Welcome to my permaculture "explorer's notebook," so to speak. Some of these entries may be quite raw, as they may literally be my notes from watching a YouTube video or a thought captured as it was dancing through my head. Other posts might be more elaborate as I take an idea and explore it in more detail or transcribe or polish a lengthy observation from my field book. Either way, I hope to capture some permaculture ideas and methods here as a recollection for myself and a resource for others. Thank you for stopping by. - Karla

Friday, March 28, 2014

On Observing

So I was thinking about yesterday's post, and while I won't retract it, I realized that while useful, recounting other people's observations did not actually help one make their own observations.  So, the theme for today will be to explore how to improve one's powers of observation.  Some ideas to think about during this exploration:
  • More than your eyes
  • Practice
  • Recording one's observations
  • Asking why
In one of the videos on Ben Falk's Whole Systems Design site, he mentions that he can tell what type of tree that his wood was from just by smelling it.  This got me to thinking that observation is more than just seeing. It is using all of our senses to really connect to the world around us.  So this morning, I did not just watch the birds at my feeder - I closed my eyes and listened.  And then I opened my eyes and listened some more while I looked for the owner of the particular calls.  I was pretty overwhelmed with number of different bird sounds with their sunrise symphony, so instead, I decided to concentrate on one particularly clear chirp.  And there it was, the sound of a male cardinal and his lady.  I tried to listen to just that pair for a while.  I am pretty sure I will be able to recognize that sound from now on.  On a more tactile note, I was thinking how, if I observe with my fingertips, I can tell if a tomato is ripe, regardless of its color. And my nose would help me with that one, too!

It is easy to just go about one's day and not really observe with all of one's senses.  Meals to cook, email to answer, laundry to wash - but with slowing down just a bit, I think we can create the habit of observing on a daily bases.  An then one can begin to apply those powers of observation to one's home, one's land, one's whole way of living.  I am thinking even 10 minutes twice a day would improve our awareness.  Add to that being purposefully aware while engaging in or observing something unique, and I think we could significantly improve our ability to observe.

Memory is a fickle thing.  Especially if one is trying for year over year observations, or if one is observing something that may be a rare or even once in a lifetime event.  So, even though not the same as the original observation, I think there is a lot of value to recording ones observations.  For me, the camera and a journal have been my two tools of choice.  Nothing like having a series of photos over time to tell me what birds visit my feeder, and what type of turnips I harvested in a given year.  After watching the lovely videos on Ben Falk's site, I am beginning to think that video might also be a good tool - especially in that it captures sound and movement, in addition to "just pictures."  As for the journal, there is nothing to compete with having a year over year record of not just what was done, but what was observed.  For example, I always think the geese are returning extra early - but then my journal will say, no, they are always in this 3 week window.  I find a year over year journal indispensable for all kinds of things; however, I won't go into that here. (I am working on putting all of my garden journals online here.  As I learn more about permaculture, my journal is increasingly becoming more than "just a garden journal.")

So now we have sharpened our observation skills, and perhaps recorded some of the more interesting or unusual ones.  Now what?  What use are they? Everything in permaculture should serve more than one purpose, right?  Well the journal could provide important information on how well different parts of the system are working, and what it might need during different times of the year.  The photos and videos might be beautiful in their own right, and a trigger for fond memories.  Knowing that a pair of cardinals might hang out near a bird feeder might help you with determining the types and locations for where to place a bird house.  But what is the real value of observation and recording those observations?  In my mind, is it so that one can reflect on the observation and ask why? for what purpose? how can I improve?  Nature is one giant source of feedback, and she will tell you what is going on if you listen.  

I used to wonder why there were no snails or slugs in our yard,
until I observed the morning Breakfast Club in their bright red vests.

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