, the laser was invented as was power grids and computer clocks.

Human Menstrual Synchronization

Extensively studied, human female menstrual cycles can become synchronized amongst women in close physical contact. Apparently this results from chemical communication between women. Strogatz describes an experiment by McClintock and Stern where they ” took swabs from the armpits of women at different points in their menstrual cycles and dabbed them on the upper lips of other women, the donor secretions shifted the phase of the recipient’s cycle in a systematic way”. These experiments imply that coupled biological oscillators are operating.

Earth’s Moon

Our moon turns exactly on its own axis at the same rate as it orbits the earth. The consequence is that we always see only one side of the moon. This is an example of a gravitational/centrifugal coupling between two bodies.

Social Behavior

Patterns and synchrony are not restricted to only simply explained phenomena.  Strogatz asks: “Could the sudden emergence of a fad be analogous to the way that fireflies suddenly start blinking in unison?”  Synchronization of social phenomena is not necessarily rhythmic.


The following 23 minute movie offers a wonderful talk by Steven Strogatz at on the ideas associated with synchrony.

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

Please Comment and Subscribe

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

 

You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar . With Twitter, in addition to receiving daily Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.

 

Stars, Bubbles and Beehives – Complexity Joined

Nature is a hierarchy of interrelationships that start at the atomic level where molecules are formed.

In an attempt to synthesize and to simplify, much has been said about the idea that patterns in Nature can be described with simple physical laws. This idea has appealed to mathematicians, physicists, and others who adhere to the reductionist world view. While it is true that physical laws play a very important part in pattern formation, they are only part of the story as the honey bee demonstrates.

My story begins with the stars — complex dynamic systems where the hydrogen atom hangs out. Somehow, the complex system of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom joined to produce water molecules and  water drops — both  hierarchies of complex systems.

Of all the shapes in our geometric inventory, a sphere has the smallest surface area for a given volume. A common drop of water  is a naturally ordered sphere that is shaped by the influence of physical forces called surface tension.

Each water molecule interrelates with neighboring molecules by way of intermolecular forces that result in the molecules being attracted to each other. Within the liquid’s body, each molecule is pulled equally in all directions by neighboring molecules, resulting in a net force of zero. But, at the surface of the liquid, the water molecules are pulled inwards by other water molecules deeper inside the liquid. This happens because the water’s surface molecules are more strongly attracted to other water molecules in the liquid than to the molecules of  air  that surround the water drop. This net difference in attractive forces is called surface tension.

Surface tension at a water drop’s interface with its surroundings results in the formation of the smallest area for its given volume. The physical forces (patterns in themselves) associated with surface tension create a pattern — in this case a spherical water drop.

A water bubble is sustained as a result of the balance between the gas pressure inside the bubble and the forces associated with surface tension. The bubble’s internal gas pressure tends to push the sphere apart. This is counteracted by the bubble’s surface tension acting around the surface of the sphere to provide a net force that pushes inward.

Foam is a collection of bubbles. The weight or gravitational forces that act upon a collection of bubbles causes them to “pack”. A two dimensional packing of foam bubbles results in bubbles whose walls meet at 120 degree angles — forming roughly hexagonal cells. If the bubbles are of unequal diameter, the hexagons are unequal. But, if the bubbles are of equal diameter, the hexagons are of equal size — taking on the appearance of a honey comb.

What we see  is a hierarchy of interrelationships that start at the atomic level where molecules are formed. Atomic forces result in molecules interrelating in various ways. Differences in the strength of molecular forces define phenomena such as surface tension. The gravitational joining of objects created by these phenomena results in more complex systems – like foam. It is the connectivity of and interrelationships between these complex systems that result in what we see as bubbles and foam.

But, what does all of this have to do with honeycombs? As we shall see, they represent the joining of complex systems – the physical forces just described with biological patterns in Nature. With the honeycomb, we get to observe the synergistic joining of animate and inanimate patterns in Nature.

The hive and the bees within are both hierarchal complex dynamic systems. Somehow, whether through genetic, epigenetic, or cultural patterns, the bees acquire patterns of behavior. Again patterns within patterns. Somehow, the bees know to harvest the correct components from other patterns in Nature (like flowers) so as to create bees wax within their wax glands.

While constructing a honeycomb, bees use their bodies as a template. They make each close packed wax cell perfectly cylindrical, like a tube. The bees raise the temperature of the wax to 37-40 degrees Centigrade. Like glass, the beeswax becomes increasingly fluid as it is heated. The mobility of one wax particle with respect to another changes significantly at this specific transition temperature. Much like the foam forming process discussed earlier, the warmed wax cells take on their hexagonal shape due to their gravitational compression by the six closest neighbors in the packed arrangement of the cylindrical cells.

The entire process of  creating a honeycomb in a hive, therefore, comes from the joining of many different patterns in Nature – molecular structure, physical laws, bee behavior, plants, and more. All complex systems within complex systems. Everything connected in some way. All with some form of regularity.

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

  

Please Comment and Subscribe

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

 

You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar . With Twitter, in addition to receiving daily Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.

 

The Three Voices Of Nature

To Know Living Things

“The words of our grandmothers and grandfathers have taught us Respect for the Web of Life and the interdependence of all things in the Universe. The stories passed down through oral traditions remind us that we are all connected.” – Ancient Native American saying

“…I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay till sundown for going out, I found I was really going in” — John Muir

Ironwood ForestI spend a lot of time contemplating Nature as I write in my journal, capture photographic images, or simply meditate without a pen or a camera. My goal is to discern my perceptions of what I sense in Nature. I find that the process of encountering and recording natural patterns requires me to move several times between my aesthetic right brain self, my spiritual Being, and my analytical left brain. For example, when I encounter a beautiful dawn, I first respond to the golden beauty of that first light as it casts its glow upon the cactus and mountains that surround me. I’m then struck by the wholeness of the experience as I wonder about the numerous interrelationships within the scene and how I fit. I am a part of all of this. And then I ask: “How does this happen?” as I capture the image in my camera’s memory. Back and forth, I move from my aesthetic perception, on to the center of my soul, and then to my camera and my questions.

Is this perception aesthetic? Is it spiritual? Or, is it science? Clearly to me, it is all three. These three modes of perception I call the “Voices of Nature”. One of my respondents chooses to call them “points of view”. Whatever you choose to call them, these voices are inseparable and interrelated in their grand chorus.

Nature’s aesthetic voice communicates with our perceptual self – our physical senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste. It is beauty, form, and the dynamics of Nature’s patterns. Nature’s spiritual voice expresses the present moment as it communicates timelessness, sanctity and interrelationships amongst all things. Nature’s logical voice communicates tangible facts about Nature’s physical forces and how they come together to create form and process. It is our conceptual self that labels things and comes to logical conclusions.

Each voice offers its own unique perspective as one seeks to engage Nature. Nature’s aesthetic, spiritual, and analytical voices, the three cultures of art, the soul, and science, are essential partners. In the synergy of this partnership of the human mind and soul, one can behold Nature and her patterns in ways that none of these cultures could do alone. These voices come together in a harmony that forms and expands the senses. The human response is the excitement of exploration, adventure, and discovery.

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

Please Comment and Subscribe

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

 

You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar . With Twitter, in addition to receiving daily Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.

 

What Is A Pattern In Nature ?

A Pattern In Nature Is A Connected Set Of Interrelationships

Heaven is my father and earth is my mother, and I, a small child, find myself placed intimately between them. What fills the universe I regard as my body; what directs the universe I regard as my Nature. All people are my brothers and sisters; all things are my companions.
— Chang Tsai

A friend of mine recently emailed me asking about my definition of a pattern in Nature saying: “ I am curious about your definition of patterns. I would define pattern as a repetition of an element. I get the image in my mind of orderliness. I think it would be helpful for the average person, like me, with no education in art or nature to understand your perspective, your definition of patterns.”

The word “pattern” is a term that typically describes repeating visual objects or events. An example is M.C. Escher’s 1938 woodcut entitled “Sky and Water 1”. Here we have a series of repeating fish and birds. Each object is precisely placed by the artist into a static display.

Such fixed and predictable patterns as Escher’s woodcut are, of course, rarely found in Nature. The design and placement of patterns in Nature do not come from an artist’s hand but from the connected and dynamic interactions of natural objects in both space and time. They interact with each other and are all components of yet larger patterns. These systems of interacting patterns that abound in Nature are called complex adaptive systems. A developing organism, a tree, a mountain stream, a maturing ecosystem, and the evolving biosphere are all examples of connected and dynamic systems of patterns in nature.

Fish schools are excellent examples of patterns in Nature. Here the group is formed because of simple rules applied locally by each individual. There is no need for a leader or overseer to dictate to the other fish how fast they must swim and in which direction. Every individual sorts this out for itself — solely by watching its nearest neighbors and adjusting its reaction to theirs. The adjustments are made according to three rules. Rule #1: Move toward the average position of my nearest neighbors. Rule #2: Move in the same direction as my nearest neighbors. Rule #3: Maintain a minimum distance from my nearest neighbors. These rules are applied when an individual fish senses the proximity of its nearest neighbors through the use of its eyes and its lateral lines – pressure-sensing organisms that run along the length of its body.

The collective action of individuals (each a pattern in Nature) following these rules results in a self-organizing super-organism, itself a pattern in Nature, with a behavior that is greater than the sum of its component patterns. This phenomenon of pattern emergence is ubiquitous in Nature where transient and interconnecting sub-patterns operate.

It is important to note that patterns in Nature are both irregular and finite. Escher’s woodcut has both a mathematical regularity and can easily extend beyond the frame onto infinity. A fish school, a honeycomb, and a tree trunk are all organized but can be irregular in shape. Their forms also occupy only a finite space.

Escher portrays a pattern that manifests a static order. Patterns in Nature, just like the fish school, are manifestations of an underlying dynamic order. Instead of being formed by the hands and soul of an artist, these patterns in Nature are dynamically formed by individual group members according to a set of organizing principles.

Historically, Western science has viewed Nature as constructed from a set of fixed laws that can predict almost anything through mathematics. The predictive equations of Newton and Kepler have sent men to the moon and have been powerful models in the fields of physics and chemistry. But, this “reductionist” worldview fails when addressing any complex system of interrelated phenomena and patterns. For example, the reductionist’s worldview of laws and equations cannot predict the complex behavior of biological systems like fish schools, stock market performance, the weather, and other patterns in nature.

The ancient Chinese described patterns in Nature as systematic organizing principles instead of mathematical equations. This worldview, known as the Li (pronounced “lee”), has been around for millennia. The Li represents the organizing principles that underlie every aspect of the universe. Jeremy Lent’s blog says that: “Before a thing exists, there first must exist its principles of organization… The concept of the Li fills in a missing dimension to our Western reductionist worldview while bringing us closer to understanding all complex adaptive systems that include patterns in nature.” The idea of the Li is that it emphasizes a holistic understanding of the universe by examining its organizing principles rather than by studying individual behavior through mathematical models. Joseph Needham says “Li is in effect a Great Pattern in which all lesser patterns are included…”

Only in the last few years has modern science begun to embrace a holistic worldview to study interrelated phenomena. What has emerged is the examination of complex adaptive systems, self-similarity (fractals), self-organization, and chaos theory. These subjects all address the idea of systematic organizing principles. The fish school noted above was described in terms of its organizing principles (the organizational rule set for individual fish) rather than through equations and physical laws. The tool used by Western science to study these organizing principles is computer simulation rather than mathematical equations.

Jeremy Lent goes on to say that “This highlights a fundamental difference between Western mental constructs of the universe, with an external Lawmaker appointing order to the natural world and enforcing it, and the Chinese construct, where order arises from the intrinsic relationship between things in the universe ….. This is the same dynamic being discovered by Western complexity theorists and systems biologists in recent decades, as they investigate the principles of self-organization in the natural world.” This merging of Western and Eastern ideas serves to build a conceptual unity that will ultimately help define the internal dynamics of patterns in Nature.

The question: “What is a pattern in Nature?”, can be answered by turning to the Li. A pattern in nature is a set of dynamic organizing principles that, when applied, result in an interconnecting organic or inorganic form or process. Put another way:

A pattern in Nature is a connected set of interrelationships that are manifested in some form or function.

This definition of a pattern in Nature by way of the Li is profound. For it describes a connection between all things in our universe. Not just a spiritual connection but also physical connections that are bound by real energy and real function. In thinking about the Li and its approach to defining patterns in Nature, one begins to see unity in Nature where all things are somehow connected through their organizing principles. Patterns in Nature are dynamic connecting interrelationships between everything. They are the manifestation of the fact that everything is connected.

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness, you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

Please Comment 

The purpose of my essays is to develop a dialog with my readers. In these essays, you have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Please comment below.
 You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar . With Twitter, in addition to receiving Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.

 

We Are All Connected

 

 

While we may know some facts about nature, we do not really “know” nature.

 

Thomas Merton, the writer, poet, artist, and Trappist monk, once said in his essay entitled “A Search For Solitude”: “Man can know all about God’s creation by examining its phenomena, by dissecting and experimenting and this is all good. But it is misleading, because with this kind of knowledge you do not really know the beings you know. You only know about them”.

Most of our contact with nature is in passing. We drive by. We take a glimpse. We get a quick emotional “fix”. Nothing more. We are not connecting. There is no true immersion. We are not totally engaged in the moment. We are ready to move on rather than linger a while. We are preoccupied with “things” in our lives. We are not beholding nature. 

A forest is entered, not viewed. We do not really engage or know a forest until we are well within it both physically, aesthetically, and spiritually. Engaging nature means “knowing” rather than just “knowing about”. “Knowing” means observing and understanding how nature is connected. It means knowing our interrelationships, our connections, with our surroundings. It means us being connected with those surroundings – those patterns in nature.

LeafBut, how are we connected? Let’s address this question by first looking at a simple plant or tree leaf which you have found and are holding in your hand. That leaf is a pattern in nature. In fact, it is at least three patterns. Now, a pattern in nature can simply be a form or structure – such as the shape of the leaf. But, a pattern can also be a process like a behavior or metabolism in our bodies. A pattern can also mean the relationship between two patterns – like the ecosystem or food chain in a pond or in a forest.

Back to our leaf. It is obviously a physical pattern as we can see from its shape. But, we quickly see a second pattern – the veins in the leaf. These veins are shaped in a tree-like structure we call a fractal pattern. They serve a purpose which is another pattern. They transport energy to the plant and transport waste gases to the leaf for release into the atmosphere. Another pattern is the cells of the leaf. These cells are directly or indirectly connected to the veins. They contain chloroplasts which convert the sun’s energy into useful energy for the plant. These cells also bring in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They are all process patterns instead of structural patterns.

If we were to take our leaf and sit in a forest asking how we are connected to that forest and to nature, we might start by first looking at a plant’s connections as we just did. Ask the question: How am I connected to this leaf?

We humans have many of the same patterns as the leaf and the plant. First, we share some of the same genes. For example, mustard grass has 15% of the genes in the human genome. And, our lungs and kidneys have the same function and structure as the leaf veins – fractal patterns. Like the leaf, we inhale our atmosphere and exhale our waste products. And, of course, we have cells in our body. The fact is that there is a unity of pattern structures and functions between plants in our forest and us. There are connections on many levels. We know the forest because we know us. When you hold that leaf, you are holding a little bit of you.

Among the many beautiful trees there is one tree, set beside the stream, which calls you. You sit down, your back against the trunk. You feel the strength of that tree as you rest against it. You gradually become absorbed into its life, aware of its roots reaching down to draw strength and sustenance from Mother Earth. Its branches lift toward the sun, absorbing the life force from the sun and the air. You become aware of the flow of life from earth to heaven, the inbreathing and outbreathing. You become the tree.

— Paraphrased from The Still Voice

As we contemplate those features of our leaf that are similar to us, we may ask the following questions.

  • How am I related to this forest?
  • What patterns connect me to it and to Nature?
  • What patterns connect me to you?
  • What is the pattern that connects all of life and all that is not living?

As we sit in our forest, engaging Nature, and pondering these questions, we find ourselves considering the sacred. We find ourselves looking for the Creator in the Created as we ask: “What is the Pattern That Connects?”

In these questions about patterns and connections rests the core of “knowing” nature and nature’s patterns. We may never have complete answers, but we grow to “know” nature as we live the questions themselves.

Poet Alison Hawthorne Deming describes the connections between all things in her wonderfully profound poem “The Web”.

It is possible there is a certain
kind of beauty as large as the trees
that survive the five-hundred year fire,
the fifty-year flood, trees we can’t
comprehend even standing
beside them with outstretched arms
to gauge their span,
a certain kind of beauty
so strong, so deeply concealed
in relationship –black truffle
to red-backed vole to spotted owl
to Douglas fir, bats and gnats,
beetles and moss, flying squirrel
and the high-rise of a snag,
each needing and feeding the other—
a conversation so quiet
the human world can vanish into it?
A beauty moves in such a place
like snowmelt sieving through
the fungal mats that underlie and
interlace the giant firs, tunneling
under streams where cutthroat fry
live a meter deep in gravel, a beauty
fluming downstream over rocks
that have a hold on place
lasting longer than most nations,
sluicing under deadfall spanners
that rise and float to let floodwaters pass,
a beauty that fills the space of the forest
with music that can erupt as
varied thrush or warbler, calypso
orchid or stream violet, forest
a conversation not an argument,
a beauty gathering such clarity and force
it breaks the mind’s fearful hold on its
little moment steeping it in a more dense
Intelligibility, within which centuries
and distances answer each other
and speak at last with one and the same voice.

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

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