Gift of Water

By Rachel Holman

Someone needs to explain to me why wanting clean drinking water makes you an activist, and why proposing to destroy water with chemical warfare doesn’t make a corporation a terrorist.

— Winona LaDuke, Anishinaabe activist

In our time, social activism is vital to the continuing health of our species. Our situation and direction are so fraught that I find myself asking deep questions—what is the basis of our very being, and what is our future? Indeed, will humanity survive at all? In the biological sense, we will “survive” if we continue to reproduce, but such “survival” may be worth little. We must do more than merely reproduce. Humanity needs to comprehend the big picture by understanding and then preserving not only the foundations of life but also the natural resources upon which that life is built. These are not new ideas. In the early 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt underscored these same ideas when he announced, simply and eloquently: “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

To feed our common life, and indeed even to understand our common life, we must bring both passion and factual understanding to the issues at hand. Water is the basis of all life, yet our water is under increasing threat from both the corporate and political realms. Even our national parks are now in jeopardy. Endangered species are losing protection, and science itself is now under direct assault. For instance, in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency, which, among other charges, monitors weather and climate, lately is being stripped of its ability to do so.

What can we do? What actions can we take in order to preserve our environment, our species and Earth itself in all its mystery and beauty? I would assert that the first step in preservation is a renewed reverence toward Earth itself and toward our place in the natural world. Reverence can affect a sea-change in our attitudes, and a sea-change is what will be required, I believe. But how can we generate this reverence? We must first of all look—really look—beginning with our very own lives. As for me, I contemplate my own connection to the most basic element, water. I am drawn to the sound and movement of water, its pure splendors, simultaneously simple and complex. And when I look—really look—I recognize this truth: Water is Life.

We can learn from our children too, as I have learned, from spending time with the kindergarten and third grade classes at Sandy Knoll Elementary School in their study of water. I’ve studied the students studying water, and I’ve realized anew my own—our own—transcendent connection with water. These young students, seeing with fresh eyes, were struck by the wonders of water, and they were eager to express their thoughts, feelings and knowledge. Repeatedly, they vocalized their thoughts: “Without water, we wouldn’t be here.” “We need water to live.” “Everything around us needs water, the trees and animals.” “Our dogs and cats need water too.” They also demonstrated that they had a solid understanding of the cycles of water, and its place—large and small, grand and intricate—in every ecosystem, and down to the tiniest organisms.

The students’ understanding, though, was more than scientific or technical. It was also personal. Water, it turns out, was a frequent source of fond memories for them. They recounted involvement in activities such as fishing and swimming and canoeing during long lazy summer days. Through their study and their personal experience, they could sense, if not articulate, that water is sacred, obligatory, a building block of all.

If kindergarteners can understand these things, then perhaps adults can too. As a society, we must re-learn and re-generate our reverence for the natural world so that we can protect and defend that which is sacred, and that which is obligatory, for all life: clean water. The children at Sandy Knoll recognize this, as do the activists at Standing Rock, as do the residents of Flint, Michigan. We’re at a pivotal time. Let us kindly and justly protect what will sustain the future. Let us announce, accept and celebrate this basic truth: Water is Life.

Water stewardship tips:

• Lawns and gardens require only 5 millimeters of water per day during warm weather. Less is needed during spring, fall, or cool weather. Water during the cool part of the day, in the morning or evening. Do not water on windy days.

• Use only cleaning products that will not harm the environment when they are washed away after use. Look for “environmentally friendly” products when shopping.

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