Vision and Connective Agency

Resonant with the attention-opening capacities of the savoring and slowing of the sense of taste, the sense of vision has the capacity to connect, open, sustain, and inspire action. Sight, for this project, can be defined as an awareness of the physical surroundings outside of one’s body sensed through looking. Typically perceived through vision (though this perception can be gained through other senses), the outside world presents itself to us, through shape, line, color, and contrast. Using our sense of sight to observe, notice, recognize, and analyze our surroundings can support our journey through building ecoliteracy and an activated sense of wonder and hope.

In the past year, one of the authors of this research team (hereafter “I”) has become inspired by the concept of ecofractals (Hauk, 2014), the different kinds of patterns found at different scales in nature. The different forms include flowing, as found in watershed systems and rivers, branching, such as trees and leaves, and cracking, as found in mountain ranges and rock formations. Once I learned about these concepts, I am unable to escape them. When I go hiking outside of the town I live in, Portland, Oregon, I am amazed by the patterns, shapes, colors I come across and the different scales in which they are present. This happens when I find the repeating patterns of ferns and other plants, where the leaves mimic the shape of the entire plant, or when I find a tiny cube-like rock, and look up to find a cliff with giant, blocky outcroppings.


Figures 2 and 3. Branching Ferns with different colors and tones yet similar shapes, from (Figure 2) the Sonoran Desert outside of Tucson, Arizona and (Figure 3) the Central Willamette Valley outside of Salem, Oregon. Photographs by co-author Katelyn Hale, 2015, used with permission of the artist.

In the dominant culture in which I live, I can find these repeating patterns, too. Rectangles are everywhere; the computer, books, and phone I use are rectangles, and my backpack was designed in a rectangular shape to fit them all inside. Once we open our eyes, both metaphorically and literally, we can recognize the patterns existing in our world.

Sight is possibly the most overworked sense in the United States’ digitally-driven culture. We use our eyes to read, watch, look, and scan, all to absorb and consume information at high rates in order to complete a task or gain entertainment. This is usually considered necessary for a successful lifestyle. A shift towards ecological literacy requires a subtle shift in awareness towards using sight to observe, recognize, and analyze. Sewall (1999) echoed Goethe’s method for developing organs of perception through intensive observation of the patterns of becoming that “reanimate the world with meaning” and greater wholeness that is imaginative, associational, emergentist, and metamorphosing (pp. 148-150). Sewall found that “the world is made richer and denser by our patterned visions” (1999, p. 151). When one uses a sense of sight to observe shapes and recognize patterns, the larger world becomes more know,n and one can deepen their sense of place.

On a recent hike, I saw cracking in a burnt Doug Fir snag, and then noticed how those shapes are echoed in my handprint (Figures 3, 4, and 5).



Figures 4, 5, and 6. Recurrent ecofractal patterns of cracking echoed in (Figures 4 and 5) a burnt Douglas Fir snag and (Figure 6) artist’s handprint. Photographs, 2015, by co-author Katelyn Hale. Used with permission of the artist.

Activity: Scavenger Hunt for Repeating Patterns

Needed resources: Sight & mode of recording and communication (writing utensil & paper to write with, other people to discuss this with, etc.)

  1. Take 5-10 minutes to observe the different shapes and/or patterns in your surroundings. Are you inside of a building, in a streetscape, or in a landscape? Time yourself and record as many shapes as possible, making a sketch of each. Even if these shapes seem weird and you do not see a pattern, record that too; you might find an overarching pattern later. Notice these shapes on different scales, from the size of one’s thumbnail to the size of your bioregion.
  2. Advanced: if you are doing this for a second time in the same place, you could search for the answers to the following questions: Of what are the things surrounding you made? What colors are prevalent? What functions do you observe?
  3. When time is up, what patterns emerged for you? If each group of patterns had a title that was representative yet not limiting, what would you title each group? How do you think these larger patterns affect how these things work? Why are these shapes and patterns so prevalent? What does that mean?

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