On Observation

Thoughts on Observation

The first principle of Permaculture as put forward by David Holmgren is Observe & Interact. For a long time I have been puzzled by Observation. I have wondered what does it mean to observe! At bahulavana, I tried capturing details of things that I noticed. I made a list of flora, I found out the physical & chemical profiles of soil, I am making a bird list as well as a list of other fauna. However all these didn’t give me a sense that I was doing observations like many inspiring permaculture gurus who tell stories about how things were, how things changed, and how they participated in the process.

This morning before going to bath, we heard a squirrel calling and looked out to see what was the commotion all about. The squirrel was on a branch off a castor tree squeaking loud looking at the ground. Its tail flicked on each call and it continued to stare at the ground as he called. Then I started looking at the ground to see if there was something interesting. Is it that rat snake thats going through the garden that I had seen a few days back? Or was it calling looking for a mate like my wife thought?

Soon after, I had a rush of thoughts and a revelation. It dawned to me what observation really meant; to observe is to be able to see stories — it is to be able to see things in connection, in relation to one another, in a story — to be able to observe is to be able to see things big, small, in different forms and colours but, more importantly it is to be able to see the stories that bring them together in relation to one another. While observation means to discern things, it is the ability to see them in their relatedness, fitting into a story that we see thats more interesting. It’s the narrative in which these things participate thats important. The story vision.

I remember reading somewhere about a father telling his son about the marks on the ground. I remember the father explaining that a good hunter sees a deer where one may only see some marks — where the deer came from? Which way it went? How long has it been, was the deer in a hurry and running or was it walking easy - It’s the story.

Observation therefore is the synthesis of a story coherent with reality in which all things seen, fit together in relation, making the story, creating the story.

Therefore I wish to call the activity of meticulously capturing details of various kinds as Data-Collection and not Observation.

And now I will put myself into practicing story-vision. I will go in search of stories in my garden and I will ask my daughter to do the same.