Water flows from high in the mountains. Water runs deep in the Earth. Miraculously, water comes to us, and sustains all life. – Thich Nhat Hanh
We are at the end of the micro-season, “The Mountain Stream Freezes Over”. This micro-season is the second part of the mini season of Major Cold.
Major Cold is the last mini season of the 72 Season calendar and runs from January 21 – February 03. The micro-seasons contained within this mini season are:
- The Giant Butterbur Flowers (Jan. 21 – Jan.24)
- The Mountain Stream Freezes Over (Jan 25 – Jan 29)
- The Chicken Lays Her First Eggs (Jan 30 – Feb 03)
The micro-seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai. Each micro-season lasts about five days, and each one highlights a slight change in the natural environment. These micro-seasons are specific to the climate of Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean that it isn’t applicable to others. They can become a starting point for a personal exploration into the world around you.
A Mountain Stream
This micro-season is primarily a reflection on the temperatures that we are feeling right now, and the fact that it is cold enough to freeze the rivers in the higher altitudes. However, this season is also an opportunity to think about the complexity of the earth’s fresh water systems.
Only about 3% of the earth’s water is freshwater, and only about 1.2% of that is available to drink. The other 2.8% of freshwater is either locked up in ice or stored in underground aquifers.(1) When the ice begins to melt, or the underground water emerges as spring water, these waters can become the source water, or headwaters, for streams and rivers.
Mountain streams are often fed by springs or melting snow and ice. These streams, or it might be more accurate to use the term creek, are small to start. But as they meander down the mountain they grow in size and merge with other creeks and streams. The streams and creeks continue to merge and feed into larger streams until they form a river.
All these smaller waterways that contribute to the larger waterways are called tributaries.
Once all the tributaries join into a river, the river continues its journey until it reaches an ocean. The distance between headwater and ocean is often very long. An example of this journey can be found with the spring water that feeds the Missouri River.
In southwest Montana there is a spring called Brower’s Spring. This spring is located at 9,100 feet above sea level on the side of Mount Jefferson. The water from this spring travels down four different creeks and streams until it mixes with the Beaverhead and the Big Hole River to form the Jefferson River. The Jefferson River, which starts near Twin Bridges, Montana, is about 83 miles long. The Jefferson River then joins with the Madison River at the Missouri Headwaters State Park in Montana.
The Missouri Headwater State Park is the official start of the Missouri River. The Missouri River is the longest river in the United States at 2,341 miles. However, the Missouri feeds into the Mississippi River, which is the second longest river in the United States. So, if you were to follow a drop of water from Brower’s Spring all the way to the Gulf of Mexico the total trip would be around 3,902 miles.
This is definitely a long way for a drop of water to travel. Yet, it is only the fourth longest distance from river source to ocean. The longest path is 4,130 miles in length and starts with the Rukarara River in Rwanda, and ends when the Nile meets the Mediterranean Sea in Alexandria, Egypt.
Rivers and all their tributaries are vital parts of our ecosystems. As the water travels from source to outlet, it supports a variety of animal and plant life along the way. Rivers also provide us with water for agricultural irrigation, drinking, electricity through hydro-electric plants, transportation routes, and recreational opportunities. Because humans rely heavily on the rivers, we are also responsible for many of the negative impacts on the health of the rivers. Therefore, it is vitally important that we monitor and maintain the health of these water systems. Not only for our species, but for all other species as well.
Some Final Thoughts On Rivers and Streams
I often rely on poets to close out these explorations into the seasons. Today’s selection is a little bit different because it not only includes are usual contributors of Basho and Issa, but also some new contributors. Kamo no Chomei (1155 – 1216) was a Japanese essayist and poet, and Heraclitus (535 - 475 BC) was philosopher from ancient Greece. We welcome these new voices to our conversation.
"The mountains in silence nurture the spirit; The water with movement calms the emotions." -Basho
by a mountain stream catching a chill... out-of-season blooms -Issa
Ceaselessly the river flows, yet never the same water, while in the still pools the shifting foam gathers and is gone, staying not for a moment. -Kamo no Chomei
leaping over a sudden stream mother deer looks back -Issa
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. -Heraclitus
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