Friday, September 21, 2012

Graphically Speaking

- 441 -
by Emily Dickinson

This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me -
The simple News that Nature told -
With tender Majesty

Her Message is committed
to Hands I cannot see -
For love of Her - Sweet - countrymen -
Judge tenderly - of me

Click here for photo source

Last night, when I was corresponding with my brother about a running event in November, he complained that when he turned 40, it was like crossing "some thermocline of achy-ness." 

Of course, I had to Google the word thermocline then.  What I found, among some pretty great images and weird diagrams, was this definition:

A thermocline refers to a boundary of water which separates regions of warmer water from the colder water below. A thermocline is formed by the effect of the sun, which heats the surface of the water and keeps the upper parts of the ocean or water in a lake, warm. Water near the bottom remains colder as sunlight doesn’t penetrate enough.

Cold water by nature is denser that warm water and gravity keeps it under the less dense warm water. This causes a distinct line or boundary between the warmer water which is less dense and the colder denser water forming what is known as a thermocline. The difference in temperature between the warmer and colder waters may be of several degrees and drops even further each meter below you dive.

Some of you smarties may already know about thermoclines.  My bro learned about them in scuba class, because he's cool like that. 

I just love the idea of a watery boundary, definite like a solid mass, but aqueous like - well - like water.  Cold water.  There is something intoxicating to me about the idea of deep, cold, dark water.

It also kind of gives me the willies to think about.  You?

This guy's squishy face looks aqueous.  By the way, have you guys met?

I originally imagined a wholly indulgent post, into which I copied and pasted some of the fascinating graphics that appeared when I Googled thermocline this afternoon.  But you know, the magic is sort of lost now that I'm not at work.  Something about carpeted hallways and 8 hours inside can really make a graphic seem hilarious. 

Although, this one is still funny, right?

I guess it's funny unless you're a super serious catfish hunter - er, fisher-person - or you are looking to, as the website suggests, Learn to Catch Catfish!  (Exclamation mine, although they should really think about adding it to their design, in my opinion.)


The summer before Tim and I moved to Colorado, we had the great fortune of volunteering on a team of biologists in Arizona, counting and safeguarding goshawk nests.  I was alright at the job.  I like to hike around and sweat all day (sort of difficult in my current office job, unless I really want to turn heads at work), and I have weird bird-radar, although I did not discover any new nests for the team that year.

Instead, I tried hard to do what I was supposed to do, and in my off time, successfully resisted the urge to turn all the scientific data charts tacked up on the rec room walls into personal art posters for my cabin.  I sat around the nightly fires and tried to follow conversations about forest flora and fauna, government land management, and what animal skulls had been discovered on the forest floor that day, but most of the time I went to bed thinking only of what I wanted to do with such dialogue in fiction.  (That, and how amazing it felt to have my feet out of my hiking boots for a night's rest.)

I was writing a novel at the time, but that wasn't my excuse for having a wildly different internal experience of the external conversations being had.  That is just what happens when I encounter new things.  I am entertained by the difference between the way I think and the way that others think - and I want to turn it all into art.

View of goshawk through a telescope.  Neat, huh?

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg writes, "From 1978 to 1984 I studied Zen formally with Dainin Katagiri Roshi...About three years ago he said to me, 'Why do you come to sit meditation? Why don't you make writing your practice? If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.'"

I love this. 

Writing is how I love my life.  It is how I focus, how I unwind, how I see what I need to see.  It is my teacher, my parent, and my drug.

So forgive me, biology experts (and cat fishermen and women).  I am immature.  I think diagrams are funny.  I can hardly look at a National Geographic picture without thinking how I could turn it into a T-shirt.  I often watch the people I love and wish I had a video camera so I could film them eating breakfast. 

Most days I want to take this world and make it into something I can throw up on a screen and shout at passers-by: Look, look!  Do you see what I see?

Click here for photo source

I wish I had a bigger metaphor, some over-arching point tonight.  Perhaps someone else can draw the lines between thermoclines and goshawks, movie screens and strangers on the street.  What's that, you say?  I got myself into this mess? 

I know, I know.  Now someone please get me out. 

How about a little Jack Kornfield?  He recently got me out of a sticky bind this summer.  I give you this, from his beautiful book about cultivating a spiritual life, or A Path With Heart:

"In the stress and complexity of our lives, we may forget our deeper intentions.  But when people come to the end of their life and look back, the questions that they most often ask are not usually, 'How much is in my bank account?' or 'How many books did I write?' or 'What did I build?' or the like.  If you have the privilege of being with a person who is aware at the time of his or her death, you find the questions such a person asks are very simple: 'Did I love well?'  'Did I live fully?'  'Did I learn to let go?' 

And now, I leave you to contemplate the dark, aqueous depths of whatever you want to contemplate.

But while you're at it, I hope you keep it fresh and cool, and as weird as you possibly can.

With love,


  1. Oh, Kara, thank you for writing this. I love how you bring the depths up like they are hardly depths at all, like they are right here, next to everything else, waiting for us to look at them. Also, I love that catfish infographic.

  2. Thanks C!! Love sharing it all, thank you for reading

  3. Thank you, Kara! Right now I'm contemplating the dark, aqueous depths of very little sleep due to a small furry animal. xoxo

  4. Those are some common depths! Hope that furry animal settles two years...

  5. Very nice. Humorous and deep (literally and figuratively). And bonus I now know what a "thermocline" is!


I love to hear your thoughts!