Thursday, July 8, 2010

a drop of water


I have things I want to shed in words that don't fit this forum.  Anonymity, I had thought.  White space.  The corrective balance of speaking in public to keep me from the circular rant of the private journal.

But even here I give too much of myself away.  Suddenly I, the Listener, have friends who say, "I think I know you now better than you know me."  Unbearable.  I have friends who nod too knowingly when I make a throw-away comment, meaningless in the present context.  They wink in my direction.  

And my conversation is ever more vacant.  Anything worth saying they've already read.  With pictures of pretty flowers accompanying.  "Oh, yeah," they forestall me.   "I saw that."

I'm an empty cup.


How to pour out without becoming an outpouring?  The measured thimbleful, the hip flask.  The necessary bitters and sours. 

But I only drink water. 

Well . . . and milk, occasional juices, tisanes.  But mostly water.  Without ice. 

Can you believe that?  Can you believe anything I say?  With what authority can I speak?  Water-drinker, innocent babbler?

Blake did not say "a world in a drop of water."  He said,

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

And he may have been speaking ironically.


When I was small we would travel from many directions.  South some years, east some years, west more often.  Depending on where we were at the moment living. But always centering in on the home my grandparents had made before my father was born.  Always my first private act of homecoming was to drink from the kitchen faucet, standing at the dark window, looking out at clouds lit from behind by the moon. 

That water came off the mountain.  You could taste in it shivering aspen and columbine and the sparkle of sun and slicked-over rocks. 

One year we came and I filled a glass with water that fell differently into the cup.  Flatly.  Turgid.  Or maybe it sounded just the same, bubbling up in the cup, but I can't remember it that way.  City water had been piped in and it was . . . wet.  Not horrible like the salt-softened water we had at home.  Not harsh, nor fetid, like the water we were forced to swallow along the way at rest stops.  This new water was wet but lifeless.  Whose earlier essence had been its liveliness.  Now unappealingly gummy.  Like someone else's spit. 

Or I remember it that way.


There was even better water not far from my grandparents' acreage.  Up the canyon.  Above town.  When we would hike up in the quakies along Sawmill Bench I could put my mouth right down into the stream, or cup a diamond-dripping handful to my mouth, tasting together the cold sweetness of the water and the salty warmth of the palm of my hand. 

But at some point my parents started packing water with us from down below.  We could not trust that wild water.  "Better not to," they said, shaking their heads as we walked along the bright sound falling over stones.

This is one of the stories of my generation.  Fritz, too, remembers drinking from the creek in his childhood camping place.  When we were newly married I returned there with him.  Giardia.  We had names now for our water's malady.  We carried water filters, katadyn, ceramic.  We debated the technical qualities of different brands.  We dipped and lugged pails of water.  We pumped water through filters to fill cup after cup.

The water was not bad.  But it was nothing like the water we remember. 

Stanley Basin.  Red Fish Lake.  Sawtooth Range, says Fritz now.  Kimberley.  Clear Creek.  Sawmill Bench, I still say.  Our voices are small, but our faces are getting older.


And we still sing, in our family, as we did when I was a child eking out my days between summer vacations and the yearly return to the mountains. Still when we gather all together, someone will call out the name of the song and we all will sing, "Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.  Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine. If I don't get some of that Rocky Mountain water I declare I'm going to lose my mind.  Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.  Yes.  It tastes like champagne wine."

In the meantime I don't buy bottled water.  For all their packaging in cool blues and mountain names, I have never had a bottled water that tasted like anything real.


Once as an adult, only once, stopping one night in Alpine, Wyoming, just outside the national park have I tasted better water.  Thirsty I filled a glass left clean in the clean cupboard above the tiny metal sink in the tiny old-fashioned motel.  I drank and drank again.  I filled glasses for everyone.

I was a mother by then, with young children sleeping in car seats.  I was, by then, obsessed with aquifers and drainage deltas.  Ambitious for acres of my own, digging in my tiny desert yard to squeeze another row of flowers in, a new tiny fruit tree, a queenly rhubarb plant, I read and read about drip irrigation and rivers and water treatment, the salinization of soil from overwatering and how to build swales to capture run-off, mineral content in Himalayan water, Alpine water where people lived past their centuries.

The morning after, early, before we left, I dumped out all our carried water jugs by the side of the road and refilled with this sweetness and sparkle.  My children would live forever.  I would never have to swallow sorrow.


My parents found when they took over the place a few years back, that my grandpa, that wise steward of his land I'd always claimed as my link to something better -- my grandpa had some years ago diverted the sewage line to dump into the old well.  That well was useless anyway, hadn't been used for years, on city water now. 

The well shaft is polluted.  Foul.  And all the porous ground around it.  And deeper? wider? 

For all the years of my generation.  For how many generations after?

I know when I was young I dropped no salt tears when I tasted that tired, broken water, standing in the dark at the familiar kitchen faucet. 

Not outrage.  No sense of cause.  But weariness.  Here again.  Another example.  Wetting my throat, pouring the rest of that sad water down the drain.  Shrugging.  It was not the first falling away.  I already knew it wouldn't be the last.


Someday, I used to say when I had grown older, feeling a strength within, a power to change. 

But here I am now. 

My cup is empty.  And I am only a drop of water.


Neighbor Jane Payne said...

I STILL get sad when I think of the day when it was no longer safe to drink from the cabin creek. I remember it's flavor so well. The floating pine needles added something to it.

Water has such symbolism. The drinking of it even more so. Thanks for your ideas.

B said...

I am curious to know what it is you want to say that doesnt fit the forum...........

Is it that you think your words will surprise us? Disappoint us? Show us a part that we dont know?

Im curious.

B said...

I said "curious" twice.

Funny, now that I stare at the word, I am convinced I spelled it incorrectly.

Mrs. Organic said...

But then, I think Blake was on to something - maybe there are worlds undiscovered in even just a drop of water.

It's funny how (relative) anonymity can be so liberating and yet...

Emma J said...

B - good questions. I'm curious about them myself.

And also, there are certain temptations inherent in this forum for me - because it feels anonymous but isn't entirely, because it is so visual-friendly, because the posts are best short, because the posts persist and exist beyond the moment - to over-focus on the sweet and pretty and nice, to self-admire, self-congratulate, to overindulge in the premature insight.


m e l i g r o s a said...

but i love your blog. i decided not to be anonymus from the get go and it has mostly been enitrely positive
keep blogging

i like it. i like you.
if people have nothing to say, then that is just a boring excuse

much love

Emma J said...

thanks meligrosa - I'm not planning to leave, just realigning, imagining how to reinvent.

suzanne said...

I like this post. Like this format. I look at my posts and ask myself why I always do it like that. It's a quilt. I use old clothes and scraps. My grandma was a quilter, I always wanted to be a weaver. But I'm not a maker of new. I only re-purpose. I like your words.

Lisa B. said...

Re *unbearable*: from a review of Anne Carson's *Nox* (in The New Yorker):

My personal poetry is a failure
I do not want to be a person
I want to be unbearable.
Lover to lover, the greenness of love.

Something unbearable cannot be turned into a metaphor (the word comes from the Greek 'to bear across' or 'to carry over'); it is larger than language, and not subject to the buffeting forces of Eros.

For what it's worth, anyway.

Velouria said...

None of my real-life friends or relatives know about my bicycle blog, other than my husband who is featured in it. If they knew, and read it, I think I would stop writing for exactly the reasons you describe. Furthermore, I try to keep it only about bicycles and the bicycle-related aspects of my life: simple, uni-dimentional, uncluttered, and only partly me. In all this I find the freedom to keep writing. Any more personal, any more true, any more "profound" or revealing of what I actually do or think about all day - and I wouldn't be able to do it.

Oh - and I do not think your cup is empty. Here, let's pour some more tea into it.

Emma J said...

Velouria, that is just one of the things I admire about your blog - its clean focus. Thanks for the tea and sympathy!

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