Category Archives: Stream Type Da

Moderation may not be

Play my new game! Rank these eight rivers in order of moderation. Go ahead; I will wait.

1Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Iceland. 2Stream Type B... somewhere in my great-grandparents' homeland of Norwegia

3Stream Type C -- Blue River, Colorado 4Stream Type D

5StreamType E: Meandering. 6Stream Type F -- Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River, Arizona

7 8

So, looking back at your ranking decisions, what were your criteria?

Most people instinctively do not choose #1 as the most moderate: so steep and fast and wildly beautiful.

Number 7 is usually eliminated for sheer rawness, as is #4.

Here are  other  common responses:

Number 8 looks too complicated to be considered moderate.

Number 6 looks rather… something. Way down there? But on the other hand it looks kind of under control, so maybe it’s moderate.

Number 2 — very exciting and fun! But that’s not what we associate with moderate.

Maybe #3 is the moderation star — seems so classic, after all.

Or #5 — meandering along like a river “should.”

Before I reveal the hydrological answer, let me throw in an extra credit question: which river do you think is the most stable?

And just for interest, though there is no such thing as an ugly river, what is your favorite in terms of beauty — right this moment?


Fluvial geomorphologists look at rivers in terms of four basic characteristics:

    • entrenchment (when flood waters come, an entrenched river stays in its channel and gets deeper — as opposed to spreading way out),
    • width-to-depth ratio (relatively “wide and shallow” vs “narrow and deep”),
    • sinuosity (how curvy is the channel?), and
    • slope.

Only one of the above eight river types is moderate in all those areas: #2.


Moderation is not the same as slow (#5) nor does it go with a classic workhorse beauty (#3). It’s not isolated and independent like #6.

The most moderate river type is the one we call “rapids.” It’s the one river runners flock to. It’s fun — not boring even in low flow and not full out terrifying even in high flow. It interacts with its surroundings — getting somewhat wider in a flood and definitely benefiting from nice stream side vegetation — but doesn’t dominate the neighbors (by overflowing at the slightest increase in its energy) or completely depend on them (a little over-grazing or watershed paving won’t reduce its banks to raw smithereens).

As for the most stable* river type? Yes: also the rapids. Moderation may not be…

At least it may not be what we thought it was.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of — or inordinately obsessed with in any way. But for sure it’s not dull. It’s vital and engaging.

No, it’s not the only way to be well. What I love about rivers is that any type can be stable (well, except one.. and it can be healed), and they’re all gorgeous — even the immoderates. Even the moderates.

I invite you to take the “What Stream Type Are You?” quiz to investigate your own nature (“for now”… because, thankfully, rivers/we are always changing) and consider tips for maintaining your own particular beauty. Meanwhile, my wish for you (from John O’Donohue’s poem Fluent) is that you may continue to:

“live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of [your] own unfolding.”

* I define stable as resilient when insulted. (For a river, an insult can be: big change in flow/energy, either up or down; big change in the river’s sediment/load, either more or less; alteration in width or depth or slope/speed, like someone digs a hole in the river or fills it or tramples down the bank or narrows up the edges; or interference with the flood plain, reducing the amount of area a river can use for overflow. Um, does it amaze you how EACH ONE OF THESE IS A METAPHOR FOR OUR HUMAN LIVES?! I know. Me too.)

… split but not crazy.

Dear Like a River — My life doesn’t fit the model of a stream channel! It’s more like maybe ten at once. There are my kids (homework, practices, fruits & vegetables, suitable friends, clothes that fit, feelings, dreams, and socks, oh the socks…), and my job (sometimes I actually bring the kids, depending on when, who, etc…) plus love life, work-outs, friends (I CAN’T do without them, luckily I get to see a couple at work and in yoga class), parents (my mother-in-law lives with us which is actually helpful), and this tantalizing little side interest that’s maybe, hopefully evolving into a true vocation. See what I mean? — Split

Dear Split,

I have two friends, Crazy and Sassy, who both flow through multiple channels every single day.  But any similarity between them ends there.


Mostly she’s crazy-beautiful, but at times she falls apart. Then Crazy Woman Creek is unable to carry her load. As you can see, she begins dropping rocks and dirt all over her bed. Her channel becomes shallow thereby decreasing her stream power so she’s less capable of doing work. Eventually an unnatural island forms right in the middle of Crazy’s life. It divides her energy between channels, further diminishing her power, then the additional deposition acts like a low dam and flattens her water surface, forcing the stream sideways. She erodes her own ragged edges:


Sassy does multiple-channel-flow in the healthy way: anastomosing. You can see she’s more like a system of many stable, narrow, deep streams. The sometimes twisting branches join, split, and reconnect in a continuous network across a super wide, very flat, extremely well-vegetated floodplain. The friendly plant roots stabilize her banks. The Saskatchewan River’s  whole environment is lush with LIFE: insects, mammals, and everything in between. Plus she’s super accessible. You can walk all over that flatness as long as you don’t mind being damp. It’s wet everywhere even though you’ll rarely find a serious “rapid” or any water deeper than your waist. And best of all, Sassy functions beautifully – she can do her work — which for a river means transporting sediment. As a result, her banks and bed are stable.

How to be Sassy:

• Each separate part of your life must be deep and narrow — focused enough to move a load on its own. But let some of those branches turn and meander almost tortuously. That’s part of Sassy’s charm and stability.

• Like Sassy, draw support from the roots of your friends.

• Those roots will depend, in turn, on your energy. Because of interconnections, if there’s any water in Sassy’s stream, those roots get it too. If one channel gets blocked, water flows another way. That’s why so many lifeforms have this same pattern – blood capillaries, leaf veins — and why you, Split, seem to be doing pretty well. Your mother-in-law helps with the kids who can also sometimes go to work where you also see your friends who you may see later at yoga.

• This life needs a steady and unhurried pace. Sassy, her banks, and her floodplain are all pretty flat, so everything’s evenly irrigated. Furthermore, the gradual slopes create very little erosion force AND allow plenty of time for water to soak in.

• Sassy can handle a flood for the same reason – lots of level space to spread out and slow down the floodwater. If you want to run in multiple worlds, be sure the overall cross-section of your life gives you room to overflow when inundated.

• Avoid building walls. Burying or filling any part of Sassy is the beginning of her end. Imagine elevated roads, railways, or “flood control berms” cutting off her channels.

When we’re part of a community, branching from and joining into others lives in our own healthy way — well, not much can disrupt that kind of well-being. Thank you, Split, for the reminder.