Looking at Streams: When Poetry Hits Engineering

A re-print, since Rosgen classification got mentioned yesterday…

A lovely stream dances and sparkles down the side of a mountain meadow. Sunlight glints off the wet rocks in the cold water, and in a few still, tree-shadowed pools, the flash of a shadow hints at the presence of trout. A few water striders scoot over the surface. Farther downstream, the little brook slows and spreads gaining the title of River and picking up a little silt, no longer cold and diamond clear but a touch muddy, especially after rain. It winds slowly, starting to meander across the plateau that sits between the mountains to the west and the broken, mesa-capped plains to the east.

Or I could say that the stream went from a Rosgen Aa2+ in a Type II valley to an A/II and then a G4/VIII.

Which description is better? It depends: are you a poet or an engineer? Because both paragraphs mean the same thing. Continue reading


Riffle, Pool, Riffle, Water bottle, Pool…

Um, yeah, so I was doing stream classification on a gutter the other morning. Why? Because I was. For reasons known only to water and whoever laid this section of gutter, there’s a fifty foot or so section that has a very nice riffle-pool sequence much like an ideal stream reach, complete with knickpoint and thalweg.


OK. Rewind a bit. When hydrology-types describe streams, creeks, brooks, rivers, bayous to each other, we use some in-field jargon and a numerical classification system developed by a gent named Dave Rosgen (who studied under Luna Leopold, the son of Aldo Leopold.). Streams [bodies of flowing water of any size] have certain characteristics no matter what the stream looks like. There are shallow areas with obstructions called riffles, deeper areas where the water flows more smoothly called pools, and a center of the active channel called the thalweg. Places where bedrock controls erosion (often marked by a waterfall of some kind) are knickpoints. Continue reading

Above the Clouds

My astigmatism occasionally gives me problems and causes something a bit like vertigo. Bifocals plus twisting vision plus motion don’t work so well together at times. However, I did not expect to get unsteady on my pins while standing on hiking stairs on the flank of Schauinsland! Apparently being on the ground looking down at clouds bothers my inner ear.

The Rhine River, and France, are down there. Below the clouds.

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Romanesque Piles: Those Old, Round Buildings

Before the pointy, stained-glass rich cathedrals and palaces of Europe came Romanesque. It tends to get overlooked because, well, it’s round and lumpy unless it is square and lumpy. You have the Glory that was Rome, and then everything is romantic (or Romantic) ruins until poof! Cathedral and the high Middle Ages and architecture gets cool and soaring again. Except that’s not quite how it works. Continue reading

Rome on the Rhine

Forget dragons, here be Saxons and Franks!

Where’s the frontier? If you were Rome, it was where the barbarians lurked, those peoples who failed to see the benefits of living under Rome’s wise rule. If you were one of the Germanic tribes, it was the place you massed before attacking the Romans and reminding them who really owned the place. If you are a modern person, it is the area called the limes, the line of civilization and Roman ruins that demarcates civilized Europe from those people over there. Continue reading

May Day and Grass Fire Follow-up

Yes, it is either the International Day of Labor, which interestingly enough started in Chicago as part of the Pullman Strikes and the Haymarket Massacre/bombing/terror-attack by police (historians are still arguing over that one), or the day to give small flower arrangements to ladies of your acquaintance. Neither tradition seems to be practiced too much in the US, since we shifted Labor Day to late August, and tussie-mussies and other tokens of esteem have disappeared.

So this post is a follow-up to the little grass-fire that happened this past winter not far from where I work.

Bunches of bunch-grass. They will re-sprout in late spring.


Continue reading