Reading the bio-Landscape
with Optical Surveying Hand Tools

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Permaculture 2-day Playshop

Introduction to Optical Surveying Using Simple Hand-tools and Your Body

BergerDumpyLevelLearn to read the landscape using simple hand-held optical surveying tools, contour maps and walking the land to feel slopes and “keypoints” with your own body. Fundamentals of “keyline pattern design” will be presented as well as discussion about rehydrating landscapes and extending water holding capability of seasonal ponds.

“Key points” in the landscape mark transits in landscape from where water systems planning can start and build. Starting at the lowest point, on the highest property boundary line at which water can enter the property – this is the “sweet spot”, a place from which an interconnected system of swales and ponds can be sprung. As Geoff Lawton says – how can you design water wiggle ways which expose as much water as possible to as much surface area as possible (edge), producing the most abundance of interconnected life and growing systems?

Depending on class interest and available time, we will use simple hand-held tools to layout a woodland or meadow trail and stake contour lines. Learn about swales as “tree growing systems”.

With your help, we will measure and stake a level pad on which later can be built a garden hoophouse or small cabin or work shed. We will develop observation skills that will allow us to make intuitive observations and intelligent landscaping and property development and management decisions.

Learn how to read your property – be it 200 acres of roving woodlands and fields or just an apartment balcony. Make smart design decisions in harmony with your needs, dreams and environment.


Where there is water, there is life.


Hands-on Projects and Exercises in Reading the Landscape


  • Build simple A-frame and water-level devices to mark out on-contour level lines. (These may be excavated into swales in a future weekend event.)
  • Homemade “Jacob’s Staffs” and hand site levels used to survey and mark out a practical, multi-use path through the woodlands. This could serve not only as a pathway for people and a wheelbarrow, but also as a “watershed extender”, bringing more rainfall runoff to a seasonal pond and lowlands area.
  • A professional transit site, measuring tapes and surveying rod will be used to layout and stake a level building pad. This could be finished into a garden hoop-house/greenhouse or retreat cabin/workshed.
  • “Key points” in the landscape are where the convex shape of a hillside transits into concave as the slope settles into a lowland. They identify important (key) places where water can enter a system. (When you find a good pond location, the keypoint can mark the uphill position of the shoreline.) Learn to sense keypoints by walking through them and feeling what changes in your body.
  • Saturday night demonstration of basic fireplace building techniques and overview of why a rocket mass stove works so well as an efficient, gentle, passive radiator of heat.


swale cross sections diagrams - Geoff LawtonWhere, When, How Much?

Course held in East Meredith, Northern Catskills, New York (between Delhi-Oneonta). (Click for address and map)

Suggested Donation is 150. for weekend or 85. for single day.

Limited scholarships available (Click here to inquire.)

Click Here to register for the event.



What happens next?

Stay in touch to receive word of future workshops and earthworks projects.

John-eriK Earth Steward Services is available for Permaculture Walkthroughs for property owners and those evaluating land for purchase.

Click here to be informed of future workshops, playshops and creating “Permaculture Surveying Team” to assist people asses their land and its development.
• Join the Delaware County/Catskills Permaculture and Food Sustainability Events Calendar Meetup Group to meet up with other like-minded people.


About the Presenter

johnnie-surveyor_4191John-eriK is a Permaculture educator and advocate. He has graduated from four PDCs, has attended Permaculture Convergences, work parties and advanced skills courses and learned from luminaries in the Permaculture movement.

He studied various Natural Resources and Sustainable Communities courses.

He has designed and built spiral garden, swales with pond & orchard, rocket mass stoves, solar charging station and various other alternative building projects. (Still looking for a place to build an aquaponics system.)

Also an avid learner, john erik has studied everything from astronomy to brain theory and early childhood ed. He is also certified to teach and practice various healing modalities, including therapeutic bodywork, alignment sessions and NLP (neurolinguistic programming) coaching. He was certified as a Wu Style tai chi instructor and has studied with lineage holder Chinese martial and internal arts masters.

He is a natural teacher, blending metaphor and process details together and presenting in an easy to follow way. Former work as a tai chi and massage practitioner inform his style of teaching, as “getting it in the body” can be a deep way of learning.

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