Rafting the River

There is a creek that splits on the North American continental divide*.  One channel, Atlantic Creek, flows east into the Yellowstone River, to the Missouri and then Mississippi rivers, hitting the Gulf of Mexico.  The other, Pacific Creek, flows west to the Snake River into the Pacific Ocean. 

The water churns merrily along, molecules of H2O entwined in a raucous aquatic parade.  Consider a gallon of water**, frozen at a moment in time upstream.  Percolating downstream.  Simply doing what water molecules do.  Each molecule traversing the moment.  Rafting.

As this conceptual gallon of water arrives at Two Ocean Pass, something rather remarkable occurs.  The fate of each molecule is determined by something random.  Something seemingly inconsequential.  Something that may itself be transient… a stick in the stream, a fish, an anomalous blip in the current due to something that happened much further upstream.

Two molecules, momentarily adjacent, diverge.  One meanders along Atlantic Creek, eventually being dumped in the Gulf of Mexico.  The other, rides the Pacific Creek out to the Snake River and emerges in the Pacific Ocean.  They never saw it coming.  And they sure as hell can’t go back…

Two Ocean Creek, Wyoming

Two Ocean Creek, Wyoming

Copyright – Ralph Maughan (image sourced here)

*Two-Ocean Creek, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming.  This spot is known as the “Parting of the Waters” National Natural Landmark.

** For reference – and my nerdier readers – a gallon of water has ~1.27 E27 molecules…


Thank you again, ms…. Still chewing on this….