Monday, December 5, 2011

Water Wears Away Rock

“The fall of dripping water wears away the stone.”- Lucretius

"Water dropping day by day wears the hardest rock away." - Chinese proverb

“The waters wear the stones:” Job 14:19

Water wears away rock. It seems this is a universal truth. Maybe that’s the draw of this place. We can see tangible evidence that persistence does produce results. Water does wear away rock, given enough time. I am at the pot rocks on the Gunpowder River, so named for the pot holes carved into the schist bedrock by eons of water.

The smoothed rock feels warm as I suit up, and its mica flecked blue and white bands are striking. The area brings back memories of a favorite family vacation to Ausable Chasm in New York. I think about these kinds of things much more since my parents died, and it’s a rare day in a river when I don’t think of them at least once. Ausable chasm had potholes carved into its rock too, only on a much more grand scale, in a much more dramatic canyon. But the pot rocks on the Gunpowder do a fine job proving that water in fact does wear away rock.

I slip into a slower moving section of river, partly protected from the main flow by a wall of jagged bedrock, and I scramble upstream. It’s hard to hold onto smooth and slick schist. The flow intensifies as I approach a short falls, and the water becomes turbulent with disorienting infused air bubbles. I dive for the bottom two feet below and scramble to find any lip to hold onto. The rock is worn smooth and sticks are wedged into a crack between two slabs.

I let go and let the current carry me downstream where I cross a gravel bar and enter the main flow of the Gunpowder. This isn’t an especially large or powerful river, but all of its energy seems to be focused here where water from the piedmont quickly falls to meet the coastal plane.

I think I see a ghost school of shad waiting in the large eddy below the forceful rapid, but second guess myself as it’s the wrong time of year to have shad here. I try to stand in the 5 foot deep water but the force of what appears to be even a gentle upstream eddy sweeps me off my feet and tries to push me into the main fast, hard flow. I swim against the eddy, downstream, and confirm they weren’t ghosts. The school of a dozen shad zip into the gloom.

The power of the water is intense and the large eddy continues to try to swirl me into the main flow. This is a remote spot, yet I feel watched. I feel reluctant and nervous. Scared even. I feel like nothing more than a leaf swirled around in the drift. I feel insignificant. Just another speck in the river. I have minimal control on where I go. I am at the mercy of the river, and I am humbled and grounded.

And maybe that grounding is part of the attraction to this truth, that water wears rock. It reminds us that everything, even things that seem infinitely permanent and unmovable like rock, or parents, is ephemeral. The sooner we accept this, the sweeter life becomes, and rivers are great teachers of this lesson.

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