All the Water Is One Water, #4

In honor of World Water Day, I am sharing the fourth part of my chapter, “All the Water Is One Water,” from Finding Our Way Home.

Some Indigenous stories of North America say we are like a younger sibling on this earth. The other beings and species are more acclimated to their purpose and their relationship to the whole. And so, when we are feeling overwhelmed by the ecological messes we have created, we might turn to our older relatives on the earth to find wisdom for our journey. Permaculture follows this practice by using the wisdom developed by millions of years of evolution, to find solutions for the problems we are facing today.

Water is such a teacher. According to my friend, gkisedtanamoogk, the Wampanoag people consider water a Manito, a mysterious life force that has its own life. His people know fresh water as Nipinapizek, and regard her as a grandmother. He wrote to me, “i think that we humans only exist because there is a significant number of people who remember to Give Thanks to all Those Ones who are the Keepers of Life, one of Those being, NIPINAPIZEK. May we continue to Give Thanks….”

When I was growing up Catholic, we used to bless ourselves by touching our fingers in holy water. I associated it with purifying ourselves because we were in some way unclean. But now, the blessing of water feels more like remembering our heritage. We come from water. All water is holy, and we are holy too. We are washed by water, we are restored by water, we are nourished by water.

Each of us faces a choice. Will we approach water as a commodity to be bought and sold, or as a blessing, a teacher to be honored and protected? Water is the mother of all life. There is no life without water. Whether we view it scientifically or spiritually, water is the womb from which all living beings have been born. We are made of water and we need the constant flowing through of water to remain alive in this world. Thankfulness can be the beginning of restoring our relationship with water. If I can remember to be thankful to water, then I have the capacity to take action on its behalf as well. I can join with the many other people who are working for water as a human right, or who work to restore the flow of rivers or clean up pollution in the sea.

Meandering BrookThe path forward will not be a straight line. I find hope in that. A river or stream meanders on its way to the sea. [Thank you Starhawk for teaching me about this!]  Because of the friction of the river bed, the water on the bottom of the river moves more slowly than the water on the top. So it creates a spiraling current that wears down one bank and deposits sediment on the other, and then vice versa, as it moves around and around in sweeping curves. Just so, our journey into a new relationship with all life on earth will meander—I imagine in this case, there is more movement at the bottom of our culture, while the top is going much slower. But since we are all connected, movement in any segment has a ripple effect on the whole.

We must keep taking steps, even small steps, in the direction of living in balance with the rest of our interdependent web. We must work our magic and offer thanks and take action in practical and political ways. We must meander in the direction of wholeness, of earth community. Each creative step forward will ripple out into a spiral momentum toward greater balance.

PRACTICE

When I made the conscious choice to regard water as a blessing, I decided to stop using plastic bottled water as much as possible. I like to carry water with me, so now I carry tap water in a special reusable metal or glass bottle. Anytime I drink water, I am reminded to offer thanks for the blessing. I invite you to give up plastic bottled water, and to start carrying water in a reusable container. Each time you fill or drink from the container, give thanks to Water for giving us life.

 

All the Water Is One Water #3

In honor of World Water Day, part 3 of my chapter “All the Water Is One Water”from Finding Our Way Home.

At the Earth Activist Training we learned about Permaculture, a science of designing systems that can meet human needs while regenerating the land around us. Its ethical mandates are to care for the earth, to care for the people, and to share the surplus. I especially loved the cheerful atmosphere of hope and creativity that was engendered. Much of the environmental situation is foreboding and terrifying. But at the training I discovered a merry band of folks who sang while they gardened and went around the world demonstrating alternatives that make a real difference.

Permaculture observes natural patterns to create highly productive environments. For example, it uses the model of the forest to create food forests—gardens of fruit and nut trees, vines, bushes, and ground cover that can function together to feed a family while nurturing the land in a sustainable way. Agribusiness narrowly regards one crop as the only valuable entity, and sees all other life forms as weeds or pests. But if we look more closely at the natural world, we discover diversity is the norm and there are beneficial relationships throughout the plant and animal realms. In one example recounted by bio-chemist Linda Jean Shepherd,

Researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz studied the traditional Mexican farming practice of pruning back, rather than pulling, a weed that commonly sprouts between rows of corn. They found that the roots of the weed Bidens pilosa secrete compounds lethal to fungi and nematodes that destroy corn. Instead of competing with the corn, the weed controls the pests without significantly stealing soil nutrients from the corn. The practice protects the soil and provides more wholesome food.[i]

The more we learn about nature, the more we see that everywhere diverse plants and animals are interconnected with each other, offering mutual benefit and function; modern agribusiness has ignored this to our detriment. To live sustainably, we must learn from nature, we must open our eyes to the lessons it can teach us about how all beings are related to one another.

Permaculture design also offers sustaining and restorative approaches to our use of water. In a natural landscape, water is absorbed and held in place by plants and trees, and advances very slowly through the ecosystem. When the surface of the earth is covered with concrete for buildings and roads, the water rushes quickly over the surface, picking up pollutants it brings to rivers and lakes. When forests are cut down, or grasslands uprooted for agriculture, the drylands can devolve into desert. Permaculture designers have created tools to slow the water down, and capture it for use. These designs can purify water moving through a system, or reverse the process of desertification.

Swale

[Swale creating at the Earth Activist Training]

We learned about and built one such tool, called a swale. This is a small ditch created in alignment with the contour of the sloping soil, so rain washing over the soil will be captured, and can be used in plantings near the edge of the swale. The plantings then serve to keep the moisture in the landscape. A swale can also be used to direct water from one area to another. The goal is to slow the flow of water for as long as possible, and thus restore the fertility of the soil, rather than letting the water wash away into creeks that flow rapidly out to rivers and to the sea.

Adopting another practice, Margy and I purchased two rain barrels to collect the rain-water that ran off our garage roof, for use in watering the blueberry bushes and vegetables and flowers we had planted in our front yard. We learned about how high off the ground the barrels needed to be, in order for gravity to pull the water all the way to the plants. We learned that water in a rain barrel heats up in the hot summer sun. We learned how quickly a rainstorm can fill two fifty-gallon barrels.

It is important to take these small steps toward changing our relationship to water use, even in our comparatively water abundant climate in Maine. Even here we need to learn about conserving water and treating it with respect. We face challenges from multinational corporations who bottle our Maine water for sale around the world. The bottled water industry isn’t concerned about the water needs of local communities or ecosystems. They negotiate contracts to extract the water for almost nothing, and put it into plastics that end up in the waste system causing further pollution.

Permaculture design follows the principle that in nature there is no waste. What one system doesn’t need, another system uses. Our human society wastes an incredible amount of water, even though we know it is scarce. We use it for washing and showering and then let it drain into the septic system or sewer. Why not build gray water systems that take the water from washing and showering and pipe it out for use in the garden?

[i] Quote from an article by Linda Jean Shepherd, “My Life with Weed,” The Sweet Breathing of Plants: Women Writing on the Green World, edited by Linda Hogan & Brenda Peterson (New York: North Point Press, 2001), 200.

We Are a Part of the Watershed

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Analysts are predicting that water will be the number one political issue in the coming years. Just as wars are being fought over oil, so increasingly there are conflicts over access to water. The business solution is to introduce the “privatization” of water: the theory is that if water is a scarce resource, then the market should determine its price, and price will regulate its use. But citizen’s groups are fighting back to say that water cannot be commodified, because it is an absolute necessity for life. Rather, water must be recognized as a fundamental right and provided equitably to all.

The danger in the privatization of water is that it takes water out of its relationship to all living beings, and into the hands of a system which is set up to think only in terms of profit. Water is not something separate from us, something we have made, that we might think of it in terms of selling and buying. Water is in us and we are in water. We must think of ourselves as part of the watershed.

The water we drink passes through us, and is returned to the earth. When we open our hearts to the wonder of this cycle, we can begin to heal from the out-of-balance patterns we all have learned in our society. Weeping is a part of it too. The water of tears moves our grief, heals and cleanses, as water does, moves us on the journey. The cycles of water teach us that we are all related.

Each of us has a choice. Will we approach water as a commodity to be used, or as a blessing to be honored? If we acknowledge water as a blessing, we recognize its essential importance. Water is the mother of all life. There is no life without water. Whether we view it scientifically or spiritually, water is the womb from which all living beings have been born. We are made of water and we need the constant flowing through of water to remain alive in this world. When I made the conscious choice to regard water as a blessing, I decided to stop using plastic bottled water as much as I was able. I like to carry water with me, so now I carry tap water in a special reusable metal bottle. Anytime I drink water, I am reminded to offer thanks for the blessing.

All religious traditions have recognized the sacredness of water in some way. The old earth religions always revered a god or goddess of the waters—usually certain spirits were associated with salt water and others with fresh water. I learned about some of these water spirits from Mandaza, a healer from Zimbabwe who visited my previous congregation. According to Mandaza, the water spirits offer us healing and peacemaking. There are rituals for people to go into the water when they desire to be restored to wholeness or to find guidance for their spiritual journey.

According to my friend, gkisedtanamoogk, water is considered a Manito, a mysterious life force that has its own life. Water is also medicine, the most important medicine in Creation. The Wampanoag people know fresh water as Nipinapizek, and regard her as a grandmother. He wrote to me, “i think that we humans only exist because there is a significant number of people who remember to Give Thanks to all Those Ones who are the Keepers of Life, one of Those being, NIPINAPIZEK. May we continue to Give Thanks…..”

When I was growing up as a Catholic, we used to bless ourselves by touching our fingers in holy water. I associated it with purifying ourselves because we were in some way unclean. But now, the blessing of water feels more like remembering our heritage. We come from water. Since all water is holy, we are holy too. We are washed by water, we are restored by water, we are nourished by water.