In late summer, I would swim and stream-walk a small section of the Raccoon River. While sedimented for decades now, the water was clear in the shallows. For a few years now, the water is pea-green from edge-to-edge. For decades and worse now, this water has strongly contributed to a vast hypoxia zone in the Gulf.

In the 1980s, I wrote about the wisdom of the river, focusing on the Des Moines River as a living, very open metaphor for the essential streaming dynamic of the universe that is within us as well in the streaming of our body metabolism and thought.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Magic And Miracle Of Living Water, Down To The Micro

Gomphonema clevei

LET’S START OUT very clear on this point: Water is water in the everyday.  We spend more time in the shower and let the tap run because water is water.   There is no magic in it, UNTIL there is a sustained drought.  Then it rains down for everyone as grace itself, nearly manna from heaven. 

You like the little, personal, back country 4-wheeler that can go anywhere?  Yeh, getting out in  the county side and woodland. 4-wheeler spells freedom, escape from routine.  And a beautiful place to go is in the mud alongside a stream or river, especially when the water is low.  This is your right to be FREE and not thinking at all, and just turn it loose is a dance of freedom.  You are entitled.  Freedom is what it’s about!

The “mud,” the stream edge and shallows, that you roar through are a house of life.  You’re a “Mudder,” you’re free and you’re singing your freedom song with your twist of the throttle.  

In that mud are the Gomphonema, delicate silica diatoms, making oxygen and fixing nitrogen.  So whether that ever becomes important to you or not, there is a dynamic at work of which your “freedom” has no awareness.  One little muddy place is one little muddy place.  But there are muddy places and less-traveled terrains that do the very work of the world that holds you up.  This absence of information about how the world really works will likely not destroy the world at this micro level of your stream ride.  But the sense of water as alive and complex and doing great work while you play and destroy amplifies your abusive ignorance.

Rather than try to compare the micro and macro, or to detail how one scale is really the other, just an intro here to the diatoms that really run the planet with their presence in the ocean and stream and how they contribute deeply, DEEPLY to the Earth’s oxygen, carbon-fixing (in your ignorance you get a tiny question mark as to what carbon-fixing might mean), and, finally, to the beginning of the food chain.  

The massive planet Earth runs on massive micro actions, not on your actions.

When you look at “mud,” perhaps try to imagine that you are more ignorant than you can imagine.  Where you are likely to see nothing, there is rich complexity that is the work of the world.

And if science has found it, you can find it.

Algae and diatoms and myriad other life forms in what appears to be a wasteland.  It’s not just muddy by accident, it is there for a reason, for an intelligence that not one of your kind can understand enough to replicate.  And all you have to do right now it just recognize this and show some care when you can.   


stream edge on Walnut Creek, with oxygen bubbles/algae and silt

AND SO A LOOK at one small landscape:

Diatoms are producers within the food chain. A unique feature of diatom cells is that they are enclosed within a cell wall made of silica (hydrated silicon dioxide) called a frustule.

Diatoms are important as they:
• provide the basis of the food chain for both marine and freshwater micro-organisms and animal larvae
• are a major source of atmospheric oxygen responsible for 20-30% of all carbon fixation on the planet
can act as environmental indictors of climate change.

Diatoms have cell walls made of silica, Each species has a distinct pattern of tiny holes in the cell wall (frustule) through which they absorb nutrients and get rid of waste.  Viewed under microscopes, diatoms show a huge variety of shapes with many interesting and beautiful patterns. Their shapes and structure are usually highly regular and symmetrical, and these features are used to identify and classify them. 

Phytoplankton are the smallest of all plankters ranging from around 1mm to as small as 7.5 micrometers making them mostly invisible to the naked eye.
All diatoms have a siliceous (glassy) exoskeleton of two halves that fit inside one another perfectly. 

Plankton means wandering in Greek and many diatoms remains as isolated cells and spend their whole lives adrift whilst others forms chains/clumps. 

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