Ancient, Dusky Rivers

The view of muddy Upper New York Bay, toward the Hudson and Lower Manhattan, taken from Governor's Island

The muddy waters of the Hudson and other nearby rivers these past few weeks are a result of Hurricane Irene’s heavy rains and river flooding.  You generally see the Hudson get muddy from tropical storm floods or in springtime if there is heavy rain on top of melting mountain snow (the “freshet”), causing strong currents, entrainment of soils and river muds, mudslides, and eventually leading to a huge pulse of mud coming down the river.  Some of the coolest pictures are of the different waterways merging with their different shades of brown and black in a great post on the blog Wind Against Current.

It brings to mind one of my favorite poems, by a New Yorker of yesteryear:


By Langston Hughes, 1920

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

… Some of the most profound words I’ve ever read, so sorry to change the subject back to dirt, but I’ll wrap up by saying that the region of the Hudson from mid-town Manhattan to George Washington Bridge often traps these sediment pulses, and is called the estuarine turbidity maximum.  The mud eventually settles to the river bed after the flood subsides, but then often gets re-suspended with the stronger spring tide currents that occur every two weeks.  The various brown and red river colors that have been observed in thousands of tweets apparently derive from different soil colors of regions of upstate New York.  Today is a spring tide, but look for the mud to settle out and water to return to a more normal, darker color by next weekend’s slow-moving neap tide.

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1 Response to Ancient, Dusky Rivers

  1. bowsprite says:

    wow. beautiful poem. thank you.
    The river was incredible for many weeks after Irene. On one calm day, the river was so thick with silt and quiet that the clouds and blue sky reflected from her surface in the most ethereal, strange way.

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