Gift of Water

By Nancy A. Auer

Have you ever thought deeply about the perfection of our planet Earth?  It is perfectly placed in the solar system to receive the perfect amount of sunlight to keep life thriving and balanced.  All life requires water—from the the deepest sea vent organisms living in total darkness in water temperatures reaching 195 F., to penguins standing on ice incubating their eggs for 70 days in the -35 F. temperatures of Antarctica.  Water, in all its forms and in an astounding range of temperatures, is life giving to whatever lives and breathes on planet Earth. Even Earth’s one perfect moon, when aligned with the sun, gives life by strengthening the tides, which freshen the water in bays, estuaries, and intertidal areas, and in so doing, moves out wastes that will in turn become nutrients for ocean organisms.

Perhaps my focused attention on water comes from my teaching and research in general biology, zoology, fish biology and biological oceanography at Michigan Tech University. The health of every organism and plant on Earth depends upon water, and we can no longer abuse, disrespect, or ignore this impressive Gift of Water.

I have been fortunate to live most of my life near water. When I was a child in Minnesota, each summer I road my bike almost daily to the beaches of Lake Minnetonka, where I swam for hours, until my skin turned into prune-like wrinkles. At age 18 I left home to attend college in Duluth, Minnesota, so that I could be near Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, waters that seemed especially to call to me.  My college roommates and I would go winter camping or summer canoeing in remote regions of northern Minnesota, where the rivers and lakes were inhabited with loons and where we heard the howl of the wolf.  In college, on Earth Day 1970, I lead a group called Students for Environmental Defense in celebrating and calling for the protection of the waters of the Queen of the Great Lakes—Lake Superior.

After college, my husband and I chose to live and make our careers on Lake Superior, and both of us have done a majority of our academic research on the water and organisms in the Great Lakes region. We both also teach courses in which we hope to inspire care for the big lake and also awareness of the precious connection between water and all life.  We feel blessed by our opportunity to live intimately with water and to witness what an extraordinary gift it is.

Beside the teaching and research of academic life, a second thread has run through my life, which is practicing a religious belief and, related to that, seeking for evidence of something beyond the individual self—something greater, a spirit in my life and in the lives of others. For me, that something, which is beyond our immediate grasp, is a spirit imbedded in our human connection to the earth and all other living organisms.

A large portion of my academic life has been dedicated to the conservation of an ancient fish, the Lake Sturgeon, which is also the largest freshwater fish in the Great Lakes region. One spring day, while working to gather data from spawning sturgeon, I stood in a river and held up my palm in which an egg, a small sturgeon embryo, remained in a pool of water. The tiny size of this soon-to-hatch fish exemplified for me the vulnerability of all creatures.  This embryo was a bit of life about to start a journey of growth and maturation that might result in a seven-foot adult sturgeon that could live to be 100 or even 150 years old. I eased my hand back into the water to protect that single embryo, and as I did so, I said a prayer for its great journey.

Just as each human is important, each animal and plant is important, and all of us are deeply connected by the gift of water. It is when we experience the spirit of such interconnections that we can more readily understand and accept our need to care for and have reverence for our waters. When we practice respect and reverence for the gift of water, we begin to see a greater connection to all life, and we begin to extend that spirit of reverence to the whole Earth. It is my hope that by acknowledging the remarkable Gift of Water, we can renew our spirit of reverence for all life on Earth.

Editor’s note:  This column was written by a member of the Northern Great Lakes Water Stewards, a faith-based initiative, establishing collaborative partnerships to monitor, restore, and protect the lakes and streams of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Water stewardship tips

• To monitor your household usage of water, stop your usage of water and monitor your water meter for two hours. If the meter does not register the same number two hours later, you have a leak in your home that needs to be investigated.

• To avoid over-watering a lawn, water in the evening to prevent evaporation, and use an empty tuna fish can as a guage. Once the can is full of water, the grass roots are sufficiently saturated.

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