Thursday, 25 February 2016

Firth of Fifth - Ecclesiastes and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης "One can never step in the same river twice" - Heraclitus

The river flows through the landscape - over millennia cutting through even the side of a mountain. Its course laid down so long ago that the sheep in their pen, the men who gaze with joy (at what? A warrior floating to the sea in triumph, or a dictator on a funeral barge?) - they are merely temporary.

But its apparent timelessness is only an illusion. Two reasons.

Firstly because of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. The Book of Ecclesiastes states the first two Laws of Thermodynamics. The First (There is nothing new under the Sun) and the Second (It is all vanity - a chasing after the wind). In the end the river will no longer run to the sea. And the sea will be boiled. And the earth will not be there. And the universe will wind down like a spinning top comes to rest.

Secondly because in fact the river itself is changed from moment to moment. The water that makes it up is totally changing. The flow changes. The sky above it changes. And the observers change. 

I was driving down the hill from Somerset towards the Avonmouth Bridge once and, by a remarkable synchronicity, this song came on the CD player. And glancing across, I was struck by a remarkable sight. Now the Severn, like all wide stretches of water, changes colour with the sky, and occasionally with any suspended material washed downstream. It is often grey - occasionally nearly brown. But under a clear blue sky, with a sun setting over Wales - the Severn was a brilliant sky blue colour. It was magical. I've never seen it like that before or since.

Now I can't share the photo with you because I was driving. I couldn't really appreciate it - don't take you eyes off the road, children. And it's not really the circumstances to start taking selfies, is it? So you'll have to take my word for it. But it was brilliant.

Even the river - majestic and eternal as it seems - changes every moment. Just as a sea does, just as a rainbow does. Not only can you never see the same rainbow twice, but as the raindrops fall it changes every moment. Making every moment special, every moment unique. As Kirsty MacColl wrote, we'll never pass this way again. Even the land goes in the end.
The sands of time were eroded by
the river of constant change.

1 comment :

  1. Back in the eighties (and I'm sure everything is different now)we lived in south Warrington and used to walk over the Mersey to do our shopping on a Saturday morning. Someone upstream evidently used to wash out their plant (manufacturing we weren't sure what) on a Saturday morning, and the river would be adorned with a mass of foam - detergent we supposed, or maybe it could have been the head of beer from one of the breweries - making its way out to Liverpool Bay. I'm not sure what the point of telling you this is - except perhaps that sometimes it's Man that is responsible for the ever-changing nature of the world around us and, in this case, for a rhythm of change which made the river appear different on Saturday from during the working week.


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