Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/228

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

utes. At times, the wind, coming up the river, searched and sifted the spray, carrying away the lighter drops, and leaving the heavier ones behind. Wafted in the proper direction, rainbows appeared and disappeared fitfully in the lighter mist. In other directions the common gleam of the sunshine from the waves and their shattered crests was exquisitely beautiful. The complexity of the action was still further illustrated by the fact that in some cases, as if by the exercise of a local explosive force, the drops were shot radially from a particular centre, forming around it a kind of halo.

The first impression, and, indeed, the current explanation of these rapids is, that the central bed of the river is cumbered with large bowlders, and that the jostling, tossing, and wild leaping of the water there are due to its impact against these obstacles. This may be true to some extent, but there is another reason to be taken into account. Bowlders derived from the adjacent cliffs visibly cumber the sides of the river. Against these the water rises and sinks rhythmically but violently, large waves being thus produced. On the generation of each wave there is an immediate compounding of the wave-motion with the river-motion. The ridges, which in still water would proceed in circular curves round the centre of disturbance, cross the river obliquely, and the result is that, at the centre, waves commingle which have really been generated at the sides. In the first instance we had a composition of wave-motion with river-motion; here we have the coalescence of waves with waves. Where crest and furrow cross each other, the motion is annulled; where furrow and furrow cross, the river is ploughed to a greater depth; and, where crest and crest aid each other, we have that astonishing leap of the water which breaks the cohesion of the crests, and tosses them shattered into the air. From the water-level the cause of the action is not so easily seen; but from the summit of the cliff the lateral generation of the waves and their propagation to the centre are perfectly obvious. If this explanation be correct, the phenomena observed at the Whirlpool Rapids form one of the grandest illustrations of the principle of interference. The Nile "cataract," Mr. Huxley informs me, offers examples of the same action.

At some distance below the Whirlpool Rapids we have the celebrated whirlpool itself. Here the river makes a sudden bend to the northeast, forming nearly a right angle with its previous direction. The water strikes the concave bank with great force, and scoops it incessantly away. A vast basin has been thus formed, in which the sweep of the river prolongs itself in gyratory currents. Bodies and trees which have come over the falls are stated to circulate here for days without finding the outlet. From various points of the cliffs above, this is curiously hidden. The rush of the river into the whirlpool is obvious enough; and, though you imagine the outlet must be visible, if one existed, you cannot find it. Turning, however, round