Poetry in Nature

Looking at the rhythmic repetition of forms in nature, it is easy to imagine the influence of some creator, a poet who fixes each line with exact meter and measure. Yet, upon closer examination, we can see how these forms are self-creating, born from simplicity. Nature writes its own poetry.

Take, for instance, the tendency of water to form branching veins.

We begin with an aspen leaf, which landed on a bed of new fallen snow. Weeks of gentle sun warmed the dark leaf and melted the surrounding snow. In that tiny pool of water, the softer parts of the leaf began to decay, revealing an intricate network of veins:


Decaying aspen leaf (Populus tremuloides) in snow

This efficient system not only allows water and nutrients to be spread evenly across all parts of the leaf, but facilitates production and transport. Here, newly synthesized sugars are gathered and delivered to the rest of the tree, storing energy for new growth.

The melting snow enters a similar branching network. The snow falls uniformly on the surface, melts, and follows the force of gravity. Drips of water collect into tiny streams, which flow into larger streams, and into rivers, and so on. This creates the same familiar patterns we found in the leaf:


Satellite imagery of a series of branching streams drain into the south fork of Boulder Creek in Rollinsville, CO. (39° 54' 56"N, 105° 30' 32"W)

In the creek, the water seems to follow more branching patterns, as the flow breaks around stones of various sizes. Even the sound of the rapids reflects this diverging rhythm, as quiet ripples build and merge into bubbling crescendos:

Snowmelt surging in rhythmic patterns through the south fork of Boulder Creek, near Rollinsville, CO.

Of course, some of this water is being drawn into the vast root system of the aspen grove, nourishing new life. There, the same bifurcating patterns are reflected in each limb and twig.


The south fork of Boulder Creek, looking east towards Rollinsville. A small grove of aspen grows on the south bank.

Over the winter, the complex network of branches on the trees, barren of leaves, has been easy to see. But this aspen won't be revealing its secrets for much longer. Spring is near, and soon new clusters of leaves will be quaking in the wind. The budding catkins will flower, and tiny seedlings will drift down the canyon on a breeze.


A twig from an aspen tree (left) with budding catkins (close-up view below)


Nature, the sublime poet, writes its own work.

Satellite image of Rollinsville via Google Earth. All other images taken by author.

More like this

Deep within the pockets of a Mandelbrot set, delicate branches display endless variations. When highlighted with the colors of autumn, (since today is, after all, the Autumnal Equinox,) patterns of exquisite beauty emerge: These patterns can remind us of many forms in nature, including a grove of…
Tracking wildlife in my neighborhood wetlands this week made me reflect on the complex network of organisms in a habitat. Everything in an ecosystem is so intimately tied together, that a single species can have drastic effects on the entire habitat. The ecosystem, like all systems containing that…
Continued from: "Wedding Bells and Wagon Wheels" The arid, sweeping prairie at the foot of the Rocky Mountains was a challenge to early settlers in Colorado. While most people were drawn to the rugged mountains, captivated by the promise of gold, they brought limited resources. The mountains,…
I'm hitting on something deeply twisted this week. It's called homespring. Homespring is interesting for two reasons. First, it's got a sort of reverse flavor to it: it consists of active agents in a passive structure. So, for example, you can't do anything like control flow - that's a dynamic…

Beautiful! I think this is -- how can I resist saying it? -- your most poetic blog entry in quite some time. Thanks!

Very nice! Here's a linked pair of poems about structures in Nature and our consciousness of them. The online version is somewhat better typeset. Ideally, this is to be shown on a very wide screen or long horizontal sheet of paper, with the a line or space down the center as axis of symmetry. The first long line is thus:

The day will come, chrysanthemum, in a drone of rainbows | The night will fall, as will we all, in ever-dimming dusk

and the last line as:

Hmmm... | Ah...

It's from:
Insects, Petals, and the Wings of Angels
Jonathan Vos Post


The day will come, chrysanthemum, in a drone of rainbows
Sunday sun-saturating yellow hives of heaven
Bees in the brainpan, honey in the cranium,
Bees humming in the brain, in the garden. Come:

We overcome what we have understood,
overlook what no one ever knows
(O! undergrowth that overflows
underground and underwood).

What each of us suppose
to be the lotus
is the white rose.

The lotus,


[2015-2050, 25 Jan 83]


The night will fall, as will we all, in ever-dimming dusk
Sunset draining like blood from a velvet cloud-torn sky
darkness in the brain, blackness in white bones,
shadows shifting in the soul, in soft skin.

We overtake what we have undertaken,
overlook what's underneath us all
(dark undergrowth that overwhelms
underwater and underground).

What each of us believe
unable to grieve:
the black rose.

That rose


1135-1152, 18 May 1994]


I've started a climate change project called proxEarth.org. Many people have blogs, websites, and use social software sites (social networking, social bookmarking, photo and video sharing, etc.). Some standards for tags and text on blogs, websites, and social software sites could turn the whole global Internet into a kind of Web 2.0 participation platform for climate change. Iâm suggesting a few simple standards for tags and text that leverage processes of the sustainable ProxThink growth model. To get this going, we need people to adopt and use these standards. The project could also use contributors, collaborators, partners, funders and sponsors. To find out more, see: