What Does Water Want?

There’s one spot in Beacon – the sewage treatment plant at Denning’s Point – that usually smells like poop. But Monday morning, out walking after a few days of torrential rain, I scented sewage in a number of places, most of them close to Fishkill Creek. Which makes me wonder if the Creek, like the Gowanus Canal, receives our toilet flushings in times of high water.

Tuesday morning I hiked up the mountain to check on the reservoir. I was pleased to see that it’s fuller now than it’s been in a while – maybe a year? And I realized, as I assessed its level, that I was seeing it instrumentally, that is, seeing it in terms of what it can do for me. How it can help me get what I want. But what does it want? What does the water desire?

My first thought was, it wants not to be shat in. By humans. (And, as my experience with humanure at Earthaven taught me, we truly don’t need to shit in it.) My second thought was, it wants to be used, with gratitude and respect, for purposes that serve life. It doesn’t want to sprinkle lawns, or blast rock to release gas. It wants, maybe, what you and I want: to give, in ways that make sense to us, and be honored for our gifts.

At an event I attended last weekend in Manhattan, Charles Eisenstein mentioned that some indigenous people attribute climate chaos to the human habit of “insulting the waters.” Walking alongside the reservoir, I imagined our waters rising in protest against the insults with which we pelt them. What if a group of people shat on you, shat in you, every single day, and you, rising in one mighty swell, could wash those perps away? What if an entire species misused you, decade after decade, and you, in a long, implacable rise, could force that species to abandon its coastal cities and flee for the heights?

Water wasn’t made for us; it does not exist to do as we please. It has its own beauty, dignity, spirit. Read The Fifth Sacred Thing, by Starhawk. You may find yourself serenading water – with love and grief and penance – rather than dismissing it as your instrument.

If you liked this post, you’ll love my memoir, Mating in Captivity, in which my twenty-two-year old self enters a cult with a radical take on sex and relationships. Learn more here.

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