The Rules of
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE
aT midnighT on the Toklat River in the
Alaska Range, the thermometer recorded
ninety-three degrees. The sun, dragging anchor in the northwest sky, fired
rounds of heat against the cabin. I was
lying naked on the bunk, slapping mosquitos. Next to the wall, my husband lay
completely covered by a white sheet, as
still and dismayed as a corpse. He would
rather be hot than bitten, and I would
rather be bitten than hot.
I had come to the Toklat River to think
about global warming, and it wasn’t go-
ing well. The week’s heat was breaking
all-time records, drawing a new spike on
the graph of jaggedly rising temperatures
in Alaska. The average day is now four
a place of mutability and transforma-
tion where rhythms and tides play across
global networks that light up and then
dim as the planet cycles around the sun
and users move through their day.
Indeed, some say we need to protect
cyberspace, just as we protect natural
spaces, and call for a global Environmental Protection Act for Cyberspace. In
1996, John Perry Barlow, cofounder of
the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a
Wyoming rancher, issued “A Declaration
of the Independence of Cyberspace,” de-
claring the web an act of nature that grows
itself through our collective actions. “Your
legal concepts of property, expression,
identity, movement, and context do not
apply to us,” he wrote. “They are all based
on matter, and there is no matter here.”
For now, like the sea, the internet remains wild. But e=orts to tame and priva-tize it seem always close at hand. Just as
we try to protect the oceans, perhaps we
should also try to protect the infant ecosystem of the net — a place that can be mysterious, wild, and, yes, beautiful. A
Sue Thomas lives by the sea in Bournemouth,
Dorset, in the UK. Her books include
Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace, and
Hello World: Travels in Virtuality.
degrees warmer than just a few decades
ago, and seven degrees warmer in winter.
The Arctic is heating twice as fast as the
rest of the world.
Furious and despairing, I had no
chance of falling asleep that night. So I
pulled on clothes and walked to the bank
of the river.
The Toklat is a shallow river that
braids across a good half mile of gravel
beds, dried stream courses, and deep-dug channels. Sloshing with meltwater, it
clatters along among islands and willow
thickets. Banging rocks on cobblestones,
surging into confused swells, the gray
currents that night looked unpredictable
and chaotic. But there were patterns.
A hydrologist once explained the rules
of rivers to me as we walked a river-path.
The dynamics of a river are manifestations of energy, he said. A fast, high-energy river will carry particles—the
faster the river, the bigger the particle. But
when it loses energy and slows, the river
drops what it carries. So anything that
slows a river can make a new landscape.
It could be a stick lodged against a stone
or the ribcage of a calf moose drowned at
high water. Where the water piles against
the obstacle, it drops its load, and an island begins to form. The island — in fact,
any deposition—reshapes the current.
As water curls around the obstacle, the
current’s own force turns it upstream.
Around one small change, the energy reorganizes itself entirely.
And here’s the point: no one pattern
continues indefinitely; it always gives way
to another. When there are so many obstacles and islands that a channel can no
longer carry all its water and sediment, it
crosses a stability threshold and the current
carves a di=erent direction. The change is
usually sudden, often dramatic, the hydrologist said, a process called avulsion.
On the Toklat that night, the physics of
the river played out right in front of me.
A chunk of dirt and roots toppled from
short, themed essay
collections that bring together
the best writing from Orion’s
first three decades.
.To eat with grace
.animals & people
.leave no child inside
other Survival Skills
.change everything now
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