Monday, December 3, 2012
A Creek is not a Thing...or is it?
Living alongside a creek, one tends to think about creeks. They're funny things, you know. The water rises and falls, and even when it hasn't rained in quite some time, the creek still runs. But the water itself is always different. Sometimes it appears to be barely moving, but still it does move, passing by the dock, winding its way slowly downstream. Within a day, a raindrop falling in the creek will find itself several miles away in Cayuga Lake, or perhaps in the much smaller Beebe Lake on the Cornell University campus. Of course, that raindrop may have been composed of water vapor that had been over Ohio or Pennsylvania earlier in the day. Water can travel pretty quickly under the right circumstances.
Unlike a lake, which might hold onto water molecules for years, or the oceans, which store water for tens of thousands of years or more, the creek has no storage. It's just a path, a preferred route, that water takes on its constant journey under, across, and over the Earth's surface. The creek changes over time, scouring out its banks, leaving tree trunks and other detritus in its path, adding meanders, or straightening over time. In this sense, being semi-permanent at best, a creek isn't really a thing at all. It's not like a tree, or a deer, or many of the other things we see in nature that may grow, but are what they are.
But in a way, it is like them. After all, many of our cells die and are replaced during the course of our lifetimes...we are, in a sense, like the creek, constantly being replenished. As a meteorologist, I spend much of my time visualizing things that don't really exist. Cold fronts, warm fronts, drylines, high and low pressure systems, and other features in the atmosphere are real, but temporary. Just as the creek shapes the land surface over time, the atmosphere spins, whirls, and merges air along preferred paths. A creek is much more tangible than a cold front. So maybe it's ok to call it a thing, after all.