Why Aren’t All Rivers Straight? The Answer Is Kind Of Mind-Blowing.

Isn’t science great?

Rivers, y'all. There's so much about them I didn't know.

1. Rivers only *seem* tame and lazy.

Mountain streams are corralled by the steep-walled valleys they carve. Their courses are literally set in stone. Out on the open plains, those stoney walls give way to soft soil, allowing rivers to shift their banks and set their own ever-changing courses to the sea. Courses that almost never run straight, at least not for long, because all it takes to turn a straight stretch of river into a bendy one is a little disturbance and a lot of time.


2. What makes a river bend?

Say, for example, that a muskrat burrows herself a den in one bank of a stream. Her tunnels make for a cozy home, but they also weaken the bank, which eventually begins to crumble and slump into the stream.

As more of the stream's flow is diverted into the deepening hole on one bank and away from the other side of the channel, the flow there weakens and slows. And because slow-moving water can't carry the sand-sized particles that fast-moving water can, the dirt drops to the bottom and builds up to make the water there even shallower and slower. And then it keeps accumulating until it becomes new land on the inside bank.

Meanwhile, the fast-moving water near the outside bank sweeps out of the curve with enough momentum to carry it across the channel and slam it into the other side, where it starts to carve another curve and then another and then another and then another.

3. Rivers can do math. Sort of.

Measurements of meandering streams all over the world reveal a strikingly regular pattern. The length of one S-shaped meander tends to be about six times the width of the channel. So little, tiny meandering streams tend to look just like miniature versions of their bigger relatives.

4. But it doesn't mean they're very smart about it.

As long as nothing gets in the way of a river's meandering, its curves will continue to grow curvier and curvier until they loop around and bumble into themselves. When that happens, the river's channel follows a straighter path downhill leaving behind a crescent-shaped remnant called an oxbow lake.

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Comedy legend Carol Burnett once said, "Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head." She wasn't joking.

Going through childbirth is widely acknowledged as one of the most grueling things a human can endure. Having birthed three babies myself, I can attest that Burnett's description is fairly accurate—if that seemingly impossible lip-stretching feat lasted for hours and involved a much more sensitive part of your body.

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Christopher Walken is one of the greatest actors of his generation. He's been nominated for an Academy Award twice for best supporting actor, winning once for 1978's "The Deer Hunter" and receiving a nomination for 2002's "Catch Me if You Can."

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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