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The Patterns Around Us Aug 21 09

Rarely have I felt so insulted, at least by a plant.

Lisa and I were strolling through the children’s garden at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park last week when I came upon a group of wine-red blossoms striking an attitude, and not a very complimentary one. I don’t know what I did to offend them, but that’s how it is sometimes with me and the outdoors. Swans moon me. Flowers give me…well, you can see for yourself what the flowers were giving me.

I tell myself, “They’re only plants,” but it’s hard not to take such a thing personally. What’s a guy gonna do, though? Chew out a garden display for rude behavior? People look strangely at a grown man who takes issue with a bunch of flowers. Next time I’ll probably just keep my mouth shut and not cause a scene.

Ill manners aside, the red flowers above are striking examples of anthropomorphic forms in nature, and of patterns in the world around us. Patterns are everywhere on every scale, from tiny duckweed dotting a square inch of pond surface, to saw-toothed mountains receding into the distance. Besides cheering up my bruised ego with their brighter disposition, the merry little vine shown in this second photo, full of colorful blossoms, furnishes a great example of the symmetry and repetition you can find in creation, as well as the diversity that occurs in the midst of sameness. The twin racemes of red, yellow, and white flowers remind me of multicolored zippers, each one resembling the next, yet no two exactly the same, and all of them deftly arranged in a larger pattern that is a miniature sculpture in its own right.

Develop an eye for the patterns around you, and you begin to see artistry everywhere you look. An everyday planter full of Coleus sitting outside a storefront becomes a masterpiece of color and design. How easily we take such a thing for granted, pass it by with rarely a second glance, if even a first. But stop and look. No sculptor ever fashioned, nor painter ever painted, a more gracefully shaped or pleasingly hued arrangement of form and color, light and shade, repetition and contrast, than this humble basket of plants.

Not that we humans don’t try. And we do very well—though, if we’re savvy, we’ll recognize that we’re simply emulating what already exists in the world that surrounds us. You could say that we’re even participating in nature, recognizing and celebrating its beauty in a multitude of ways through the works of our hands, and incorporating its elements. The basket of Coleus is there because someone took the time to plant it, and that particular strain of Coleus exists because some horticulturist took the time to develop its particular colors and distinctive shape of leaf.

Turn your attention to this mat in the entryway to a Saugatuck art shop. Someone had a great idea for taking common stones and turning them into a simple but attractive bit of craftsmanship that combines art and functionality. A stone doormat. You can look at it, enjoy it, and then wipe your feet on it. When it gets dirty, you can hose it off without feeling like you’re painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa. The medium, rocks, can handle rough treatment. Yet they’re gracefully arranged in a way that imbues them with beauty.

Patterns. They’re all around us, knitting our world together in ways we may barely be aware of. But the more aware we become, the more we’ll appreciate the richness of life and the marvel of the Michigan outdoors.






Written by Dave.