I wonder when I drive near a stream about the other cars around me. The people in the buildings that might be lining the banks. The lives the stream flows through.
They say a stream is a network, a pattern. The shape of a stream and its tributaries, and their tributaries, is definable. The name of this shape is a drainage basin. No two drainage basins are alike, each one unique. Similarities exist, yes. Lots are circular, others pear-shaped. A few are linear. Oblong. But all are unique, like creatures in and of themselves.
There are other knowable things within the drainage basin. We can measure its climate. We can measure the water that falls into it as rain or snow, and the water that flows out of it like air from lungs. Deep breaths that take years to complete.
We study the features around its birth, its headwaters. And we study the mouth of it, where it pours all of itself into a mother stream or bay or ocean.
We can measure how well each part of the drainage basin connects to its other parts, whether its arms and branches are functioning in a connected mass like veins around a heart. When connectivity is poor, we can figure out why. Maybe it’s from dams or other structures blocking streamflow. Or maybe drought has changed the distribution of water in some parts of the drainage basin.
We can measure the influence of human lives on the shape and function of drainage basins. Even a tender rain, droplets like strands of silk that hang on the air like a fog, pull away with them the friable bits of our daily lives. They merge together and flow hand-in-hand into sewers and into whichever stream is closest as a concoction of water, oil, dirt, and natatorial asphalt. The microscopic remains of whoever is living nearby, and the plastics they’ve covered their world with.
And when the gossamer clouds move away, dissipate, the stream will still be some aqueous beast, mutilated by us. And all waters of the drainage basin will carry our signature, our fingerprint. When I stand in a stream, a sample of it collected in the bottles I carry with me, I know in that bottle is a piece of every component of its drainage basin. All the people. Their pets. Their cars. Roads. Other animal life. Flora. And me.
I take the water in my hands like the flesh of some animal that is as old as time itself. A being that has flowed in all of the earth’s streams, oceans, in a perpetual cycle. It’s flowed through people, and the things before people. And in my hands, it is revered.