Tuesday, May 12, 2009

River Me Timbers

I always wondered as a kid why topsoil was so crucial to plants.  It was usually said to me that topsoil contains the precious water holding organic matter and some micronutrients that plants need for optimum health.  And in many cases, without enormous expenditure by man, and care, without topsoil and organic matter, plants won't survive.  

So, I realized, even as a child that topsoil was crucial.  But I didn't get it.  I would hear about the erosion of topsoil constantly.  I would watch filmstrips (beep!) with the rest of class (beep!)  The music would go a little minor from the tape cassette when topsoil was mentioned.  Unlike the television commercials today, that are so clever at knowing our human dispair, rarely at the end of the section of the filmstrip on topsoil did an acoustic guitar begin a more major modality to calm everyones nerves.  Topsoil was not only a mysterious subject, but a depressing one.  A dust bowl of mysteries, constantly flowing away.

In most ways, due to modern agriculture, for large sections of the country (and certainly the world) this problem remains it's identical self.  Believe it or not, out in the Gulf of Mexico, where you won't be surprised to hear the Mississippi drains, there is a huge pile of debris (trees, cars, trash, but mostly topsoil) just sitting in a nearly colloidal state of greater and greater instability.  You might wonder why it doesn't just build up such that the coast of Louisiana moves a few feet further South each year.  Well, we know that the coast is actually moving in the other direction from reading USA Today.  So, I need not make a case that an alternative scenario is taking place.  Just pause and glance at the cover of the paper as you leave the Circle K, houses are becoming ocean, not the other way around.   So what happens to all that soil from the Big Muddy? Well, interestingly enough, we really didn't even think about it until we started stringing undersea cables hither and yon all over creation.  And sure enough, just as we became comfortable that we'd be able to tap our messages to Cuba ad infinitum, the sea monsters on the map took a bite out of our super thick undersea cables, rendering the loquacious fervor of the roaring twenties to a muted state of terrified reflection.  Well, don't say God didn't warn them.

It took awhile for people to figure out what might (other than a leviathon) be snapping cables as thick as a telephone pole like they were strands of a spiders web.  Eventually, some mild mannered sap, majoring in seismic studies of earthquakes, ect. set up his "ears" to the ground close enough to the Gulf of Mexico to hear a rather stupendous crash, which to his astonishment, not one other Christian soul this side of the world seemed to have heard.  Must of been a strange thing to have checked his recording of the bang... there had been an earthquake. But not a soul seemed to notice.  No news reports, no radio reports, no nothing.  Except for one thing...

For the third time, it became suspected that the ding dongs stringing the undersea cable through the Gulf of Mexico were going to go bankrupt.  They were claiming a sincere bafflement at their misfortune, but the circumstances could not have been more dire.  When they pulled the now silent cable from the Gulf, its ends were as split as the fibers of a hemp rope.  And about as useful.  What could have strained a cable this thick, to actually pull each wire, and thin it's ductile nature to a hair like diameter?  Nobody believed a whale, as witnessed and described by man so far, could account for such violence to the cable.  So, inquiry was being made into the various providers to the manufacturer of the cable to discover what had gone wrong in the manufacture of the wires such that their required strength was so catastrophically unmet.  This went on for a bit, as all investigations into matters that have nothing to do with reality must.  Then, a meek and bespectacled researcher in earthquakes finally was accepted into the audience of the cable manufacturer.  For some reason, a cigar chomping captain of industry, who hated researchers as a rule, was more than receptive to the nervous young scientist with his scroll of data, a plotted mountain of evidence, that, as far fetched as it seemed, was the only good news the Executive had heard, at his desk, in a long, long while.  The scientist refused, politely, a cigar.

Sure enough, the evidence mounted, that the cables were manufactured just fine.  As long as they weren't laid just beside the periodic underwater avalanche of debris that our hero, the non smoking scientist had actually heard, even on land, near the Gulf.  It seemed that a cycle of build up and fall down described the topsoil from the Mississippi that dumped into the Gulf.  And the violence that occurred when the mountain of wet colloidal soil disintegrated would be difficult to describe had that cable not come from the Gulf and done the describing for us.  Eventually the radio companies learned to float the cables about halfway down, and avoid the Big Muddy's progeny.  

I thought this all very fascinating.  


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