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


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