Rivers

I doubt it's still there, but for a time if you went into room 215 of the New Paltz High School, you would see a wooden plaque with a short list of names on it.  It was a list of those students who had earned a perfect score on the regents exam in earth science.  My name was among them.  The quality of my teachers no doubt had a lot to do with that, but it also helped that much of what I learned in that class was review.  I'd not only learned about it before, but had hands-on experience. 

In case you don't remember, earth science is an amalgam of geology and meteorology.  Rivers featured prominently in both.  For some of my classmates, the processes  that lead to the formation of an oxbow, a waterfall, a terrace or a delta could only be understood in the abstract.  After all, they were so unimaginably slow that those of us entering puberty could hardly imagine them in motion.  Not for me.  It was on the beach that I got my experience with rivers.  Here's an example. 


We recently made a trip to the beach of my youth, and I was determined to give PP a chance to become as familiar with river lore as I had been.  In fact probably better.  You see, as a youngster, my rivers were limited by my limited ability to transport buckets of water to make-shift reservoirs.  I could take maybe a gallon at a time, and the river flow  was far from even.  My sand reservoirs would soak up their share of my labor, and the walls would tend to slump, or be washed away if I was too ambitious and poured too quickly.

The lake could be generous, however.  One year a beer keg washed up in a storm.  No doubt somebody's boat or lake-side party had been a bit too lubricated, and they lost their deposit.  It was our gain, however.  We could take the keg out and play the challenging, Bilboesque game of balancing on it while it bobbed around.  It had not come with any form of plug or tap, so it would eventually take on enough water to sink entirely.  At that point, we could role it out of the water and tip it on end. It would glug away for a good 5 to 10 minutes, giving us a nice and fairly continuous stream. 

One of the lessons learned was the futility of building reservoirs out of sand.  Invariably one small leak would start removing a small amount of sediment, which would lead to a slightly larger leak.  Before you knew it, the village of sand castles downstream was in for a BAD DAY.  I was definitely not a beneficent god.   Putting rocks on the walls did nothing to help.  Water can flow around rocks, and there is only that much less sand it needs to remove to totally destabilize the system.  I view that as a lesson that every generation needs to learn for itself. 

On this latest trip to the beach, I had every intention of setting up a river for the little ones that was a least as good as the one's of old.  I even went so far as to pack a small submersible fountain pump that could run on 12 VDC.  I hadn't thought through how I would power it.  At worst, I could always fall back on pulling the battery out of the car.  In the end, John came up with a more reliable and less drastic method.  We went out and bought a couple of 15 gallon storage bins.   Those, and a 4 foot length of half-inch tygon tubing that we had lying around was all we needed.  A parent could use one tub to transport lake water to the other.  About three trips would give you a full tub.  Setting up a syphon would give you about 10 minutes of a fairly robust flow.  Another filling trip every few minutes was enough to keep the river flowing indefinitely. 

Setting up a syphon is something us adults might take for granted, but it's another one of the simple concepts that can take some getting used to for the uninitiated.

The lesson learned here is, first off you don't blow.  Unless of course, your brother is blowing on the other end.  In that case, you need to blow at least as hard, and definitely don't be the first one to stop.  Having the tube filled with a fair amount of water, seaweed and sand also helps raise the stakes in the game. 

The younger subjects of this little experiment found some alternative uses of the setup, but they had fun just the same.  No "Eureka!" moments, yet. 


I found that the tubs could also be used as boats for the smaller kids.  They're completely unstable, so you have to hold them steady as you walk them around and act as their engine.  If I'd realized this use would crop up, I would have bought the clear storage bins so that they could have a glass-bottomed boat experience.  Maybe next year.