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Confluence Research Notes - Path, Pace, Shape
February 2019
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It takes me a couple hours to fully wake in the morning. Perhaps something like that is at work among plants as they transition from California's dry-season quiescence to a growth cycle charged by cool weather and wet soil. While they're waking up, I am combing through research, gathering nourishment for my own spring activities.
 
Rain falls and streams flow, but the pathways of water in landscapes are much more varied. Accompanying Melissa Thaw, University of California at Merced researcher, in the Kings River Experimental Watershed in summer 2016, we passed  field experiments like this one, which registers the movement of water from ground to air through a tree.
 
Melissa was sampling surface water from streams, and groundwater from miniature wells sunk into mountain meadows. She’s analyzing the water for isotopes (H2O with extra neutrons in the oxygen atoms – which actually make those molecules heavier). While researchers use these isotopes to follow water pathways through mountain ecosystems, their drinking water sources are determined by historical water claims: the people of Merced in California’s central valley drink ground water with traces of agricultural, industrial and roadway pollution - while mountain water goes to the vegetables. Maybe a good thing for the rest of us?
 
Viscosity, weight and transparency also define the forms of water. I photographed this natural drop fountain on Chilnualna creek in Yosemite National Park, while writing out field notes later that summer. Those notebooks are a foundation for work I’ll do in April as a resident writer at the Mesa Refuge. Progress has been continuing, as I develop reflections on stream ecology into texts for a public artwork (see my September 2016 post).
 
I now know the reason for pools must be to inscribe clouds in their true form, unstoppable reveries on their way to other shapes and places.
 
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All images by Todd Gilens unless noted otherwise.

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