Saturday, August 13, 2022


An irrepressible flow, an unmoving impediment. If both were solid objects, there’d be a collision, likely some damage, and motion would cease.

But with water—or any substance that either is, or acts like, a liquid—the effect
of that collision is a thing of beauty, a sublime coalescence of concession and conquest.

Take a rock and a river. Collision’s no problem for either of them. The water simply separates effortlessly to flow around the barrier, then momentarily reverses course and regroups to carry on its gradual, inevitable surrender to gravity.

It’s an object lesson in fluid dynamics.

     Eddies are made by objects as small as the
     teaspoon you use to stir your morning coffee
     or as large as…well…Antarctica.

An essential characteristic of flow is that when the liquid changes direction it creates a void in the place where it would have gone if left alone. It’s something like a vacuum, which draws in the liquid next to it. This creates the swirl we call an eddy—or vortex, gyre, whirlpool, maelstrom…all the same thing, though some of these terms suggest varying scales.

If the water flows ‘round that rock on both sides, the void occurs right behind the rock, stirring a swirl on each side and an area between them where the water flows back against the current. If the rock is a peninsula, there’s also a backflow, but from just one swirl.

Liquid eddies are made by objects as small as the teaspoon you use to stir your morning coffee (made easier to see when you stir right after putting your cream in) or as large as…well…Antarctica.

I know a thing or two about water eddies because I’m a canoeist and a fisherman.
I see them coil from either side of my paddle as I dip and pull it back. On those rare occasions when the water’s like glass, I can turn and watch them spin down for a few seconds as they recede behind me.

Bigger eddies might offer a challenge to steering a canoe. As you enter one, you can feel it grab and rotate the craft. But an experienced canoeist anticipates such twists and turns.

An eddy doesn’t just roil the water on the surface; the effect often extends all the way to the bottom. Because this buffers the current, it’s the perfect spot for a predator fish to lie in wait, with minimal effort, for prey getting swept past.

And the circulation can be vertical as well as horizontal. This is why it’s so dangerous for a swimmer to get caught in the area just downstream of a dam or a submerged rock or log. The rolling undertow there can keep pulling you under with no escape.

            Get outdoors and let Nature be your
            slowing-down, calming "eddy."

So are there any life lessons to be taken from eddies, as there are from so many of Nature’s teaching ways? 

What would that big brook trout lurking behind the rock say? Perhaps “Why fight the current stalking prey when you can relax here and simply let the current bring dinner to you?”

Perhaps the message is that if you run up against an obstacle, it doesn’t mean your quest is over; with flexibility, you can simply “flow” around the barrier, and regroup in the calm before moving on.

Or maybe that life doesn’t have to be one continuous onslaught of expectations and demands. You can seek out those quiet “eddies” where you can relax and take sustenance.

Or that just about the best eddy you can find is immersion in Nature.

What other metaphorical lessons can you add? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

      “Water… for a dwelling it chooses the quiet meadow; 

        for a heart the circling eddy.”

             LAO TZU, Tao Te Ching

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

A GRACE IN THE CROWD – Revisiting My “Aura Fixation”

The grade school concert was more of an obligation than a choice. You know, our friends’ kid was singing.

It was a pretty typical display of talents for that age group. A few kids could sing; most couldn’t; a few didn’t. (But, of course, talent wasn’t the point.)

By the end of the second number, I’d spotted her. A girl in the third row. She was far from the best looking of the kids on stage. I don’t know if she was an especially good singer. But there was something about her.

I was enjoying whole show—the expressions on the singers’ faces, the nervous, distracted body language—but my eye kept going back to that girl in the third row.  
What was it about her, I asked myself. For one thing, she was about the only kid smiling. That told me she liked singing, maybe even enjoyed having an audience. (Or her mom was an ex-beauty pageant contestant who’d drilled the smile thing into her.)

There were subtler graces too: at one point, between numbers, she turned and said something to the nervous looking boy next to her. Maybe a word of encouragement.

I couldn’t single out the girl’s voice from the rest, but I knew that if singing turned out to be something she pursued—or whatever else, for that matter—she’d be successful at it.

      It was like watching the one student in a
      classroom who clearly gets the assignment.

Recently, Sally and I went to see Ain’t Too Proud, the fabulous musical about the life and times of the Temptations. The stage was full of performers—singers, dancers and actors—who were quite obviously the cream of the crop.

Even though the talent level was major league, there was still one performer who caught my fancy. He wasn’t the lead, just one of a number of characters who orbited the Temps’ inveterate leader.

Actor/singer Jalen Harris

But there were several things that kept my eyes coming back to him. First, his stunning eyes (I could see them pretty well since we were seated in the second row). Unlike the vast majority of African Americans, his are blue. And his connection with the audience, more than looking at some vague spot above our heads, was compelling. He actually made eye contact with folks, and, to the delight of the four young women sitting right in front of us, winked at them.

Mr. Blue Eyes also happened to be the best dancer—and the Temptations, like no other group ever, could dance. That, along with that electrifying, azure gaze, was so commanding that I almost wished I hadn’t noticed.


It was somewhere between T-ball and little league, just a kids’, parks-and-rec baseball game. This time Sally’s son, Matt, was the draw.

Of all those ten-year-old boys, half of them looked to be in over their heads with either the batting, the catching or the running…or all three. Nonetheless, I cheered Matt’s every move.

But once again there was this one boy on the other team I couldn’t help watching. More than just his obvious athletic skills—clearly a couple of levels more advanced than the others—it was his countenance, a grace in the way he carried himself, the way his eyes seemed to perceive the world around him. 

You could tell by watching the other boys’—even the coaches’—reactions to him that he was a natural leader. Like the one student in a classroom who clearly gets the assignment.


So, I’ve experienced this minor obsession with one person in a group countless times, in every imaginable setting, from busy street corners, to ballet performances, to riding a “chicken bus” in rural Guerrero, Mexico. One person I just can’t keep my eyes off of.

What does this say about me, I wonder. Does everyone suffer this affliction? Is it just a quirk of human nature or something particular to the way I observe the world? Does it border on the creepy?

Do graces in the crowd captivate you? We’d love to hear of your experience in “Comments.”

I’m sure I’ll keep spotting these beautiful people, the ones with the auras. I don’t think I can help it. But wouldn’t it be something if one of these days, while looking for some new face in the crowd, I should spot someone who can’t keep their eyes off of me? I won’t hold my breath…