A bubble slides over a lip of stone and down a flat trough in a sheet of water. Where rough stones lie across the creek, the water rumples, folding like drapery; here vortices of water must curve up from the bottom and twist around as they rise and fall back to the disheveled stones below because, here, the bubble becomes stationary, riding a round face of water. The bubble is not still so much spinning in place.
I know the bubble spins when a string of smaller bubbles tumbles from the trough to be trapped in the vortex, where they curve round and inward, touching and cohering to the surface of the large bubble. The whole assemblage turns like a fast little planet with many moons. The ease of this coherence, in a planetary dance, where little energy is needed to hold the whole together is simply a pleasure to watch.
Leaning over the creek edge from its sand margin, I see myself in the bubble. I am distorted slightly by the bubble’s curved surface. Despite the spin of this mirror, my reflection remains stationary. This miniature system reflects the Earth, whose rotational spin does not disturb my stationary seat at the creek margin. The stillness of my image and body in these spinning worlds is, despite the rules of physics, momentarily amazing. It is amazing especially because my tilt over the water for a best view of the bubble has a delicate equilibrium—I teeter between muscle strain and falling into the water.
Another big bubble slips over the stone lip and through the trough, it rolls over the rump of the cascade to the center of the whirlpool, causing the first big bubble to carom down creek. The delicate equilibrium on the face of the cascade is gone fast. The displaced bubble shoots over the surface of the duodenal water. What had seemed secure, the bubble spinning, holding to the cascade despite the roil of the water, was easily shot. Little force was involved.
I try to recall lessons I should have learned well. Long ago in a freshman physics course taken during summer school, we experimented to understand vectors, velocities, and collisions—the rules of displacement. A body’s place is tenuous. A bubble, holding our image, can slip over the fleshy surface of water at the slightest provocation. The rules of physics are filled with provocations.
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I watched the bubbles in the creek that runs through Devil’s Canyon in west, central Colorado. It was a day in April in 2006, when I was on sabbatical. As I prepare for my field season in the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau, I have been thinking about my experiences in that landscape.