I’ve always had an eye for patterns, the repetition of a colour or shape or the reflection of movement in a pond or a stream. I look for them all around me, consciously and unconsciously. As I walk my eye will pick out a pattern, and sometimes I see that I am myself part of that pattern – the trail of footprints I leave on a beach or the flicker of my shadow along a sidewalk.
I love the structure and order that I can see around me – in rocks and lichens and tree bark and roof tiles and fences and waves and ripples and flocks of birds.
Years ago, just after we were married, I took up my wife’s 35mm camera and spent years happily snapping patterns. And over time, I gradually found that I could leave the camera behind but still look for those patterns as I pass, and that the thrill of capturing that pattern in a photo has been replaced by an appreciation of the transitory nature of what I see.
I’m not Buddhist, but I think I can understand – imperfectly I’m sure – some of the Zen of a moment when I see something that is, at that particular time and place, the essence of a perfect pattern. It’s fleeting and I may only capture it in my mind’s eye for a split second. But I see it and I try to feel it and lock it away as a memory.
And yes, occasionally, I still get out my camera and try to record a pattern, if only to be able to share it with someone else. But that search for patterns is what keeps me walking, keeps me moving, keeps me engaged and interacting with the world around me.
Learning is in many ways the search for patterns in facts and figures, to organize them and arrange them in ways that explain what we see around us. I can remember being 7 or 8 years old and saying to a teacher, when she asked me how I was able to learn something so quickly – probably multiplication tables or some such – and replying that I just looked for the pattern in the subject and filed that away in my memory, and then seeing in her face a look of surprise. I suppose that 7 or 8 year olds seldom can articulate what they’re doing when they’re learning.
But for me that search for patterns to explain what I was seeing was natural then and it’s still natural now. The world is full of patterns, and patterns of patterns, in infinite complexity and loops and whorls. That’s what makes it interesting. Even straight lines can have depth.