Hydrophilosophy

            Now that we’re acquainted as Ecophiles, I’d like to tell you a little bit about me. My path to ecophilia began as a kid romping through the woods of rural PA. When not outside, I sat at the upright piano in my parents’ dining room, pursuing my childhood passion for music. In middle school, I even wrote a children’s book called Muzzath that used pizza to teach music and fractions. 

            After college, my undergrad research in math modeling landed me a gig doing financial modeling as a Quant, which was fun for a little while. But soon I was spending more time reading about the environment than concentrating on my job (the WSJ is so boring). That’s when I realized it was time for a change. I was good at school, and I liked research. Grad school was the obvious choice, but which school was not obvious. I needed one that was less restrictive than math, something that would allow me to explore a broad curriculum. Your typical geology department would not satisfy someone who juggled math, music, finance, and environmental activism. Fortunately, the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, recognizing the transdisciplinary nature of the Earth system, opened its doors to me. The faculty included climate scientists, ecologists, hydrologists, biochemists, political scientists, and economists. Among them, I found my advisor, an environmental modeler, a perfect fit for me. I quit my job and started my Ph.D.

Back in those days, I was planning to become a musician like my parents, but high school changed all that. A great math teacher taught me calculus, and my appreciation of math in music became a commitment to understand the language of the universe. I moved from country to city to study math in college but continued loving music. It returned naturally to my life when, with a few good friends, I formed a band. In the concrete jungle of the city, my love for nature morphed into a passion for environmental activism. It felt like the right thing for a kid from the country to do in the big city to satisfy his rebellious streak (besides mosh to punk bands in basements). It also marked the beginning of my academic interest in environmental science, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture… all things green.

I study ecohydrology. So what is that? “Eco“ means “environment” and “hydro” means “water”, so I study the way water moves through an ecosystem. As a modeler, I build computer models that represent our scientific understanding of an ecosystem’s water budget. I use computational logic and equations to track a drop of water as it travels along its path. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the water cycle since you learned it in elementary school – rain (or snow) falls, either runs off into a stream or gets used up by plants as evapotranspiration, until it ends up in the ocean or some lake and evaporates back into the sky. Sounds easy, right? It is, until you realize even that first step of deciding rain or snow is not so simple….

            Anyway, I’m not here to teach you hydrology or even tell you about my research, I just want to explain how an Ecophile approaches the study of the environment. I may be pursuing a Ph.D. in science, but doctoral study is like a whirlpool, deepening and drowning. PhD students have the immense privilege of spending 5+ years developing complex theories to describe our natural or socioeconomic systems. But until some bright student confirms the Grand Unified Theory of Everything, no one will ever be proven right. How could we possibly know? All of modern human knowledge is based on a set of shared axioms and assumptions that may not even be true. The reason I won’t receive a Doctor of Science degree when I graduate is because science is philosophy. All of science is a reduction of natural processes to their mathematical essence; all of philosophy is a reduction of mental processes to their rational essence. Once we see that knowledge is subjective, we become the arbiters of our education, questioning everything, and reaching beyond our disciplinary boundaries. The Ph.D. gives one the utmost freedom to gain and create knowledge as it applies to one’s field of study, broadening everyone’s perspective in the process. But ecohydrology is already interdisciplinary. I need to know ecology, hydrology, biology, chemistry, geology, climate science, soil science, silviculture, water policy, the list keeps growing. As an interdisciplinary scientist, all of the world’s knowledge is at my disposal. But why stop there? Interdisciplinarity need not be restricted to science. As a modeler, I use math, technology, and data-driven science to investigate my research questions. As a communicator, I need language, storytelling, and creative modes of expression to connect and relate to people. As a scholar, I am approaching my study from every field possible: geophysics, biological science, social studies, resource management, Indigenous culture, art, religion. The culmination of my Ph.D. is the study of ecohydrology as it relates to all these things – the multidimensional understanding of Water as a philosophy of Nature, and Nature as a reflection of Life. Lover Earth is a complex, living being and Water connects Her to all of Us.

            I may know how Water moves through the Ecosystem, but how does It move through the Public Water System? How was Water transported via Roman Aqueducts? How does Water diffuse through cellular membranes? How does Water saturated with paint move on a piece of paper? How can Fluid Statics and Dynamics teach Us to Be and to Flow? How do the Rivers streaming through our Human Body connect Us to the Lakes, Oceans, and Valleys of Earth? How do the Natural Rhythms of Seasons and Tides, spurred on by the Stars and Moon, sync up with our Inner Cycles of Calm and Stress? Starting to feel more like a degree in philosophy, right? The revelation came to me: “Science is Art. Art is Science.” They should be interrelated. I am too an artist.

Art showing hillslope eco hydrology
Watercolor sketch depicting conceptual model of hillslope ecohydrology

Water is the perfect lens through which to view the world. Water is the Source of all Life. We are an actual Body of Water. Why can we embrace Lover Earth? Thanks to her rich, oxygenated Sky and lush, hydrated Land. What do we look for on Alien planets? Water, Ice, Signs of Life. How is Life brought into the World? A Woman’s Water breaks. Followed in some cultures by the ritual Baptism, with Blessing of the Holy Water. What compares to the gift of cold, fresh, potable Water in the mountains? What then, is the meaning of lead pipes pumping out dirty Water from a home’s tap? Or Industry dumping toxins into our Streams? Justice is needed. Clean Water is a Right.

            There’s that activism coming out. “Ecophile by nature, activist by necessity.” The point is, Ecophiles should embrace a holistic view of the Environment. I’ve since realized that my true passion lies not in any one single pursuit, but at the intersection of many – whether they be math and music, science and art, philosophy and spirituality, ecohydrology and technology, or the water-energy-food nexus. There are countless ways to deepen one’s relationship to our Lover Earth. Find whatever feels right to you. Broaden your perspective by consuming positive media from diverse sources. Tap into your passion and express it any way you can. We can all share Lover Earth.

Published by Louis Graup

Ecophile by nature, activist by necessity

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