It’s raining in New Mexico. Perhaps if it keeps up for another two months, locals will start complaining, but for now we look at the rainfall reports and rejoice to see that we are three inches ahead of the norm so far this year. The Rio Grande is wearing its banks like a new suit; and the news from downstream, closer to Mexico, is that Elephant Butte has recovered a few feet from its 40 foot drought deficit.
As I write this I hear rain on the roof and am transported back to my years in Montreal when the hum of rain barrels filling or rain drumming on the domes of raised umbrellas were frequent companions. Listening to a link that my friend Dan sent me to the Alan Hovhaness Cello Concerto, kettle drum, cello, and the beat of rain on my Albuquerque sun roof, all seem to be singing a song of water. There they are again: the rolling thunder of kettle drums, the call of flutes from nearby tree branches, the airy swaying of a cello lifting aloft. For the moment, fire waits behind the clouds, unless I count the firing of neurons as I plot my next sentence.
Recently an old friend and a new friend have each published books in which water holds a special place.
Jim Burbank’s “The Oxbow Poems: Slow Walks on the Rio Grande”, employs poems (which he calls ‘meditations’), essays, and photographs (that tell half the story) to share the healing power of nature:
“Only those whose skin
Is river skin
Can know river” (The Oxbow Poems, page 101)
Wandering in the Rio Grande Bosque, Jim explores the connection between the natural world and being human, while melting the boundaries between inner and outer realms.
Glenn Aparicio Parry also steps through the boundaries that appear to separate the natural world from our human embodiment–finding that we are actually one river, one being:
“We do not own the water, the land, the air, the fire. These are simply not ours to own because they are the essence of all life, not just ours”. (Original Thought. page 184).
Earlier this month, I heard two Hopi elders (in a webinar titled “Learning to think like water thinks” hosted by Glenn) talk about their people’s intimate connection with water. The elders shared a traditional Hopi story. In the beginning their ancestors were given three things which have allowed them to survive in the desert: “a gourd of water, a bag of seeds, and a planting stick”. This Hopi’s story tells of a people who didn’t need to wander for 40 years because they sunk their roots in those sands.
An observation from that talk has stayed with me: modern society took the planting stick and ran with it into a technological future, yet casually exploits fresh water for slurry ponds, and modifies ancient seeds without respect for their irreplaceable gift of life.
It’s a pleasure to read two books that express intimate caring for the land and the living waters that nourish it: Jim with a camera, a notebook, and a willingness to engage nature in unhurried conversation; Glenn, condensing decades of dialogue among Native Americans and Westerners, in order to share an ancient understanding with our modern world.
Bull-dozing and sleep-walking into the future (the Kogi of Columbia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain call us “Younger Brother”) our brash new world could benefit from slowing down, and “learning to think like water thinks”. Meandering off the beaten paths while charting its own way; making its bed each morning before rising in morning mists to cross deserts and fall as rain on distant mountains; rising to the top of tall trees to share the gift of life with leaf and bud; granting to all living beings—including our own watery bodies—a flowing coherence that links us with nature’s living dance.
If water is alive, then corporate ownership must be a form of slavery; using water once, then discarding it in cesspools–uninhabitable for fish and unfit to drink–must be a kind of murder. Our society’s lack of awareness that the water of Planet Earth is one with the water in our own bodies–is causing us to destroy both.
Is water itself actually alive? I find it easier to view Planet Earth (Gaia) as a great living being who balances, adjusts, self-repairs, and nourishes her worldwide family of beings—just as an individual human body is more than the sum of its organs—than to attribute life to the four elements of earth, air, water, and fire. But I may just be leap-frogging over the parts to a whole that could not be alive if its parts were not also alive.
It is a comforting thought to believe that our planet is alive thanks to the unending cycling of water through its veins: eternally flowing back to the sea on its journey home; taking time to irrigate the Hopi’s beans, squash and corn; pausing to fall as rain on far off mountains—just as my own beating heart feeds cells and neurons along the pathways of my body. Could water itself be alive? Why not? If something is needed for life to blossom, it must be one with the life it fosters.
Walking along in our bodies of 70% water, perhaps we are water taking a stroll upon the land. Perhaps when our evolutionary ancestors came ashore eons ago, they—like Don Quixote—were just water setting forth upon a new love affair with earth, air and fire.