Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Writing Prompt: The River

This writing prompt is from Lisa Romeo. I have never before posted a picture on the SFD blog, but this prompt led me straight to this photo from our recent trip out west.

This summer, we traveled together for nearly weeks — six of us in an eight-year-old minivan with a Sears car-top carrier. Between Chicago and Seattle, we encountered countless bodies of water, from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean. We learned about dams and hydro electric power, and the how engineers and conservationists are revising and rethinking how damming our rivers impacts our environment. 

We crossed the mighty Mississippi early on, at LaCrosse, WI. It was only then that we felt like the trip had really started. Wide and meandering on that border between Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Mississippi was a sleeping giant, lazing along in the heat of the northern summer. It split and reconnected around fingerlike islands, bent at an elbow and slipped passed the I-90 bridge, oblivious of the oily mess it would meet at its delta.

When you start with the Mississippi, how can other rivers compare? I discovered that rivers don't compete. They're content with their own personalities. Creeks and brooks, rivers and streams, mere trickles and pushy waterfalls — we saw them all — and each was thoroughly engaged, a study in movement, some walking, some skipping, some running, but all inexorably going forward to some unknown destination. 

The power of water is can been seen in even slightest trickle. Flowing water both shapes and is shaped by the land formations and obstacles in path. While we watch, we see only the later, how a protruding rock forces the water up, around and over it, changing the shape, color and sound of the water when they meet. We don't see that the water is simultaneously sculpting the rock, smoothing it, scraping and carrying it's minerals downstream. It will take months or years or decades before the human eye can see the water's impact on the rock, but the water's influence over the rock is more permanent and significant than the rock's power over the water.

Many of the rivers we met were suffering the heat of summer.  Wide banks seemed like big-brother hand-me-downs to creeks that had retreated from their edges during weeks of 100+ degree days. 

The true power of moving water could be seen best in the rivers that weren't — or at least weren't any more. The magnificent coulees carved by long-dead ancient rivers bore the scars and patterns of gushing waters that have escaped the bonds of human memory. This dry river bed, this river of rocks and mountain detritus stood probably 25 or 30 feet wide, a lasting memorial carved like a sculptor's self-portrait; a still, unmoving replica of a once-formidable force.

I think this passage meanders more haphazardly than any of the rivers we saw, but hey, it's just a SFD, right?

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