|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
HAVE been told," said Emile, "that the Rhone empties its
waters into the sea."
"The Rhone does run into the sea," returned his uncle. "It
pours into it every second five million liters of water."
"Receiving so much water continually, does not the sea end
by overflowing, like a basin, when it is too full?"
"You are out in your reckoning, my dear child. The Rhone is
not the only river that goes to the sea. In France alone
there are the Garonne, Loire, Seine, and many less important
ones. And that is only a very small part of the streams that
flow into the sea. All the rivers in the world join it,
absolutely all. The Amazon, in South America, is 1400
leagues long, and ten leagues wide at its mouth. What an
immense quantity of water it must furnish!
"Imagine that all the streams in the world, small as well as
large, the tiniest brooks no less than the enormous rivers,
flow unceasingly into the sea. You know the little brook
with the crabs. In certain places Emile can jump across it;
scarcely anywhere is the water over his knees. Well, the
brook goes to the sea exactly as the Amazon does; every
second it casts its few liters of water into it; that is all
 can do. But it does not dare, tiny little stream, to make
the voyage alone and go and find the sea, the immense sea,
all by itself. It meets company on the way, joins its thread
of clear water to stronger streams which become rivers by
joining their forces; the sea-going-river receives tributary
streams, and the sea, in receiving the river, drinks the
"All running waters," said Jules, "brooks, torrents,
streams, rivers, run into the sea without a break, and that
takes place all over the world, so that every second the sea
receives incalculable volumes of water. So I come back to
Emile's question: How is it that, continually receiving so
much water, the sea does not overflow?"
"If, when full, a reservoir receives from a spring just as
much as it lets out through some opening, can this reservoir
overflow, even when water is always coming in?"
"Certainly not: losing as much as it receives, it must
always keep the same level."
"It is the same with the sea. It loses just as much as it
gains, and therefore its level always remains the same.
Brooks, torrents, streams, rivers, all run into the sea; but
brooks, torrents, streams, and rivers also come from the
sea. They carry back to the immense reservoir what they took
from it, and not a drop more."
"If the crab brook comes from the sea," interposed Emile,
"as you say, its water ought to be salt; but I know very
well it is not, in the least."
"Certainly it is not salt: but the brook does not come out
of the sea as the water of a ditch comes
 from a reservoir.
In coming from the sea, before becoming what it is, the
brook has first passed through the air as clouds."
"As clouds, my little friend. Let us recall something I told
you a while ago.
"The heat of the sun causes water to evaporate; it reduces
it to something invisible, to vapor that is dissipated in
the air. Seas present a surface three times that of the dry
land. Over these immensities there is constantly taking
place an enormous evaporation, raising into the air a part
of the waters of the sea. The vapor thus formed becomes
clouds; the clouds are borne in all directions, letting down
snow and rain; this rain and melted snow penetrate the
ground, filter down and give birth to springs, which
gradually, by their union, become brooks, streams, and
"I see why the water of brooks is not salt," said Jules,
"although it comes from the sea. When you put salt water in
a plate in the sun, only the water goes away; the salt
remains. The vapor that rises from the sea is not salt,
because the salt does not go with it when it forms. So
streams fed by snow and rain that fall from the clouds
cannot be salt."
"What you have just told us is very remarkable, Uncle,"
observed Claire. "All water-courses, rivers, streams,
torrents, brooks, come from and return to the sea."
"They come from the sea, an inexhaustible reservoir that
covers with its waters a surface three times larger than
that of all the continents joined
to-  gether; from the sea,
whose abysses go down at some places to the depth of 14
kilometers, and receive unceasingly the tribute of all the
water-courses of the world, without ever being taxed beyond
their capacity. The enormous surface of the sea furnishes
the air with vapor which turns into clouds; later these
clouds dissolve in rain and, chased by the wind, travel like
immense watering-pots over the ground, rendering it fertile.
In their turn, rain and snow, precipitated by the clouds,
give birth to the rivers that carry their waters to the sea.
In that way a continual current is effected which, starting
from the sea, returns to the sea, after having traveled
through the atmosphere in the form of clouds, watered the
earth as rain, and crossed continents as rivers.
"The sea is the common reservoir of the waters. Rivers,
springs, fountains, every little brooklet, all come from and
all return to it. The water of a dew-drop, the water that
circulates in the sap of plants, the water that forms beads
of perspiration on our foreheads, all come from the sea and
are on their way back to it. However small the little drop,
do not fear that it will lose its way. If the arid sand
drinks it up, the sun will know how to draw it out again and
send it to rejoin the vapor in the atmosphere and, sooner or
later, to reënter the ocean-basin. Nothing is lost,
nothing escapes the eye of God, who has measured the oceans
in the hollow of His hand, and knows the number of their
drops of water."
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