Patterns and Disorder
Two weeks ago, I waved to my daughter as she strolled off to her first day of school. I kept having to assure myself that this was, indeed, the beginning of the academic year. Frequently these days I find myself pausing to determine what month it is, because nothing in my environment reminds me that it is August. Spring arrived very late for us this year; in fact, students in our district were still playing in the snow as they studied for their finals in mid-May. And we have had an unusual amount of precipitation all summer. The result of all this is green everywhere I turn. Usually, school days here in Colorado begin after the wild grasses have turned brown and wildflowers have long ago disappeared.
Not this year. The mountains are green, the valleys filled with lush grass and dotted with every color of flower imaginable.
Not surprisingly, I keep hearing people remark on what an odd summer this has been. And it is; it is the first of my family’s eight summers in Colorado to look exactly like this. We arrived one June to find wildfires ravishing a large swath of mountain forest near our new home. There seemed to be no green anywhere I looked that summer. The lush landscape that surrounds me today feels as though it belongs in an entirely different locale, as my husband reminds me when he often asks, “When did we move to the Pacific Northwest?”
It is discombobulating, this new appearance of my familiar surroundings (and utterly devastating when I contemplate the causes of these weather fluctuations; we will talk much more about that in the days to come). And in some ways weather has always confounded humans. I have lived many places -- Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado -- where people repeat the same phrase, “If you don’t like the weather here, just wait five minutes.” And yet, even in geographic regions with greatly varying temperatures and preciptiation levels, patterns are still discernible.
Humans love patterns, in our weather and in our lives. They structure our days, they provide comfort and familiarity, they hold us within a container that feels supportive.
But what weather continually reminds me is that patterns and disorder exist simultaneously. When I seek order to help shape my world, I often find only chaos. This is true not only of my external landscape but also my internal world, particularly during times of transition.
And, today, when I a cannot rely on the local vegetation to tell me what month this is, I notice that evenings are becoming incrimentally shorter as the sun sets a bit earlier each day. That part of summer does not change no matter the rainfall or temperature.
Nature is such a generous teacher. It reminds me daily that there is both order and disorder, patterns and chaos.
Nature as Teacher exercise: Take one week (to start; perhaps this becomes one month -- or one lifetime!) to contemplate a single aspect of your environment, exploring both order and disorder within that thing. Maybe you look at one tree the same time each day or perhaps you sit outside for five minutes each morning and feel the warmth of the sun’s rays on your face. Open to both any similarities you notice over time and to all the fluctuations. If you find yourself grasping to structure these experiences with your mind, to quantify rainfall amounts or temperature changes for example, gently bring your focus back to your experience of this element or lifeform. What happens then?