Category Archives: energy

Like a River… TIP#3

River TIP #3: Get Dirty

“…I think that the river is a strong, brown god…” ~ TS Eliot, Four Quartets

To live like a healthy, free stream YOU GET TO spend all of your considerable energy doing one thing: playing around with rocks and dirt. That’s all a river does. Ever. Moving sediment is a river’s life’s work.

When you live like a river, you truly encounter whatever you run into in this world — the hard outcroppings, the hidden sandbars, the occasional, surprising downed tree alike. You touch and are touched by those experiences. 

And then, depending on their character, the layout the land around you, and your level of energy at the moment, you smooth, scour, or break off parts of those experiences; pick up some of the pieces and carry them along with you for awhile; put pieces down for another while…. and then you rinse and repeat. 

If you’re a river, a dog, or a physicist, then work and play are the same thing to you, and you might think playing in the mud sounds like a pretty fun way to spend your life. You’d be right. End of story. You are free to go and live happily ever after in perpetual creative response to everything you encounter. (I am not being sarcastic. I agree with Martha Beck: this is the secret.)

The only catch is…

To live like a healthy, free stream YOU MUST spend all your time and power playing in the mud. In other words, you have to do your life’s work. Because if you don’t, you will fall apart.

All of that potential energy that the river’s converting to power HAS to go somewhere.  Without its natural “load,” your river will erode its own bed, banks, and floodplain as well as the immediate surroundings and the entire ecosystem that extends out from there.

You must not do anything that denies your river or your self of this, its life’s work. When it comes to keeping or restoring a healthy riverine life:

It’s really about the sediment.

As always, the science-y details are below, and I’d love to hear from you. Let me know what you think!

Yours in peace, love, and wild rivers,

Betsy

WHY

Why would anyone ever deny themselves or their river of this glorious, playful line of work?

Sometimes it’s because we get it into our heads that rivers should be civilized. Maybe we don’t want any flooding or we want the river to be crystalline in all places, at all times. Sometimes it’s because we or someone else wants to hold our Stream Power in one place and use it for something non-riverine like lighting up other people’s houses or giving them a place to use a motor boat. Often we’re so afraid of erosion that we over-react… and actually make it worse.

HOW TO

Here’s how to keep your river playing/working smoothy:

Don’t dam your river. You might think it’s fun to hold still and do nothing — but not for long. Without following your calling, you have no movement, no power, no ability to carry sediment. You drop your load. When water IS discharged from a dam, it’s so clean and extra powerful and “hungry” for work that it erodes downstream with a vengeance.

Don’t armor your river’s foundation or edges. Sometimes we try to line our vulnerable spots — a damaged turn or an advancing waterfall plunge *– with concrete, sheet metal, wire baskets of uniform-sized rocks, or old Corvettes. This hardened boundary only deprives the river of a healthy sediment meal and often speeds up the water. Once again, you’ve created a hungry river. There are better ways to care for our vulnerabilities.

Don’t pave your river’s watershed. The world around you needs to have some roughness, some growing things, and some places for life and rain to just percolate down into the soil and roots around you. Rainwater that runs off of suburban sprawl is remarkably dirt-free and — since less of it soaked in AND it encounters less resistance from the smooth, concrete surface — fast. Starved.

In other words: keep it wild.

And if your river has been damaged from too much civilization, don’t worry. You’re not alone — it seems to be unavoidable in this modern world — and lots of cool people have developed lots of cool tools for stream restoration and for soul restoration as well. And they LOVE to share those ideas. Weirdly, we can re-wild our rivers and ourselves with the help of our civilization — our fellow villagers. Let me know about the folks and fixes you find, and I’m happy to share those I love with you. Send me a note. Meanwhile, remember you’re as powerful and muddy as any river: fall hard, flood occasionally, and always (and only) play in the dirt.

* Want to know what kind of river YOU are? Click here to take the quiz!

Like a River… TIP #2

River TIP #2: Fall.

Specifically, fall toward what attracts you.

When you live like a river, ALL of your power and most* of your sense of direction come from letting yourself be pulled by a gravitational force.

Rivers famously wear away stone, move boulders, crush them into bits, and then carry those bits across continents. That strength comes only from attraction. Remarkable.

And what attracts a river is the sea.

Ahhhh, now comes the part where you may whisper: okay, but what is MY sea???? The best news of all is that you don’t have to know exactly WHAT it is that is attracting you.

For most of its journey, the river can’t see the ocean. And even when it’s within sight, the sea is impossible to describe with words. What pulls the river — and you and me — is truly ineffable. It is THE ineffable. And that’s not only beautiful but logistically fine because, like a river, you don’t need to know where you’re going to get there.

All you have to do is follow the pull you feel in the molecules of your being.

I invite you to read more about the cool physics’ WHYs and HOW TOs  below and to write me about your experience… in this case, your experience with the fall!

Yours in peace, love, and wild rivers,

Betsy

Why:

River water — like electrical circuits, wire springs, me, and you — has potential.

In physics, potential means: access to stored energy. And this energy is stored within the physical thing itself — within the body. This is the actual science, mind you!

A circuit stores electrical energy, a spring stores mechanical energy, and river water stores gravitational energy:

“In rivers, the potential energy is in the form of topographic elevation above the ultimate base level of the ocean.”  Luna Leopold, A View of The River

That’s right, when you live like a river, potential is measured by how far you can fall.

When the river obeys the tug of desire and falls to a lower elevation, it loses some potential energy. “BUT WAIT,” you exclaim, since you have always loved the First Law of Thermodynamics, “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed!” And you are so right. However it can — and in this case, it MUST — be converted to other forms of energy.

As it drops, the river water’s potential is converted to:

  1. Movement (kinetic energy): Gravity is the only thing that gives a natural river the ability to go anywhere, ever.
  2. Stream Power (friction energy): Stream Power is the reason rivers inspire awe. It’s what tosses Volkswagen-sized boulders around and carves canyons. The technical physics-term for such activity is Work. Of course, in physics there is no difference between work and play — both are just a force accelerating a mass through a distance, and when you do that over a period of time, physicists call it Power. It turns out rivers work all the time, like dogs. They can’t help themselves, and, like dogs, they do it with such exuberance that we can’t help but find it joyous.

That’s what happens to you too, when you release your potential.

How To:

In each moment and place, river water simply flows to the place with the MOST pull.

Okay, yes, there are a couple rubs:

~ This most attractive direction is also the location of the biggest fall.

That might be 1/4 inch (if you find yourself in an E-type stream like the Saskatchewan River) or 1/4 mile (if you find yourself at a step-pool type stream like the 1,320 ft Morning Star waterfall in the Northern Cascades).

So giving in to the tug may feel mundane… OR it may terrify you.

~ There’s also an actual rub, i.e., friction. You may have noticed above that the other name for Stream Power is friction energy. The river rubs against the earth wherever it touches it, picks off pieces of rock or dirt, picks them up and carries them for awhile, drops them sometimes, picks them back up.. and this is the river’s lifework.

Like a river, when you follow your desire, you automatically find yourself doing your life’s work. You can’t help it. There WILL be friction. That’s where the magic happens.

You may be afraid of falling or of rubbing someone the wrong way, but the only way to avoid those would be to hold still. And then you could never access your potential.

Moral #1: Never dam a river. It may turn into a perfectly nice lake, but it will no longer be a river in that place. It won’t be able to do “its river thing.” (Plus of course there are implications for the remaining river reaches above and below the dam as well as for all the living creatures in the ecosystem).

Moral #2: The same goes for you.

When you feel like you can’t tell what genuinely draws you, remember how the river works: following your path energizes you. You can feel it in in your body. A practical description of how to figure out your body’s foolproof inner guidance system is here.

Let go into the pull, and feel your power surge.

 

* See upcoming TIP#4 for the second steering mechanism. It’s a little un-nerving because noone understands why rivers do it, but don’t worry: they only do it all the time.

… Drenched

“Oh, Eeyore, you are wet!” said Piglet, feeling him. Eeyore shook himself, and asked somebody to explain to Piglet what happened when you had been inside a river for quite a long time.” ~ A.A. Milne

If water drips off you when you’ve been inside a river for quite a long time, then here’s the question I’m playing with:

What’s pouring from you when you’ve been inside your life for quite a long time?

~~

Here’s what we know about water:

Water runs through a river, shaping it.

The river’s assembly of bed-banks-floodplain is not just some random handy container giving water a place to flow. The river — that particularly-shaped earthen body  — is formed BY the water as it follows gravity‘s pull to a sea. That’s why each river is just the right size and shape for its flow.

So the question becomes:

What flows through your life, shaping it?