Sunday, April 10, 2011

Phase Changes (H20)

Phase Changes

Our universe may be defined as one in which, in the space of possible universes, water is possible -- that fortuitous bond of three small atoms that floats ships, makes blood flow, soup congeal, glaciers grind mountains, and penguins emerge from the deep blue onto an ice flow.
My town (all but one photos taken within a mile of home) may be defined as one in the space of all towns where water cycles through its phases with particular exuberance. We are surrounded by water in all three phases, and changing from one to another. Pacific storms strike the Cascade range, which begins about ten miles to the east, pile up as mists against Mount Si, stack up dozens of feet high as winter snow, then run down the Snoqualmie River a block from my house.
The story of the water that flows in that river is much longer than the river itself, of course. It begins at the moment of creation, when intense radiation ("Let there be light!") kept most of our universe's hydrogen from "cooking" into heavier elements. The oxygen that would join it, was later baked in the explosions of supernovas. The two elements having been coupled, water splashed down on Earth in comets from the outer reaches of the solar system. During the last Ice Age, glaciers from Canada piled Cascade runoff into a deep lake where the town of North Bend ("Twin Peaks") is today. When the river ran free, Indians set up a village where my town now is, to dry salmon on the bank, and launch canoes in raids towards Puget Sound (the Snoqualmies were a force under the wily Chief Patkanim).
The winter now ending may be defined as the winter, in the space of all winters, one I'm among the happiest to see the end of. We had a little snow in five months -- November, December, January, February and April -- a little sun, and a whole lot of rain. Enough, already! In History of Grace, I wrote optimistically:
"Water is an elegant but enduring compound . . . Look across a pond on the snow on a fog-wreathed mountain on an April day, and you see the rare sight of a single compound in three states. When it freezes, it doesn't contract like most compounds, but expands, creating the doom of the Titanic, but hope for anything that wishes to inhabit the Earth: ice that floats, rather than sinking and clogging the oceans.
"That layer of ice also insulates lakes like snow used for an igloo. When the atmosphere . . . turned blue, the frozen form of this ingenious compound would alone be worth crossing the galaxy to see as it precipitated from clouds. Billions of six-sided crystals flutter down, each a unique shape, delicate and white lattices. Even her stores of inorganic crystals thus marked her as a planet of mesmerizing beauty."

That is how I like to think of it, and I did enjoy the heavy flakes of early April snow we saw last week. But scary as it may seem at first, as if a robin's egg were imprisoning the Earth, and grateful as I am for the anthropic wonder of water, which humanity took for granted for so long, and now begins to recognize for the miracle that it is, it's nice, finally, to see a little of that blue poking through the mists again.


B.R. said...

Nice photos. I may have to visit one of these days. Play chess? I have a Star Wars set. ;)

David B Marshall said...

BR: Thanks. For what the mountains can look like around here in the summer, see last October, "Alpine Paradise." I'm itching to get back, but it might be a while -- they've gotten a ton of snow up there, the last couple months.