Topographic Illusion

Sunady night was great for walking: dark, chilly, no wind, light traffic on the roads. I opted to snake my way through the neighborhood, looking at Christmas lights. Keep in mind, I know this area very well, having lived here intermittently for *coughcough* a while. So I’m trotting along, looking at lights, avoiding parked cars, savoring the crisp stillness of the night.

I was headed northbound, enjoying the evening and the freedom to roam without a mask or any other hint of it being other than a perfectly normal December night. Nothing ached that wasn’t supposed to,* and it felt very, very good to stretch my legs in a brisk walk. Head up, shoulders back, moving quickly, savoring the crisp, chilly, low-dust air.

The land dropped away ahead of me, as if I walked on the crest of a steep hill. In the distance, a little above my elevation, street lights and other lights shone from the crest of a ridge. Between? A relatively steep drop toward darkness, dotted with a few safety lights and street lights, and some Christmas lights. I blinked hard, glanced back, then ahead again. No, the steep descent remained in place. OK, what’s up, asks the rational part of my brain, as the rest of my mind was going, “Huh???” I knew perfectly well that no Richter 9.5 quakes had activated a normal fault in my neighborhood.

I kept walking north. Indeed, the road pitched down, not as steeply as it seemed to the eye, but it descended more steeply than what I’d expected. The lack of decorative lights and porch lights had contributed to the illusion, but the slope really did drop faster than on the roads to the east.

Long-time readers may recall that Redquarters perches on the very, very outside edge of a natural basin, one that held a large rainwater lake at one time. Large by regional standards, I should clarify. My readers in Minnesota or other places with “real” bodies of fresh water would point and giggle at photos of the original super-pond. The land slopes down into the bottom of that feature, then rises comparatively steeply to the north before dropping again into the edge of the river lowlands. That much I know very, very well, and have observed and commented upon from time to time. What I’d never noticed was the east-west slope. More specifically, what I’d missed because 1. my head was down** and 2. I’d never taken this route in winter at night, was that the north-facing slope has a natural channel of sorts. I was on the edge of that, and this is one of only two streets where you can still see the contour. The other streets have been leveled to an extent. The other obvious street is really, really obvious, so much so that I wonder now if some serious infilling took place OR if that was the source of the dirt for flattening and raising some of the lots.

I’ve lived here a long time, walked the area for almost that long, and never noticed this. The conditions just happened to be perfect that night. Now I wonder what other little pockets and folds of terrain have I missed these years? It just shows that you can see something new in a familiar place, if you look at it in a different way.


*Right knee, right hip, and upper chest (thanks to doing shoulder presses to failure Saturday morning.)

** Until The Year of the Dentist, I always walked with my head down and shoulders tilted forward, because my malformed jaw was throwing so much off kilter. I literally could not keep my head up when I walked without constantly working at it. Little did I know the cause . . .


10 thoughts on “Topographic Illusion

  1. People tend not to notice oddities in the familiar.
    Just a bit outside Chattanooga, there’s a place called Stonecipher Lake. And as far as I could find out, nobody knows why, or had even thought about it.
    It was just what the thing was called.
    (My first thought upon seeing the name, was “Cool. Petroglyphs.” But there aren’t any. There is a family with that surname in the region, but the local history gurus I knew weren’t familiar with it. It drove me nuts.)

      • I bow to thy mastery.
        (Rueful chuckle) I did a quick peek before posting to try and avoid looking foolish, but forgot the archaic spelling.
        Such a boring answer, though.
        An evocative name like that deserves better.

        • Blame the “helpful” sorting– that was the only result I got with the lake’s name, because last week I was searching for a local, constructed lake.

          I can see how you’d remember the name, it really is awesome.

          • Looking up the surname…
            It’s from Cornwall.
            It predates the Norman invasion.
            It indicates that they lived in the immediate vicinity of an (unknown) landmark that would have been identified with the same name..
            The family’s warcry turned motto is “Vive ut vivas”. Translation: “Live that you may live for ever”.
            I’m thinking Nodens and REH’s “The Black Stone” are good inspiration. (Because Arthurian lore doesn’t fit very readily.)
            What did they bring with them?
            And what is hidden under the water?

            • “Steinseifer” seems to be the original name, in other sources. Stone plus swampy creek. This seems more likely than a pre-Norman, Saxon name just floating around in Cornwall. Cornwall was a mining area, and lots of miners in the UK were brought over from Germany in Elizabethan times and even earlier, to get the mines set up and run initially, and to train local miners eventually.

  2. Interesting… And those ‘illusions’ are out there, even if we don’t consciously notice them.

  3. Almost every time I go on a walk, I notice something I’ve never seen before. It’s not that I’ve never walked by it, but somehow those particular rays of light never managed to get through to my brain. Usually it’s something like, “Oh, that’s a nice balcony on that blue house,” but occasionally it reaches the extreme of, “Wait a sec, there’s a CREEK there?”

  4. With the extra time this year (*grumble-grumble*), I found previously unexplored features in county parks. One was a wildlife sanctuary adjoining a local park, at the lagoon portion of the reservoir. The combination and hunting/access restrictions meant some fantastic avian photography from the boardwalk (one side) and part of a trail (other side): herons, mallards and other ducks, geese, and snowy egrets (camera hogs). Easy access, but never occurred to stop and look in detail before. That section of lake had smaller road frontage, and seemed to vanish unless you looked.

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