Wondrous Water

Our well water has a rusty color, and sometimes carries traces of sediment. We use the water only for washing. Still, it's not so bad. At least it runs.

Well, it usually runs. Lately the pressure has been low, and the water has slowed to a walk. A plumber came over last week, and simply smiled and banged on the pipes with his hammer. When he turned on the faucet in the kitchen sink, the water rushed out faster than we'd seen it in months. I put my fingers into the dashing water and smiled.

To me, running (or walking) water has always been wondrous. When I was a boy, my family visited my grandmother in Ohio every summer, and she occasionally took us out to her small country club for sandwiches and swimming. The sandwiches were usually soggy, and most of the members and guests seemed damp and spiritless, but I loved the old stone-lined pool beside the maple tree.

I loved to stand in the shallow end and hold my hands under the icy water that poured from a silver pipe. I would put one hand under, then the other, again and again. There were always lots of leaves floating in the pool, and I enjoyed herding them toward the pipe and watching them get washed by the water. I remember wondering where that water came from, and why it kept coming and coming. I wondered if it kept rushing out in the middle of the night, and what the leaves looked like in starlight.

Then there was the shower at a swimming beach on the Meramec River west of St. Louis. After floating in a tube on the sweltering river for several hours, it was breathtaking to stand in that wooden shower stall and feel the freezing water on my skin. I used to imagine it singing as it rushed over me. And again I wondered, as I stood there in paradise, where all that water was coming from. Once I searched behind the stall and saw where the pipe disappeared under the floorboards. In my nine-year-old mind I saw underground tanks attended by tiny men who turned some gears when a swimmer wanted a shower.

I REMEMBER a fresh-water spring in the Missouri Ozarks, called Big Spring. My dad told us that it was one of the largest fresh-water springs in the world. It was a splendid place. The water continuously exploded from the ground with a shout, as though it was thrilled to be out in the fresh air. The size of the spring amazed me. In my memories it is 50 feet across, an enormous basin of seething ice-blue water. I asked my dad how long the water had been bubbling up, and he said forever. I used to sit on a boulder overlooking the spring and stare at it. Where did it come from? How can it rush up forever?

I also appreciate the less showy features of running water. In the morning when I shave, the water surges out of the faucet as soon as I ask it to, as if it's been waiting in there, just for me. When I wash the dishes, the water flows out across the plates, or slows, or stops, just as I wish.

It stuns me, standing there at the sink, to realize that there are many places where water doesn't run, or even walk - where people must travel miles to find water. These people would surely be thunderstruck by this blessing I receive daily: water singing through pipes at the simple turn of handle.

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