A Bath, A Stream, And The Loss Of Safe Water

I was lying in the tub yesterday and wondering about all the water I was lying in. Even though our bathtub is tiny and more suitable to a trailer than a regular-sized dwelling, there was gallons of water all over and around me, and if I wanted to, I could have drained it all out and filled the tub again with a steaming, fresh stream of it.

Water makes the world go 'round; it grows our crops and washes us and keeps us from turning into jerky; some countries exchange oil for food, which is really an indirect way of trading oil for water. Water is big. It is precious. You'd think I'd be more happy about the water I was so decadently dipping myself into when some never have enough to submerge themselves in it at all, and I was grateful for it, because I am an inveterate bath junkie, but the water itself was subpar.

My bath was in most other ways delightful, aside from the actual tub being entirely too shallow and short for decent water coverage of an adult human female, but the real problem was that the water smelled. Depending on the time of year, the water from our taps will smell more or less like chemicals. It smells too much like bleach for my taste, so the Palinode and I run our tap water through a Brita filter before drinking it. I have found it annoying that the tap water in a province with such a low population should smell so unnatural, but until yesterday in the bath, I didn't yet find it heartbreaking.

I lay there surrounded by the smell of bleach, wishing that I had thought to add bubble bath to this chemical mix I was immersed in, when I started thinking about fresh, good water and where it was. I remembered going to the lake when I was a little girl. It was a clean, icy northern lake, too cold even for leeches, but I have been told that you aren't supposed to drink the water directly out of it anymore like we did then. I thought about the smelly, weed-ridden dugout that passes for a lake in our major park in Cityville, and from what I understand, humans shouldn't swim in it. They used to before it became too swampy, though.

I wondered about what real fresh water tastes like and where one could get some these days. I couldn't think of a place I could go where I would feel comfortable drinking directly from a natural water source. I have learned to be suspicious of any natural body of water, because I know about chemical dumping and farms and golf courses and unethical sewage handling practices. What looks clean sometimes looks so clean only because it's too contaminated to grow anything.

And then, I just felt sad.

When I was fifteen, I was in a forest in northern California. I wandered away from my family and found a shallow, pebbled stream threading its way through a stand of massive redwoods. The water was clear and cold, and I lay down in it on my back. The gentle current pushed the water through my light summer clothes; it goosepimpled my skin where the sun didn't filter through the trees. The stream was just deep enough to reach the tops of my earlobes, and the water made a loud, trickling sound as it rushed past around smooth stones. That afternoon on my back in that stream was one of the few times in my fifteenth year when I was able to feel calm and clean and free of my own mind, a mind which was at the time insisting that suicide was the only way to freedom.

The idealist in me wants to think of that stream as being perpetually beautiful and unsullied by wreckless human industry, but the other part of me knows otherwise. It may still be as it was, or it may be dried up or too contaminated to lie in anymore.

So, yes, I felt sad that I could not conjure up visions of a safe river I could lean down into and scoop water into my mouth like in some 1970s hippies-ish scene with golden prairie grasses in the background and some man in a medieval-type vest waiting nearby playing a lute. Of course, if I were that woman in the 1970s, I would be in my sixties now and could console myself with the idea that I might be dead before the lights go out on this not-so-fair planet of ours, and I would no longer be on the birth control Pill, so I wouldn't have to worry about my contamination of the world's water supply with female hormones and causing hermaphroditism in fish.

It just suddenly came to me that something I used to take for granted isn't a reality in most places anymore. I read the news, I've read about the atrocious things we've committed against the planet, but I didn't really know. And now I have that same feeling I got when my maternal grandparents sold their home, and I knew I would never be able to crawl into the space under the stairs where my grandmother kept her old down comforters. This planet has changed for me and for everyone else, and I will never see it like I did back then.

I have found more and more there are places to which I can never return, and they seem to recede from me without ever properly saying goodbye.