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Seeing Nature: Deliberate Encounters with the Visible World by Paul Krafel

1999; 193 pp. $15.95 Chelsea Green

This book sat on my desk unopened for a long time, because I mistook it for a la-la, lyrical, nature-appreciation exercise. When I ran out of everything else to read, I opened it?and got sucked in.

It is indeed a book written by a careful observer of nature, but what Krafel observes is pattern and dynamics and enduring systems principles. Looking at a disappearing snow pile high on a mountain, he sees that in concentric circles around the snow the alpine plants vary from squashed and dormant (right where the snow is melting) to beginning to sprout (further out) to sending up leaves (still further out), putting out buds, blooming, setting seeds. In a glance he sees a time series, a month or two of emergence from under the snow.

Hiking in the desert on a hot day, he goes through one quart of the gallon of water he brought along by noon. He wonders why he's hauling so much water. But the next quart is needed much sooner, and by the third quart he begins to worry whether he's brought enough. He begins to muse about time lags?in the heating of the Earth each day, and in the rate at which his body stores and expends water.

He watches sand fleas hopping about on a beach and figures that's all sand fleas ever do. But one day he sits down among them. The hopping ceases. The fleas start digging burrows and mating and exhibiting all kinds of complicated behavior. "The reason I had seen the sand fleas always hopping whenever I approached them was because I was approaching them. I had mistakenly assumed that the only behavior I ever saw was the only behavior the sand fleas ever had."

My favorite story is Krafel's attempt to repair an eroding field full of gullies. He tries to block the biggest gullies to hold back water, which involves moving a lot of dirt, and every time it rains, his efforts are quickly washed away. He wishes he had a bulldozer, but all he has is a shovel, so he moves uphill and starts diverting the flow in smaller gullies. He gets better at it, and discovers that he is dissipating the flow, so the water no longer concentrates into the big gullies. It is dispersed throughout the field and sinks in instead of running off.

"Practice initiated a spiral of learning between the field and myself. My structures evolved from opposing the flow of water to turning and leading the water onto new paths. These structures fit better within the flow of water and accomplished more with less effort. Because of the wisdom evolving within the design, I could now make more divergences with the same amount of energy and time. The work was acquiring possibilities.

"That bird is more than a bird. That bird has survived early summer snowstorms

at timberline....That cliff is more than a cliff. It was stripped by the cataclysmic floods from Lake Missoula. It has received thousands of years of bird droppings vibrating with Columbia River salmon energy....And I am more than a person. I am one of a recently evolved species. We are mobile consciousness, gifted with incredible powers....We live within a world thick with relationships chanting stories. Even so, I can forget to listen. Then my awareness ebbs. I start thinking of myself as separate, alone, autonomous...But when I listen to the stories that the world tells, the in"


ISBN: 189013242X

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