Tuesday, February 19, 2013

`A Colloquy of Runnels and Rivulets'

“Turbidity” I learned twenty-five years ago from a biologist who was monitoring the health of Otter Creek in Vermont, far to the south of its outlet on Lake Champlain. We spent a morning walking a stretch near Danby, scrambling rock to rock, taking samples, making notes, watching for trout and water striders, and enjoying the company of a healthy creek almost free of turbidity. Though landlocked, I thought not of depressed Nick Adams and his river but of clownish Ishmael and his oceans: “Yes, as everyone knows, water and meditation are forever wedded.” Like the creek, the biologist was fast-moving and noisy, happy to be out of the office and getting his feet wet. The water was so clean, so free of suspended solids, the quartz-rich stones on the bottom glistened in the sunlight.

You don’t have to be a scientist to recognize turbidity and suspect it may be a symptom of ill health. Its readiest synonym is cloudiness. The word entered English early in the seventeenth century from the Latin turbidus, meaning “muddy, full of confusion,” coming in turn from turbare, “to confuse, bewilder,” and turba, “turmoil, crowd.” It was a metaphor from birth. Today, I think of it most often in connection with prose, dense verbal clots that cloud meaning and discourage reflection: “Good prose is like a windowpane.” 

This came to me while reading “Waterfall, Rock, Trout” (A View We’re Granted, 2012), a poem by Peter Filkins dedicated to Richard Wilbur. He traces “the river's emerging character,” and might be tracing the course of words across a page: 

“…releasing energy
whose coursing pulse becomes a colloquy
of runnels and rivulets, rills and fens
soon gathering force, their forward propulsion
mounted by the pull of phantom gravity…”

1 comment:

Bob said...

Otter Creek is pretty close to the heart and center of all verdure. It was an Indian road in the 18th century and before, and an early component of the Crown Point Road.

I lived for a couple of years in a place where, on a quiet night, you could hear one of the Otter Creek falls in the distance.