Sensitive Chaos: Book Review


This is a beautiful book about water: its nature, how it moves, and its relationship with the forms of living creatures. The many gorgeous photos and clear illustrations make visible the movement patterns of flowing water and the shapes which arise through its movement. Theodor Schwenk helps readers to see that “…certain archetypal forms of movement may be found in all flowing media, regardless of their chemical composition.” And so there are images of spiral currents of water next to photos of seashells next to drawings of the cochlea of the human ear.

One of Schwenk’s goals is to awaken in readers an awareness of “the vital coherence of all things in nature.” Using scientific observations of water and air, he clarifies the special part that the plant world plays in the great circulation of water. Plants consist mainly of water and, through plants, an immense stream of water moves from fields, meadows and woodlands back into the atmosphere.

There was a heavy rain during the time when I first read this book. When the rain stopped, I went for a walk at Great Falls. It’s a transformative thing to have an awareness of water. I looked at the clouds in the sky — water lazily floating along in a breeze. I looked at the rapids as the full river crashed downhill and then over the falls — water having a raucous party with gravity. I looked at the trees along the riverbank — water taking on a great variety of shapes and colors. I looked at the squirrels and birds, the other people out for a walk — water everywhere. And in me, too. It was a marvelous day for feeling connected to the elements and other beings around me.

Another point Schwenk makes is about the rhythmical curves in a meandering river. There are great diagrams of the multiple strands of currents in a river, in water flowing through a pipe. And a look, too, at what happens when profit becomes the main motivator and rivers are artificially straightened. Such rivers become lifeless and dreary. Without curves to slow them down, they run too fast, draining the fields rather than replenishing them. Of such river straightening projects, Schwenk observes, “It indicates the inner landscape in human souls that no longer know how to move with the rhythms of nature.” It heartens me to pause and think of the meandering in my own life of my interests and activities. Certainly there has been more richness and nourishment in this kind flow than if I had tried to limit myself to a straight line of progress.

You will create your own connections with this book. I can promise you that it is well written and beautifully illustrated. You can easily sit down and read it cover to cover. You can just as easily keep it handy and just look at a page or two from time to time. Any place you open it, you’ll find some gems.

Sensitive Chaos: The Creation of Flowing Forms in Water and Air by Theodor Schwenk is available from major booksellers.

What about you?

Have you read Sensitive Chaos? Any reflections of your own you’d like to share?

Any other books on water that you can recommend?

Jan 18

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