Who uses it: Geographers, hydrologists, and naturalists
What it means: An area of land in which all the water above and below drains into the same place, combining several eco-systems into a larger, more complex one that may be entirely different from all those that feed into it.
How you can use it: To describe a set of events that changes everything into what comes after.
"Watershed moment" is one of those cliches that politicians and newscasters throw around, without much thought to what the phrase really means. I wanted to use the term today because I'd love to restore the power of this metaphor. I grew up in the vast watershed of the Chesapeake Bay, and got to see it more dramatically than someone who grew up in, say, Muscatine, Iowa -- but as the EPA website points out, every area is a watershed, once you know what you're looking for.
In years to come, I think Americans will remember this period of time as one of those dividing lines, between How It Was Before and How it Was After. 2005 may wind up being that way for the whole world, the way I think of 1989 as a watershed year, the way 1848 was. My brother James is currently in Sasebo, Japan, which is preparing for a direct hit from a major typhoon -- recently downgraded to Category 4, still potentially devastating.
A plaque and a beautiful little park on the riverfront in downtown Chicago commemorate the re-routing of the Illinois River as one of the major engineering achievements of the 20th century. We let ourselves get so proud of these feats, and we wilfully forget that one way or another, water follows its own course. About the best we can do is to figure out how to ride on it, and how to eat from it. (My bad luck not to care for seafood.)
Dizzy and I got home around 11:00 last night, after a long day that included getting lost in New Hampshire (I always get lost in New Hampshire), paying $3.30/gallon for gas, and the disappearance of my luggage somewhere between Philadelphia and Manchester. I'm supposed to play field hockey tonight, but the soles of my feet are a mass of blisters, the result of bad shoe choices in Chicago and the idiotic decision to get a pedicure the day before leaving for Bouchercon. Next time I'll remember, calluses form for a reason.