Yesterday, I flew home to Toronto from the Netherlands, after handing in my PhD thesis. The plane had a camera pointing straight down that you could watch via the screens mounted in each seat. We had clear skies coming in over Labrador, and I spent the next two hours staring at the ground ten kilometers below. I normally take a window seat when I fly back, but this time felt like a new way of seeing Canada, a sort of involuntary real-time scroll through Google Earth. These words jumped out at me like popcorn and I thought I would share them.
What if it got so cold That it snowed every day For a thousand years?
So much snow That it piled up in drifts Three kilometers high
And flowed out Like pancake batter Across a precambrian griddle
Milling old mountaintops Into flour Our collective geologic trauma
Ten million fjords All pointing Into the sunset
Through Caravaggio clouds Unfurling roses Obscuring violence
Scars revealed By reservoirs Cursed news from another star
Windblown white floes Serrate inky lakes Like polished granite
Black spruce Persisting through Their boreal blankets
Leopard stripes And zebra spots On a gneiss throw rug
But then a road Too straight for this fractal tapestry Points home
Here are some photos; the resolution and clarity obviously don’t do the view justice, so the poem is my humble attempt to capture some of what I saw.
Today is Liberation Day in the Netherlands, and marks the 75th anniversary of their liberation at the end of World War II. There were many Canadians involved in that operation, so today is often marked by celebrations of Dutch-Canadian friendship on both sides of the Atlantic. Since I can’t actually celebrate anything with my Dutch friends these days, I instead offer up this poem:
Due to my non-Dutch upbringin’
I can’t speak the language they sing in
So I took a Dutch course
Now I make my voice hoarse
As I try to pronounce Scheveningen
I really need help with my Dutch
Since I currently lack the right touch
I don’t mean to sound terse
But I just can’t converse
Though I like writing poems very much!
Your regularly-scheduled coastal science and engineering-themed blog posts will resume… eventually…
I recently found a poem by Raymond Carver that really struck a chord with me, and I thought I’d share it for anyone else who is estuarily enthusiastic:
Where Water Comes Together with Other Water
I love creeks and the music they make.
And rills, in glades and meadows, before
they have a chance to become creeks.
I may even love them best of all
for their secrecy. I almost forgot
to say something about the source!
Can anything be more wonderful than a spring? But the big streams have my heart too. And the places streams flow into rivers. The open mouths of rivers where they join the sea. The places where water comes together with other water. Those places stand out in my mind like holy places. But these coastal rivers! I love them the way some men love horses or glamorous women. I have a thing for this cold swift water. Just looking at it makes my blood run and my skin tingle. I could sit and watch these rivers for hours. Not one of them like any other.
I’m 45 years old today.
Would anyone believe it if I said
I was once 35?
My heart empty and serene at 35!
Five more years had to pass
before it began to flow again.
I’ll take all the time I please this afternoon
before leaving my place alongside this river.
It pleases me, loving rivers.
Loving them all the way back
to their source.
Loving everything that increases me
– Raymond Carver
The image at the top of this post is of the mouth of the Columbia River, apparently at the beginning of flood tide. The plume of sediment and fresh water from the muddy river has extended out into the Pacific and mixed with salty seawater. Then, as the tide turns, it floods and brings the new mixture back into the estuary. This results in the second, inner plume pushing its way past the jetties. The contrasting physical properties of these two meeting bodies of water results in the beautiful patterns we see here. “The places where water comes together with other water. Those places stand out in my mind like holy places.”
Carver, R. Where Water Comes Together with Other Water. Astley, N. (Ed.). (2011). Being Human: Real Poems for Unreal Times. Tarset: Bloodaxe Books.
Sentinel-2 L1C image from February 10, 2020 (Source: https://tinyurl.com/uze5feu). Image has been slightly enhanced to improve contrast.
Ga je naar het strand? Mag ik
als je terug komt het zand
uit je schoenen voor
de bodem van mijn aquarium?
Are you going to the beach?
when you come back, may I have the sand
from your shoes for
the bottom of my aquarium?
– K. Schippers
I have had that Dutch poem on a postcard on my bedroom wall for a few years now, but it unexpectedly came to life a few weeks ago. I mentioned to some friends that I was taking pictures of sand from different beaches with a microscope and wanted to expand my collection. My colleague Silke enthusiastically responded- she had just returned from a holiday in France and still had sand in her shoes! “Should I bring it to the office tomorrow?” she asked. How could I say no?
Her holidays had taken her to the beautiful Glenans Archipelago off the coast of Brittany, not too far from where I am living right now in Brest. Unlike a lot of the sand I have looked at so far (which was mainly quartz), this beach appears to be quite shelly. The islands are famous for their maerl beds, a sort of coral algae rich in limestone. That may account for some of the interesting shapes and colours we see, but if you look closely, it seems there are also some threads and bits of lint from Silke’s socks! It might not be a scientifically valid sample, but I’ll take it!
This is a poem about the Laser In-Situ Scattering and Transmissometry or LISST instrument, which we use for measuring sand and mud floating through the water. I wrote it in response to a challenge to rap about what we learned during a workshop on estuaries last summer. I had some fun with it so I thought I’d share…
And now a poem about the LISST
It is a great solution
To measure stuff that’s floating
And its grain size distribution
When processing your measurements
You must beware the floc!
Since if you don’t account for it
You’re in for quite a shock
If there seems like too much mud
We should have some suspicion
Before all else, we have to check
The optical transmission
“We have an awful lot of sand!”
Is this hallucination?
First thing’s first: we should have checked
Our background concentration
We sometimes see before our eyes
Large particles appearin’
When gradients of salt are high
It is the fault of Schlieren
So from the depths of Ameland,
A lesson that does matter:
When working with a fancy LISST
Don’t blindly trust your data!