In The Brook Bed
( Originally Published 1891 )
" GOOD morning, Dick."
"Good morning, Bunny; where are you going?"
"Down to the brookside. We shall find Chip and Redbreast there before us, this morning. I saw them pass by some time ago. There they are now. And hark ! that is the brooklet singing-Let us sit here on this pretty knoll and listen."
"'I chatter over stony ways,
"'I wind about and in and out,
"'And here and there a foamy flake
"'I draw them all along and flow
" Bravo, little brook ! " shouted the rabbit. " What a pretty song ! "
" Here are Bunny and Dick," called out the lively chipmonk. "Now you can begin your story."
"What shall it be to-day, Chip ? " asked the brooklet.
" 0, tell us, please, how the raindrops found their way into the brook-bed," said the happy little creature ; and so the silver drops in the passing stream began their story.
"We told you how we came out in the bubbling spring, but we did not tell you that there are several of these sparkling fountains in our valley. All around the foot of the hill, and on its sides, you will find them creeping forth to form the tiny rills and brooklets.
"When we came out of the dark ground, we found many slopes on the hillside. Some were so steep that we could roll straight down into little pools. Others were covered with sharp rocks that cut us into foamy sheets. In one place, we ran so fast that a barefoot boy who came to fish clapped his hands and shouted, ' 0, see the pretty rapids ! '
" Now we would only glide over the yellow sand, without a ripple on the smooth surface. Then the banks would almost meet, and how we would rush through ! Again they would widen, and spread us out into round ponds.
"So you see, my little friends, that a brook must follow its slope. If it rushes, if it glides, if it courses straight away, or winds about, it is because it obeys the slope of its bed."
"But why must you always run down hill ?" asked Dick.
" That we cannot tell. The snow-white blossoms fall to earth. Later, the apples follow. Our pretty robin beats the air with his wings, and floats upwards into the sky. But let him furl those tiny sails, and he falls with the apple.
" We only know that something draws us down the slope. We feel it at work, and call it 'gravity.' Sometime we may know what it is.
"Moved by the same secret force, many streams flow down all sides of our valley. They reach the place where the side-slopes meet, and then where, do you think they go ? "
" They cannot flow back again," said the wild-flower, meekly. "They must make ponds."
" The slopes are so wide that the place where they meet is a long hollow," chirped the robin. "If they form a pond, it must be very long."
" The slopes meet in the bottom of our valley, too," added Dick, looking about. " But I cannot see any long pond here."
The brooklet seemed to chuckle at the answer, and dimpled waves ran from shore to shore.
" 0, I see ! " rustled the wild-flower. " It is in the bed of our own brook ! "
" So it is ! " chimed the merry voices ; and they all laughed heartily to think how long they had tried to find the place where the slopes met.
"We ought to have seen that, Bunny," said Dick. " Only yesterday we followed the rills down the slopes, and saw them run into the brook. Yes, the side-slopes of our valley meet in the bed of the stream."
"And I see why the brook always flows one way," cried Chip. "It is because the bed slopes from the source towards the mouth."
" Now I know why all streams are not alike," piped Redbreast. " Small ones flow in little valleys,. and have only short slopes to drain."
"But the stream in a large valley would be small if only a few showers fell on its slopes," added the wild-flower.
"Deep beds must lie along the lower edges of steep slopes," said Dick; "and I should think that gradual slopes, like these in the meadow, would form wide streams."
" But why do some brooks wind about ? asked the robin.
" They must follow the low line along which the slopes meet," was Bunny's answer. " If the slopes come together in a straight line, the stream will be straight. In the gently sloping meadow, the bed winds more than it does on the steep hillside. Slow brooks must wander about more than swift ones.
"You are right, Bunny," bubbled the stream. " That is nearly always true of large rivers as well as tiny rills. A swift stream can wear a straight bed for itself, by cutting away the lower edges of the side-slopes. But a slow one is easily turned aside.
" Sometimes a bed widens into a valley with inward slopes on all sides. Then the stream spreads out and forms a pond or lake. Nearly all ponds are wide places in brooks ; and nearly all lakes are still wider places in rivers.
"During a rainy season, ponds and lakes store up water and prevent it from making torrents in brooks and rivers. Low bogs and marshy places also hold back a part of the rainfall, and feed the streams during dry seasons.
"Marshes are often half pond and half meadow. They are like shallow ponds filled with growing mosses, ferns, and coarse grasses ; but they help to regulate the supply of water, and to prevent streams from overflowing their banks.
" Now if you will look at the branches or tributaries flowing into the main brook, you will find that there are three kinds. There is the little stream that runs down the steep hillside, and winds a long way across the meadow. Another flows nearly its whole length on the bluffs or low plateau, and then leaps down into a small pool near our rapids. A third rises on the bluffs, and reaches the lowland by a series of cascades and rapids, like a stairway.
"If we were to travel the wide world over, we should see countless streams, large and small, wide and narrow, deep and shallow, rapid and slow. But each would have a slope like one of these three tributaries. We will therefore call our three slopes, down which the little brooks flow, ' types' of the slopes that send all streams to the sea.
" Put on your thinking-caps now, my wise little friends, and tell me the difference between a water-parting and a brook-bed."
" The parting is a ridge, and the bed a valley," came the first answer from the nodding wild-flower.
"You are a bright-eyed posy," said Bunny. " When Dick and I were under the old stump, we saw the ridge part the raindrops, and we know that the tiny rills brought many of them to our brook-bed in the valley."
" The water-parting goes around the valley, but the brook-beds cut across," chattered the lively chipmonk.
" I think that the bed is just like the parting," began Dick. " Where the edges of the slopes join on the ridge, they form a water-parting. Where they meet in the valley, they make a brook-bed."
If they are alike, Dick," piped Redbreast, " why doesn't the brook-bed scatter the rain-drops?"
" I see ! " called out Chip ; and surely enough the little fellow did. " The parting is where the upper edges of the slopes come together, while the lower edges meet in the deepest part of the brook-bed, — in the channel."
" Well done, Chip ! " cried Dick. "We thought that out very well together, didn't we ? The bed is the bottom of the valley, and the parting is the top or rim."
" You have all done well," rippled the happy brook. "Now I will tell you another name for our valley, It is called a ` brook basin.' All the land that sends its raindrops to the streams in our valley belongs to our basin.
" Shall I tell you of a great river-bed that I once saw as I went sailing over the earth in the white-winged clouds ?
" Far away beyond the hill over which the sun rose this morning, there is a great forest. Robin would have to fly straight away for many long days and nights to reach it. Indeed, I fear our little bird would die on the way, for he would have to try to cross the wide ocean. His strong wings would need to rest many times, and he would fall into the sea.
" One time we floated over there in a great cloud. We saw lakes so wide that their shores were below the horizon on every side. There were mountains, too, so high that their white tops seemed to touch the sky. They looked just like the great banks of rain-clouds that often roll up before a storm.
" There were also countless streams, — some rising in the mountains, others flowing from the lakes. At length we saw the place where they all ran together and formed a river that was deep and wide.
"Many of the raindrops fell from the clouds, and started on a long journey with this mighty stream.
" You should see the water rushing over the steep places in the rocky bed. How it roars and foams !
"Far below, it glides along towards another high bank. Down it plunges with a crash like thunder. Here and there other streams flow in, till it looks like a long, wide lake, reaching from sky to sky, across a great plain.
"Day after day it glides and rushes along its bed. Then it flows through a land where no more rain falls, and no other streams come to join it. For miles and miles it has not a single tributary.
"On every side the hot sun beats down. The air is stifling. The banks are parched and dry. Can anything live in such a place ? We shall see by and by.
"Down, down we go. Weeks pass. Still the same hot gun, the stifling air, the shining stream, the thirsty soil. Where is the water going ? What is it doing?
At length we see rounded house-tops. We flow under wide bridges. We pass large cities. Then the river divides and flows slowly among hundreds of low islands, till it pours its muddy water into a great salt sea.
" This is the wonderful river Nile that flows through a vast desert. Sometime I will tell you what the great stream does as it follows its bed over the slopes of that dry country. Now, my little friends, I must bid you good night, for already —
"'Day hath put on his jacket, and around