Hydrology

I remember some years ago reading a news item about two elderly brothers. They hadn’t spoken to each other in years, some rift or other had opened up and then time and geographic distance had taken over. Then one brother heard the other was sick, and decided he had to take action. He couldn’t drive a car anymore. So he got on his riding mower and drove the entire way along the shoulder, at five miles an hour. For 240 miles.  (He did at last see his brother, who, happily, recovered.)

I like to believe in happy endings like that—that things can be made right, or at least, improved. For reasons both personal and political, it seems hard right now to have faith in those kinds of sunny outcomes, to believe that there is still time for people and events to change course and start heading towards higher ground. I’m not even sure I can see higher ground, sometimes.

But then again, maybe I don’t have to.

This morning as the sun came up and I was gazing out the slider and saw the bright day beginning I thought of spring. Far off, I know; but the light is already changing, growing stronger. Thinking of spring makes me think of the cottage, and the North Country in general. I thought of the thaw, the movement of water, the Great Lakes stirring to motion again. Coming alive (at least, as I experience them—they’re dynamic in ways I don’t see even when they’re covered in ice.)

I was suddenly back at Pictured Rocks, where we went backpacking two summers ago. I could see the emerald water at the foot of the cliffs along which we hiked. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world, the green of Lake Superior. I thought of the small pines and firs that cling there at the cliff’s edge. I thought of rain—a drop of water coming down, cascading over the rock and into the basin: a raindrop becoming part of Lake Superior.

I’ve read a tiny bit about the hydrology of the Great Lakes. I know that water falling into Lake Superior will stay there nearly 200 years before it moves on: through the St. Marys River, out to Lakes Michigan and Huron. Those lakes too have a retention time (less than Superior; Michigan’s is some sixty years) before water flows from them into Lake St. Clair and then Lake Erie. Eventually through the Niagara River, and over the Falls. Into Lake Ontario and one day, out to the Atlantic Ocean.

A journey of a thousand miles and hundreds of years.

As I say, I’ve been feeling bereft and discouraged lately. The happy outcomes seem far away; maybe, I fear, some of them are unattainable. But thinking of the travel of that glass-green water, the slow, meandering journey it takes—somehow, it made me feel better. Things happen, are happening, without my knowing. There are timetables that don’t calibrate to my life, or any human being’s.

We do the best we can, or try to. Sometimes we see the happy ending. But even if we don’t, the waters are moving. I’ve stood beside the magnificence of Niagara Falls many times. Next time I’m there I hope I remember that the water roaring over the escarpment was circulating in Lake Superior before my great-great grandparents were born.

I am impatient for the happy endings, to have everything righted, resolved and stowed away. But perhaps the trick is patience after all.

Some journeys take a long, long time.

 

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