With stay-at-home orders and no school, flooding of the Little Miami River, and spring, it is hard to make sense of what is happening in our world. We at Little Miami Watershed Network hope everyone is well and enjoying this chance to get outdoors … it’s a healthy way to get exercise and remain sane.
As you walk park trails, what signs of spring do you see or hear? Do the birds seem to be calling to each other? Do you see violets or dandelions coming up in the grass? Have you found a bloodroot? This flower, called a spring ephemeral because it disappears when the trees leaf out, got its name because its juice is red and was used as a dye, insect repellent, and ceremonial paint by the American Indians. Do you wonder how they saved its red color for summer use? But like everything in parks, don’t pick it. Just admire its 8-12 white petals around a yellow center. The stems seem wrapped by a leaf as if they want to stay warm on cool nights. The flower doesn’t last long so you will be lucky to see it two days in a row.
If it rains and you are stuck at home, here are a few experiments to help you understand what is happening outside.
One of the reasons a river rises can be explained by observing water in a glass. Look at it closely and see that it is not really flat, but slightly curves up on the sides. Called “meniscus” when water climbs up the sides of a glass, water does the same thing in a river. It is attracted to the banks and begins to climb them. Another reason is capillary action. Pour a few drops of water on the kitchen counter and then put a napkin on top. Notice how the napkin gets wet and the wetness seems to travel outward. That is capillary action at work. When you can get outside and look at a river’s bank, you can find an example of this same phenomenon. The bank appears wet above the water’s edge. This capillary action is influenced by a number of factors: Clean water rises higher than polluted water; water will rise higher in clay soils than in gravel: and air pressure also makes a difference. A sudden drop in air pressure will make the capillary water drain out quickly adding water to the river and the likelihood of a flood.
Ever wonder why water drops stick together? Water is composed of two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms. When separated into drips, the hydrogen atoms in one drop are attracted to the oxygen atom in another. See this in action on the countertop. Put two drops of water on it fairly close together. Put you finger in one and move it slightly towards the other. See the water shrink back to its shape when you lift your finger? Now pull the water from one drop to the other and see them merge. Those atoms are looking for each other and give the water a stickiness or tension.
Now look out the window as the rain is stopping and see if you can find a roofline that is dripping. Notice how water seems to collect in one spot until suddenly a drop falls. You are witnessing water tension in a battle with gravity. Gravity will win but not before enough water is added to the spot and then when it falls, the drop will elongate as if it has a neck and really doesn’t want to leave.
This stickiness or tension is what keeps water striders afloat on a stream. The surface tension is stronger than the effect of gravity on small insects.
There are many more interesting things you can learn in the book these ideas came from. Get a copy of “How to Read Water…clues and patterns from Puddles to the Sea,” by Tristan Gooley, 2016 and learn to “read” what the water all around us is saying.
Former Ohio First Lady Hope Taft is founder of the Little Miami River Kleeners.