Gift of Water

By Charlie West

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”  This is the first line from one of the chapters in Loren Eiseley’s The Immense journey.  Eiseley goes on to write of coming upon the Platte River after miles of walking hot and dry.  Stripping down to lie in the shallows of the Platte, he felt the call of the river, and though a non-swimmer, he launched himself into the current and began floating, feeling himself, he said, one with the water, “sliding down the vast tilted face of the continent” to the sea.

One warm early spring evening I sat on the screened-in porch of our camp.  The lake was still frozen and there were two to three feet of fresh, clean snow covering everything.  Slowly I became aware of water running, but I could think of no possible source for the sound.  The next morning I went searching, and finally, 500 yards across the bay and into the woods, I discovered a small flow of water.  It drained a micro watershed and fell over a three-foot rock face.  Somewhat egotistically, I named it “West Falls,” and each time I walk the trail on that side of the lake, I detour a short way to see if it is running or not.  Sometimes it’s a true rivulet dropping to the forest floor and then disappearing under the rocks and leaves.  Sometimes it’s only a wet spot on the rock.  I would never have known of it at all except for the sound on that early spring evening, and from the porch I have never heard it again.  One could wonder if the water had chosen that one quiet moment to announce itself in hopes of being discovered, in hopes of finding community.

On another day, this one early in a cold, windy winter, we arrived at camp to discover the bay frozen over and blown completely free of snow.  As we walked out on the ice, we could look down through an inch or two of crystal clear ice into another world.  We could see sticks and leaves on the bottom.  I would like to say we saw fish lazily drifting back and forth, but I’m not really sure if that is a memory or a dream.

One summer day, which I have fondly come to think of as “one of the worst days of my life,” I joined a maintenance crew on the North Country Trail.  It was hot.  It was buggy.  Even through head nets and bug shirts and layers of repellent, the black flies and mosquitoes and heat found their way in to annoy.  I was pretty confident that I had enough water, and after lunch, even though we were by a stream, I splashed a little on my hands to wash off the sticky.  “Better save that for drinking and wash with stream water,” someone suggested.  My problem was that with a sore back and a stiff hip, I wasn’t confident that if I kneeled down to the stream, I’d be able to get back up!  As the afternoon wore on, the bugs and the heat persisted, and somehow the way back seemed longer than the way out.  I got thirstier with each step.  I dreamed of glasses of cold lemonade and root beer and iced tea—just about every kind of liquid thing.  Finally we reached the truck with its cooler, and the truly magic water that the cooler contained.  That was as thirsty as I have ever been, and that water the best and the most satisfying I have ever tasted.

One other place we notice the magic in water is the garden.  After we’ve come home from three or four warm, dry days away, the tomatoes droop, the squash leaves flop.  But from rain barrels full of their magic elixir, we carefully water each bed, and in the morning, the plants have perked up, stretched out, greened again.

Rain drops—it’s magic,

Earth and I together drink,

live, flow to the sea. . . .

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”

Editor’s note: “The Gift of Water” columns are offered by the Northern Great Lakes Water Stewards and the Cedar Tree Institute, who are spearheading an interfaith effort to preserve, protect, and sanctify the waters of the Upper Peninsula.

Water Stewardship Tips

• When showering, jump in when the water is warm, but soap up with the water off. And try to resist lingering for too long in the warm spray when you wash off the soap. This will save water and fuel.

• Water the garden using soaker hoses rather than sprayers or sprinklers, and water roots rather than leaves. Sprinklers can actually spread leaf diseases, and water from sprinklers evaporates more readily than water from drip hoses.

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