The first week of high school physics, I learned that a delta had another meaning besides the place where a river fanned out, formed an alluvial plain, and entered the ocean. In fact, river deltas were named after the Greek letter delta (), which shape they resemble. It’s kind of funny really, the arbitrary way we invent words. If a corn broom had existed when the ancient Greeks first discovered river deltas, they might have thought to name a delta after a broom. Instead of cruising up and down the Mississippi in high style aboard the Delta Queen, we might have found ourselves steaming up and down America’s greatest river aboard the Broom Queen, or, God forbid, the Witch Hunt. But I suppose not. As a nation our poetic sensibilities are a little more refined. Heading into the Mississippi’s Broom, I’m sure our noble paddle-wheel steamer would have been named the Mississippi Sweeper.
In physics, the delta () also denotes an increment, or change in a variable. The passage of time for instance, is expressed as a simple mathematical equation. If t1 equals the initial time, and t2 equals the final time, then the amount of time that has gone by, or change in time, is expressed as t = t2-t1. In other words, if t1 equals two o’clock, and t2 equals three o’clock, t--the change in time--equals one hour. The delta is used in physics anywhere it’s necessary to express a change. A change in distance, a change in place, a change in time. You would think the delta could also be used to express changes in ourselves. Our age could be expressed as: y = current year - our birth year. Our change in financial status could be expressed as $. Our change in mood could be expressed as $ divided by y. Or not. Maybe physics and the economy and human emotions and moods just don’t mix. It was a thought.
Really though, it’s hard to imagine a river delta being called a broom, or anything else but a delta. It is so aptly named as it is. As time went on and the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet acquired the meaning of change, one looks more closely at the river delta and appreciates how well the Greeks and physicists chose. A river delta is a place of great change. It’s where fresh rainwater mingles with the ocean and becomes saline. It’s where sediment is deposited and new land is built up. It’s where wildlife teems and political boundaries end. And it’s where water completes a cycle of evaporating over the ocean, raining or snowing down on distant mountains, torrential runoffs across continents and slow meanderings through river beds until it reaches the delta, enters the ocean, and begins the cycle all over again as water molecules in an ocean just waiting to evaporate.
A couple weeks ago, I knew how those water molecules felt. I just wanted to evaporate. But as I’ve undergone my own distance, and place, and moods, and I’ve seen the changes in Kip; I’m learning that life is a constant series of deltas. We are always changing. And while at some times life doesn’t seem bearable, that feeling will change. I miss Linda so much and when I think of her I still can’t stop the tears. But when I’m with Kip and Jonathan and having a great time or when I think about being at work and doing what I love there just aren’t enough hours in the day. The riverboat that is my heart will go on, with or without me. So I’d better get back on board.
Thanks for reading.
technorati tags: Matthew S. Urdan, Authors, Writing, novels, River Metaphors
Posted by Matthew S. Urdan on Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 12:09 AM