Archive for April 11th, 2009

Reflections on a Rainy Saturday

April 11, 2009

It is raining and because I’m feeling a bit under the weather I can excuse myself (temporarily) from marking a tottering pile of papers.  The rain is drizzly and half-hearted and cold, and I try to follow a raindrop from as high up as I can see from the window.  Imagine being a water molecule up in the clouds, coalescing with others like yourself (bless the hydrogen bond!) until you are gravid, liquid, falling.  Falling through the heights, faster and faster, but decelerating until you coast down at a constant speed, like a feather.   I try to “eyeball” whether the raindrops are actually falling at a fixed speed, a condition identical to staying still — but it is hard.  Even in a thin, slow rain I find the raindrops’ trajectory difficult to follow.  

Idly watching the rain was a favorite pastime of mine as a kid, although the kind of rain I remember best is the monsoon.  Monsoon rain is loud, making you feel like you live under a waterfall, like some kind of aquatic hobbit.  It is dramatic, with violent flashes of lightning and great rolls of thunder.  In my mind it is inextricably connected with hot cups of sweet, milky chai and samosas.  Which is what I’d like right now…

But all this is also reminding me of something I read in a recent issue of New Scientist.  There is a controversial new theory about how coastal forests might act like moisture pumps, lowering air pressure above them and pulling the moist sea air many miles inland.  This draws wet weather much further inland than it would normally go, so that as the forests spread inland the moisture pump effect is magnified.  This, according to the theory, allows the existence of forests that might span a whole continent, like the Amazon.  Thus, the authors sat, coastal forests are key to the existence of inland forests and therefore should be protected.

What I like about this idea is that if it is true it might allow us to re-green the dustbowls that human activity has created, such as the interior of Australia, and the Sahara.  It probably did not take much coastal forest destruction to turn off the moisture pump and disturb normal rainfall patterns.  I think the theory is exciting and worth studying.  Regrowing forests (slow as the process is) might help turn global warming around decades or centuries after we are gone.

All this gives me a feeling of helpless urgency at the same time because of the rate at which the Amazon is being cut down.  I believe that although phytoplankton in the oceans provide much of the Earth’s atmospheric oxygen, the Amazon by itself provides a substantial amount, somewhere between 10 and 20 %.  The thought of that literal green lung vanishing makes me feel positively asphyxiated.

So I’m taking a few deliberate deep breaths and staring out at the slow fall of rain and enjoying the sight of birds at the feeder.  The bird feeders have been a blessing.  We set them up last year and all winter we’ve been rewarded with birdsong.  It’s been heartening to hear birdsong in the dead of winter, with snow and bare branches and leaden sky.  But it got us through. 

I saw a film at my college this past week that I’m not quite ready to talk about, but among other things it was about the emotional lives of animals.  I’m really interested in that because I’m in general interested in the so-called Other, in ways that are both science-fictional and not.  It is ironic to me that we search the skies for alien signals and have all this angst about possibly being alone in the universe, when all the time we are surrounded by creatures that feel and communicate, whose “language” we don’t deign to give attention to because we assume they are saying nothing, or nothing that’s important to us. 

I want to learn that language.  I’d like to have a glimpse into what it would be like to be something else. 

Like a redwood tree.  Or a giant squid.  Or a sparrow.   Or a man.  J

Talk about an alien experience!