Slow Glaciers, Cows, Deer, Lichen and Poetry Making a New Hydrology Together

A mysterious rock near the top of the hill.

Here’s the hill in the smoke last fall. Looks dry, huh.

We’re going up to the top of the bare patch at the top, mid-image, and a few steps further.

Luckily, it’s not dry. Think of our rock …

The orange fire-light is gone, yay!

…as a mountain towering high above a valley and cut by seasonal streams.

Cache Creek

That’s pretty much the deal.

Thompson Parklands

But it’s mysterious.
The glaciers high up (well, small snow drifts) release water. It flows down around …

… and through …

Note the deer print.

… and over the mountain and makes a green lake of moss in the valley below…

The valley runs laterally across the bottom third of the image. 

… a wetland, cruised by insects. Call them the moose of this ecosystem. But have a closer look at the creek systems!

If this water had flowed under the effects of gravity alone, it would have flowed down the hanging river valley to the left and poured over into the wetland from there, but it did not. It came down the lichen trails to the right. It was, in other words, diverted. I think there are two likely causes. First, there’s more than one kind of lichen…

Turtle Mountain

…and lichens soak up water as soon as a rock face is cleared of snow by the sun in early February, even late January in some years. Then they change the whole landscape!

They can even make whole valley and mountain systems out of a vertical face.


Well, that’s one possibility. What do you think? Did they do that in the shady hanging valley at the top of the image below?

Could be, eh. It could also be that that little valley (draw) filled with snow (a lake of snow), which melted (leaked) more slowly than that on the exposed rock face, on account of shadow and all…

… and so moved water across time to slowly leak out, drawn by gravity …

… and, simultaneously, licked (drawn) by sun …

… to make a fine green mossy lake.

Note the valley system above the rock, running at an angle toward’s the centre right of the upper edge of the image from the rock’s own hanging valley.

It could be as well that the glacier that the wind built up above the rock for its own mysterious, windy reasons, trickled down the valley, broke against the upper wall of the rock in a crashing wave (well, a slow-motion one recorded by the green lip of moss there) … and was released slowly, partially directed by lichen, ran along the right upper edge of the rock and slowly spilled over it where lichens interrupted its flow and caused it to swell, thicken and drop down the rock to make he creek systems we see. But there’s another story here, too. Let’s look again:

This time, let’s look at the broken mountain peak at the middle right. Darned thing looks like water entered a crack in the rock …

… split it, and then along came a grass-munching cow or something large and oblivious…

… and knocked the whole top of the mountain off with its hoof parts!

I think that’s the peak lying all jumbled up at the bottom right, and some dried up cow plop at the bottom left. It’s also possible that the hanging valley in the main part of the rock is lying drowning in moss below it. That’s usually how these things go.


Still, it happens all the time, even without cows.

Thompson Parklands

So, looking again, we can see the imprint of the cow’s hoof above the broken off peak …

… and the earth pushed up by the pressure of it, making a ring around the upper edge of the missing hill. Notice as well how the earth on the left side of the missing peak makes a high spire, which creates a shady channel… great for storing snow and slowly releasing it, melted by the heat pouring through the soil from its sunny face. The lake and stream system of moss below it shows just how fruitful a slow post-glacial trickle can be.

Some glaciers are formed by sloppy work by a snow blade down the hill, but the effect is just as fruitful.

You can see a similar effect in the image below (facing our rock), where it’s not moss but a colony of chokecherries, hawthorns, maples and saskatoons that take the slowly-released water off, long after the sunny slope is crisped up.

It looks to me as if those hot facing slopes are doing work, too. As a suggestion of that, I offer some saskatoons, spanning the gap between cold and heat, water and sun, shade and light (how fun… feel free to go on)…

Note the bunchgrass doing the same thing!

In other words, this…

… is kind of like this…

Note how the hot steep slope is populated only by bunchgrass, storing water in its thick root systems (each half the size of the blank space between grasses), while the shallower slopes are over-run by cheatgrass, which pumps the water out and burns it off by midsummer. Meanwhile, the bunchgrass uses the sun to draw the water up from its roots (which are like a private lake). The cheatgrass can’t get a purchase because gravity, sun and bunchgrass have defeated it from water in September, when it germinates. Here’s an image of some giant rye on the road margin up the hill (and obscuring the hill)kind of playing the same trick. In this case, skeleton weed (like cheatgrass, also invasive) has caught the water in the lower margin.

Looks like the Giant Rye was scattered downhill, over the (hidden) road by water, and found a nice slope, just like our moss…

… these correspondences are what, in court poetry, is called “metaphor” and “simile”, but they have direct, living connections in the world. The poetic imagination links them together. Out of them will come a new hydrology, one linked intimately with this place, applicable in place, and not quite so rarified and dealing with the generalized laws of the universe as the first order of science which has come to us from Europe, beautiful and useful as it is. Science came out of poetry once. We can up our game and do it again, in our work of remaking our poetry (land.) Actually, we have models. Coyotes go in straight (sorta) lines across open space…

… and in the grass they go all over the place, sniffing and snuffling and poking around being curious and keeping the birds and the mice and the deer on their toes. Their tracks make lakes of sun in the snow.

Deer however, crossing the slopes at precise angles set by the angles of their bones, and following the same tracks for decades if not centuries, as each deer follows the path of its mother even after its mother is gone and a new fawn is following her …

… cut deep into the snow, make shade, and trap glaciers, which melt slowly and form terraces of growth, great for grazing right where you are, great cover for the little ones, and slowly down the evaporation of snow off the hill. That’s the thing: you don’t want the sky, dried out by its trip over the mountains to the west, to suck any of the water away before it can be taken up by life. It’s beautiful.

Look at how it all works together.

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