It’s striking to realise a personal sense of pure elation from the effect of sunlight in its many forms. Even more so, when light and water mix, and with sounds. I find it healing.
In our rivers, shallow oceans, even at the bottom of swimming pools and upon cave roofs, we are familiar with light refracting back and forth through gentle and chaotic laps of surface waves. A lace-like dance of photons hits our retinas, processes in our brains and triggers emotions.
These hypnotic and beautiful patterns of light are officially known as caustic networks. Most of us would assume caustic is a type of chemical capable of burning, and definitely something to avoid. But caustic, in terms of physics, means patterns formed by the intersection of reflected or refracted parallel rays from a curved surface. Keith Beven, Professor Emeritus of Hydrology at Lancaster University, describes beautifully the physics of caustics and water here at On Landscape.
Ecologically, caustic networks are instrumental to wild beings with varying sensing abilities, who photosynthesize, hide and hunt among them each day, and in ways we are only just beginning to understand.
Earlier this week, Twitter friend Tim Sykes @RiversAndPeople, asked me to create a more relational word for caustics. I jumped at the chance, and spent a few days thinking about it.
I agree. I think a new common word might be useful in garnering interest in something so characteristically Earth-y (rock/water/sun), ecologically effecting, and mesmerizing in its affect upon us.
On studying the patterns at my local river, The Wye, I saw dynamic nets, webs, lace and lattice-work. PIE root *(h)uebh- “to weave;” also “to move quickly” source also of Sanskrit ubhnati “he laces together (Etymonline.com), which is probably where old French Latiz originated.
Lumen, latin for source of light, combined with lattice spelled phonetically for ease of pronunciation across different languages ~ lattiss.
I invited Tim to blog, and so here he writes. My gratitude.
I enjoyed a sense of fun as I rolled-up my trouser legs and waded into the chalk stream, a winterbourne, watched by seven circling red kites and a herd of curious black bullocks. It’s not unusual for me to dip my feet in this winterbourne for its soothing effects on my racing mind and two things struck me as notable this day: the chill of the flow was toe-numbingly energising; and the crystal-clear water amplified the bright sunshine illuminating my pale feet so they seemed to glow ice-white. The sunrays were reflected and refracted by the water, casting a shimmering, shifting net onto the flinty stream bed and my feet. Lost in the moment I was transfixed by this dancing water-crazed light-lattice of star-like nodes and chaotic wavy light threads.
Afterwards I felt joyful, glee, but I struggled to describe exactly what I had sensed at the time: I think my self was suspended in a trance-like state of fascination. That evening, contemplating this further, a friend enlightened me to the technical name for this familiar phenomenon: a ‘caustic network’. To be awestruck by ethereal light is not unusual, a recent night on a beach watching shooting stars mesmerised by the dancing flames of our campfire was similarly spellbinding in a primitive and sublime way. It struck me that such a wonderful natural fluvial phenomenon deserves a non-technical, more soulful name and I asked Ginny, my twitter-friend what she would call it. As you are reading this blog you already know of Ginny’s passionate gift for forging new language and better ways of thinking to express how we celebrate and conserve the natural world and our relationship in and of it: and hence the word lumilattiss was born…
Tim Sykes is a mature, part-time post graduate research student at the University of Southampton. An ecologist by training, he is exploring our deep relationships with chalk stream winterbournes in their flowing, pooling and drying phases, particularly intrinsic and relational values. He tweets @RiversandPeople, so please do follow!