Permaculture Explained (Volume III Issue 13): Observe and Interact

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"

Since being introduced to permaculture four years ago, I’ve found permaculture design principles to be thinking tools with very wide application…

‘Observe and Interact’ and ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ reminds us that the interpretation of our observations is something constructed by ourselves. We shouldn’t make a judgement prematurely.

In 2011 I bought a dilapidated 500 yr-old cottage at auction. Other bidders planned to demolish it but I tackled it differently. The works weren’t standard fare for my builders – leading to a few teething problems.

During my first spring a damp patch appeared in the kitchen ceiling directly below the shower waste. Was the leak really linked to my use of the shower directly above or to something else?

I noticed that the damp patch came and went. I kept it under observation and started to interact with the plumbing system.

When I didn’t use the shower but washed in the adjacent handbasin, the damp patch remained evident. When I limited myself to using downstairs facilities as much as possible, the damp patch didn’t change. After I went away overnight and used no water for 24 hours, the damp patch shrank in size.

When I limited my use of hot water, I found that the damp patch did not grow. By interacting with the plumbing system I was learning more about the damp patch.

Finally, I tested my understanding – when I reused hot water, either upstairs or downstairs, the damp patch reappeared. I was ready to call the plumber and present the evidence.

He immediately diagnosed the likely source. A joint on the hot water cylinder was leaking when the pipes carrying the water (super-heated by my solar panel now spring had arrived) expanded and contracted.

The joint was easily fixed. The leak had been about 1.5m away from where the damp patch showed - the water having sought the lowest point in my old ceiling.

Observe and Interact. Useful whether we’re working with food production, community development, or domestic plumbing systems!

Rachel Bodle