Today is a watering day. I am grateful and so are the cucumbers that it is such a simple matter to get a drink out to my plants, so they do not croak in the blazing Maryland sun. As I run the hose under the beans, I find these words from a poem flowing through my mind —
Water draws us together
We float and swim
in a sea of rushing leafy branches
in the sparkle of light from those trees.
I am just back from a delightful road trip vacation that included two lakes, the first a family reunion on a Wisconsin lake called Kaubashine. As a twenty-something in 1988 I wrote this floral and unabashedly romantic poem about love, loss, and family – and about the power of water, the lake which brought us all there to be together there.
As I pick the pole beans and the sweat trickles into my eyes, I try to recall the next lines of the poem —
Lying on the lake-view porch
our words swim to each other
in leaf tossing air.
The lake and its children,
wind, pine, and loon,
draw us to it and to each other–
we are a family again
not one missing.
We recognize each other
Well I said it was unabashedly romantic and floral.
As I stand in the wonderful baking sunshine armed with my hose, it seems clear to me that we are drawn together, knit together, our bodies and our civilization, by the clean water that we take so much for granted. Remarkable, really on a 90 degree day in a chain of 90 plus degree days to have water to drink, to wash the sweat off my itchy arms in the gardens, to splash my face, or to climb into a shower after hours in the muggy and baking heat, rinse all that salt and sweat and hopefully as yet-unattached ticks away, under an outpouring of clean H2O!
That is if you can’t dive into a lake to do the job. Mentally i am still on the shores of Kaubashine, or swimming in it, and I am remembering the loons. When I was a child they predicted that the water birds would not stay on the lake in the advent of noisy motor boats. But loons adapted. They still swim and call their crazy call on Lake Kaubashine in 2017 (For the uninitiated, the bird’s hysterical sounding call is where our we get the word “loony.”) Some things have certainly changed though. Many more houses, and big houses. And the lake water seemed a little less clean than I remembered, which could be a function of the large lawns these mansion builders have laid down. A lawn usually means petroleum, fertilizers, and insecticides. And these the rain washes right down into the lake. Today all around Kaubashine where birch trees used to lean out from forest at the shoreline bright green lawns slope instead. It is hard for me to understand why anyone would put a lawn in, at lake in the woods – wasn’t the point of coming to the woods to leave all that behind? Like Thoreau, “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life”?
In my great grandfather Oscar’s day, the logging companies had chopped down all the trees around this and many other lakes in the area, raping the ecosystem completely. Then realty companies sold the naked, stump filled land for water-front vacation property. Oscar Scalbom, once a 13 year old Swedish immigrant, had just made a successful invention and was able to buy a huge piece of treeless land around this lake. For a long time hunters and fishermen lived in little cabins here, and vacationers swam and rowed. A vacation on the lake in those days meant encountering the water up close and personal, and living with and in the woods environment, which was a nice change from the summer heat of Illinois. My grandma swam all day in this lake all summer long, peed in the out-house, pumped and drank water from the well, and washed and hung her clothes on a line. Before air conditioning was invented to keep us from actually touching the air…before the mighty gasoline spewing motor boat…before water skiing….But I am not going to pretend that i am not grateful for my modern hose and the complex water system that backs it!
Let us pray the wild loons and the plant, fish and crustacean systems in existence for so many millennia carry on, as we keep trying to figure out how to do better.
Here spirits of past rites
are present in each tree
But above all the water
beyond all, in the lake and its sky–
Apart from all explaining
in the water – its sandy bottom, lily pads
and the water-borne morning call of the loon.