Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

On Holiday, Looking for Connections between the Unfathomable

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

On Holiday, Looking for Connections between the Unfathomable

Article excerpt

THE STREAM FLOWING through Olin Gulch was scarcely more than a rivulet, but here in the West, where every drop of water has a value, it was large enough to be measured regularly. So on a sunny afternoon, a half dozen of us accompanied the young man from the Pikes Peak Research Station to check on the stream's health in winter.

Using a tape measure, we marked off a stretch of 10 feet. We broke up the tunnels of ice under which the water ran, and then we took its temperature and measurements. A Ping Pong ball floating the 10 feet and a stopwatch gave the speed of the current.

Samples of water were collected and mixed with chemicals. The stream was in good shape: its pH very slightly basic, its oxygen content high. The stream's flow was .61 cubic feet a second.

This is an inconsequential volume, but at this rate, over the course of a year, the stream would move more than 19 million cubic feet of water. That is an amount to have an effect on the ecology of the area and hence the livelihood of the people who live in it.

My wife and I hiked on and as we walked over a trail patched with snow, I reflected on how time gives meaning to seemingly insignificant events. A second's flow of water in this little stream was hardly anything at all. Considered in terms of a year's worth of seconds, however, its volume was something to notice.

Our family is spending the week at the Nature Place, w owned by the Sanborn family and part of the Colorado Outdoor Education Center, which encompasses 6,000 acres of meadows and forests west of Colorado Springs. The National Park Service has designated the Nature Place as a National Environmental Study Area.

From the lodge, there is an unobstructed view of Pike's Peak, rising grandly to over 14,000 feet to the east. If at the turning of the year, you are given to ruminations about time, this is as good a place as I know to be.

Just a hike away lie the famous Florissant fossil beds, where plants and delicate butterflies lie perfectly preserved in the deposits of ash laid down by volcanic eruptions 34 million years ago. The biotite gneiss of the Little Blue rocks that are exposed close by are nearly 2 billion years old.

All around here are remnants of the great Morrison Formation of the Jurassic era, the most important of all repositories of dinosaur remains.pd.

The reading material in the rooms at the Nature Place consists of astronomy magazines, which report the latest skirmishes on the frontiers of cosmology. How old is the universe?

Eleven or 12 billion years, say some authorities. But how does that square with estimates that some stars in our own galaxy are 15 billion years old? Or with old Bishop Usher, still the final authority for some Christians, who declared in 1611 that time began one night in October, 4000 BC?

Here, over a drink before dinner, you might discuss the remarkable aspen with a botanist named Charles Olmsted, from Northern Colorado University. …

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