“Flowing water, in streams and rivers or across the land in sheets, is the dominant erosional process in shaping Earth’s landscape…most of the erosional work done by surface water is not done by streams or rivers but instead by falling raindrops and by the resulting unorganized runoff down slopes.”– Science Clarified website
This shaping of the land by water is called “fluvial processes.”
By a nearby creek, we are seeing “aggradation,” deposits of sediment that are changing the height and shape of the shore. At flood levels, the creek rushes toward the Colorado River, gathering sediment, gravel, and human possessions as it goes. Where the creek turns a bend and slows down, it deposits inches (or feet) of alluvium in the form of sticky gray mud on the shore.
In a field near the house we see a different process–erosion. Sheets of water pour over the surface, and tunnels of water gush below, racing downhill toward the creek. These combined flows sweep the soil away and carve a gaping gulley. Layers of sand, clay, and stone stripe the sides, and a hard, layer of mud or clay swirled by long ago currents lines the bottom.
Left alone, over time, the land would be reconfigured by fluvial processes. A new stream might appear where the gulley is now, and down by the creek the shore would continue to rise into a bluff. The question for us is whether to fight the changes or adapt to them.
Humans and Change
Without success, I’ve searched for the word that describes how life experiences shape us in the way that water shapes the Earth; “fluvial processes is to earth as ___________is to person.” “Formative experience” is the best I can come up. Some life experiences create change as slowly as seeping water; they creep up on us unnoticed, and– for better or worse–we adapt. Some forces of change are familiar and expected. We recognize that life has seasons and cycles, and our hope remains intact because we know something about what comes next. Then there are the radical, unexpected experiences–the flash floods of life–that we aren’t sure what to do with. In a moment, we must decide whether to fight, or flee, or surrender. Perhaps, at its most challenging, life brings on a wall of water, and we stand by immobilized, watchful, feeling our smallness, acknowledging our powerlessness. Sometimes, we can only witness and wait and hold on to the knowledge that whatever happens, we can survive. Some Texans have faced this kind of experience in the last few weeks. Many have lost homes, livestock, cherished possessions, and even loved ones in this latest round of disastrous weather. Some people have a gully to fill, while others have holes in their hearts that will never be filled.