It must be the end of winter.
All the tell-tale signs are here. Robins nibble on dried-up berries and rosehips at the edges of the yard. The dogs are shedding their winter coats, leaving tufts of hair like a breadcrumb trail wherever they go. The roof shrugs off layers of snow and ice, with a cacophony of drips throughout the morning followed by thunderous slides that shake the house in the afternoon. The winter food storage, so plentiful at the end of harvest, is nearly gone but for a few shriveled carrots, a handful of sprouting potatoes and one lone jar of tomato sauce.
Afternoon mud puddles transform overnight into crystalline shards of intricate geometric ice castles, glistening in the morning sun. As the day warms, ice crystals melt into rivulets that trickle down the walkway, joining other trickles in a rush to the creek that soon will become a roaring torrent, rolling down to the river in a rush towards the open ocean. As the poet Mary Oliver so wisely observed, “It is the nature of stone to be satisfied. It is the nature of water to want to be somewhere else.”
In our valley of plenty, it’s easy to take water for granted. According to an article published in the Los Angeles Times last week, 1.6 million people in the United States don’t have access to clean drinking water. Recently I traveled to the Bahamas — where there is no surface water and the freshwater resources are finite and vulnerable. The tap water on the island was filled with salt and sulfur. After a salt-shower, I would wet a washcloth with bottled water to rinse the residual salt off my body. My travel water bottle was useless as the only available drinking water came in plastic bottles. As we were instructed on the dangers that sunscreen posed to coral reefs, I couldn’t help but think of all those plastic bottles, and the impact on the fragile eco-system of the limestone and coral islands.
Returning home, I realized the stark differences between the water-rich and the water-poor. I ran four loads of laundry, took a shower, mopped the floors, filled the water fountain, turned on the humidifier, and filled the dogs’ water bowl with the ease of rotating a handle. Filling a quart jar with well water from the tap, I drunk deeply.
People in Flint, Michigan, still don’t have clean drinking water. An interactive map at www.drinkingwateralliance.org tracks all the areas in the United States with unsafe drinking water, and how the community has responded, or has failed to respond.
All these watery ruminations drove me to seek out the poems of Mary Oliver, who died early this year.
What is the vitality and necessity
Of clean water?
Ask a man who is ill, and who is lifting
His lips to the cup.
Ask the forest.
“Water,” by Mary Oliver