Water Dancing

Water and the Stars
Epiphany 5

Khalil Gibran once wrote: “In one drop of water are found all the secrets of the ocean.” In the past several days, one drop of water has proven to be the salvation of many in the United States of America. The recent wave of frigid air sweeping across two-thirds of the country have left many with faucets dripping overnight to prevent indoor plumbing pipes from freezing. The United States Geological Survey acknowledges that there is no scientific definition of the volume of water contained within a faucet drip. However, they estimate it to be something close to ¼ milliliter. Using that calculation, then, one gallon of water would be equal to fifteen thousand, one hundred and forty drips while one liter would equal four thousand drips.

Someone, we don’t know exactly who, had the bright idea to use water dripping as the momentum to measure time and the movement of the stars and planets across the sky. While we often consider sundials as the oldest tools for measuring the sun’s movement across the sky to determine the time of day, there is evidence that water-driven clocks are just as old, predated only by the vertical gnomon and the tally stick which was used for counting days. Water clocks are known to have been used in ancient Babylon and Egypt in the sixteenth century BCE. Of less certain dates are those in India and China.

The bowl-shape outflow of a water clock is the simplest form. The Greeks and Romans and later the Chinese all developed escapement systems for the transference of energy and later added sundials and other mechanisms to improve the accuracy of the water clock. The water-driven astronomical clock developed by Su Song stood twelve meters high and seven meters wide. The clock tower was made of wood in the shape of a square table and contained three parts. The top was an open-roof house with an armillary sphere inside for celestial observation. The middle portion was a room with a celestial globe inside. The timing device was at the bottom of the tower and contained five figures in five cabinets which gave the correct time in turns. Using only water, the first endless power-transmitting chain ever made, and employing the functions of the armillary sphere, this was the first astronomical clock in the world, dating to the Sung Dynasty of 960-1279 ACE.

In 1206, Al-Jazari had yet another bright idea. His water-powered astronomical clock is considered to be the first example of a programmable analog computer. It was a most complex device which stood approximately eleven feet high. Timekeeping was just one of its functions. It included a display of the zodiac, solar and lunar orbits, and a pointer in the shape of a crescent moon, This traveled across the top of what was called a gateway which moved by a hidden cart. Every hour automatic doors would open and reveal a mannequin. To account for the variance of the length of days and nights during the year, this clock could be reprogrammed. It also featured automated musicians who would play music as levers were operated by a hidden camshaft connected to a water wheel. Water also played a part in the main reservoir with float, a float chamber and flow regulator as well as two falcons which automatically would drop balls into attached vases.

For people in the frigid areas of the USA, the water dripping of their faucets also denoted the passage of time throughout the night. For many of us, the hours of our days are like the waves on the shoreline. Water can break down but is also provides essential life.

How we measure our own progress through life is a very individual and personal thing. We can elect to ride the waves and hope to stay afloat or we can give up and simply drown in the busy-ness of living. Hopefully, you have found your own bright idea that enables you to surf the challenges you encounter. Sometimes our epiphanies come in what seems to be the darkest of hours. After all, without the tunnel, there can be no light shining brightly at the end.

The waves of life surround all of us but, if we remain strong and steady, we can ride the waves to a successful landing. Lau Tzu said: “Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful.” Slide or swim through the challenges in your life and find your own bright idea! After all, life is a dance and we choreograph each and every day of our lives.

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