Confluence - Sense and Structure
October, 2016
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I've been puzzled by states of matter, reluctantly accepting that a liquid or gas does not always correspond to how things appear to human perceptions. Water mixing with air seduces in striking ways as waterfalls, foam and splashes, yet so much else goes on between them. Under water, bubbles from photosynthesis form on plants; invertebrate pupae generate gases that float them to the surface when they mature; and gills of invertebrates and fishes gather oxygen gas from the water into their bloodstreams. Levels of dissolved oxygen in water change with temperature, one reason why cold water is so critical to stream organisms. FISHBIO recently posted a fascinating look at managing water temperature for California salmon.
Rocks in some Sierra streams can appear like miniature reefs: colorful, diverse ecosystems of autotrophs ("self-nourishing" -- meaning plants and other organisms that make nutrients from light and inorganic materials), and heterotrophs (organisms that consume autotrophs, and each other, as food).
A stream, though, relies on all the land and sky that supplies the textures, materials, rhythms and opportunities in which organisms meet and mix. Leaves and twigs, even whole trees from surrounding landscapes are carried into streams by wind and gravity, adding to what grows in the water itself and becoming available to stream organisms as food and shelter.  Above, Bronwen Stanford assesses organic material with the Sentinel Streams team in Lassen National Park.
At algae scale the surface tension of air bubbles in water make hard, impenetrable objects, more like furniture than the fragile and ephemeral dreams bubbles conjure at human scale.
Tiny mayfly naiads nibble the algae. See this lovely short piece on mayflies co-written by Bruce Hammock, another member of the survey team.
Air-water boundaries both separate and connect; bubbles, riffles and cascades increase the exchanges between them.
Carnivorous plants, gas in water -- categories are nuanced and ridden with exceptions. Outside the Cherry Hill Campground, Lassen National Forest, hoods of California pitcher plants (Darlingtonia californica) rise from a perennially wet slope.
I barely know the processes I'm surrounded by, of life forms and chemistry, particles and pathways. Unfolding an artwork from the research of streams, probing gently into connections and tangles, recognizing that knowledge and sense can appear within clarity as well as through veils, inconsistencies, reversals, contradictions.
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All images are by Todd Gilens unless noted otherwise.

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