-- Last Updated: Nov-13-13 6:41 PM EST --
In a trig class I took many years ago we had a problem where we had to calculate the speed of the earth's rotation at the latitude of New York City. A few of us figured we were just having too much fun with this, so we just kept figuring til we arrived at the length of a "New York minute". In feet.
Of course there are all sorts of things in the natural world that, like the time traveled by the light from some distant star, are just mind-boggling when given a bit of consideration. Here's one that I recently stumbled on that might be worth some thought for some of the paddlers here. I'll just quote it. Its from a book on the Mississippi R. and its role in American history called "Old Man River" and includes stuff from the whole watershed. Anyhow...
"When continents collide, oceans slowly disappear and mountains creep upward; the formation of Pangea eventually threw up a mountain range along one side of Laurentia that was higher than the Himalayas are today. Remnants of that Central Pangia Range still exhist, in the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco and the Scottish Highlands. Much of what is left of the old Pangia Range, however, is now the Appalachian Mountains of North America - in other words, the eastern boundary of the Mississippi River basin."
"Some rocks, when they are formed, align their internal magnitism with the earth's poles, allowing paleomagnetologists to say with a surprising degree of confidence that those vertiginous peaks of the Central Pangian Range half a billion years ago ran roughly east-west rather than north-south as the Appalachians do today. Rain nonetheless fell on these same slopes that would become Kentucky and Tennessee. Rain fell in showers and torrents and began the long work of tearing down the range and carrying it to the sea. Mountain brooks seem so ephemeral when approached on foot in a dry summer, or when buried under the ice and snow of winter, at least when compared with grand continental currents such as the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Ohio, and the Arkansas. But they are not."
"Bounded as they are by metamorphic walls high above the rise and fall of the seas - what geologists call basement rocks - these tiny seasonal alpine rills are more permanent in their ways than the mightiest lowland rivers. The latest sediment of the day can be found on the soles of your shoes by the banks of Old Man River, but geologists know to look for the truly ancient up in the hills. The oldest river in America, and possibly the oldest in the world, is ironically named the New River. It flows off the western slopes of the Appalachians in North Carolina through a corner of Virginia and West Virginia, where it merges with the Gauley to form the Kanawha, which joins the Ohio at Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and then the Mississippi at Cairo. The New River is older than the Atlantic Ocean, older then the dinosaurs."
There's a guy over on the "Wilderness" board asking about it and I suppose many of you guys have paddled it. But I find that to be an amazing bit of info - older than today's shipment of photons arriving from the Sombrero Galaxy. (Heck, that's recent. Only as old as grasses, the first primates, and our current polar ice caps - the latter was brought to my attention by someone on this board, BTW) And whoda thunk it? We all harbor some thoughts of deep time when we look into the stars, but a whitewater river? But rivers also can be really really old...
And I think to myself, What a wonderful world.
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