“I come into the peace of wild things . . .
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.”
– Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” –
I knew it was going to happen. On my weekly walk through Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, I spied a large puddle ahead on the sidewalk. At the same time, I saw a mom and her two young sons heading my direction. They hadn’t yet reached the puddle, but when they did, the two delighted boys jumped right into the puddle before their mom could voice a warning. Jumping in puddles seems to be a universal impulse with children. (And adults in moments of childlike abandon.) Somehow, water has a way of drawing us close, even in.
My toddler grandson was with me that day, and I steered him around the puddle. Maybe I should have let him splash too, but I wanted to keep his shoes dry. Besides, we were headed for the water that he always gravitates to on our walks. It’s a fountain with water lilies, one of the most peaceful places in the gardens. I think it’s the sound of the fountain that initially calls to him – and me – but then there’s the dance of the bubbling water atop the large stone pedestal in the center, the sparkle of water darkening the carved stone as it flows down the sides and drips into the pool below, the ripples in the pooled water, and of course, the water lilies. We sit on the retaining wall and watch, fascinated.
What draws us to water? Our bodies are approximately half water, so maybe we just sense the kinship. Many of us, like my grandson, are drawn to the sound. He loves an app that came pre-installed on my smart phone. He scrolls through images of water, and the sounds change from rolling waves to the rush of a waterfall to a burbling fish tank to a rippling river. The song of water is part of nature’s music – and magic – spray, swish, swash, dribble, bubble, gurgle, splash and splatter, sloosh and slosh, pitter-patter, drip-drop, sizzle in a hot pan.
Last week, the steady drip of a leaking faucet drove me to distraction. But a different water sound – the lapping of a gentle sea – can lull me to sleep. A few years ago, some friends and I retreated for a week of writing in the mountains of North Carolina. The old house where we stayed was beside a creek, and each night as the sounds of daytime activity quieted, we relaxed to sounds drifting in through the screens of the open windows: the chorus of frogs singing to the music of water rippling and burbling over river stones.
Just the sight of water can soothe us. There’s something beautiful about droplets on leaves and petals, ripples in a birdbath, ocean waves frothing and churning, a still lake reflecting the sky. Then there’s the feel of water, the texture – the warm floaty feel of a bath, the cleansing hot spray of a shower, the chilly splash into a pool, “the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand,” as Helen Keller described it. And there’s nothing like the wonderful coolness of a drink of pure water when we’re thirsty.
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water,” wrote W.H. Auden in “First Things First.” And yet, loving kindness is refreshing water to the soul, and we treasure those who offer it to us. In “The Confirmation,” the Scottish poet Edwin Muir wrote,
“What shall I call you? A fountain in a waste,
A well of water in a country dry.”
This week my son thinned his garden and gave me some hosta bulbs he had dug up. Their leaves had died back, so he set the dirt-flecked bulbs into a shallow tray. Then he watered them. By the time he gave them to me a few days later, they had sprouted and grown beautiful lush leaves. That’s what loving kindness can do for our souls. We bloom and grow. I wish you that kind of water for your soul’s growth.
So notice water this week – puddles or drips or sprays or ripples. Let yourself gravitate toward what’s beautiful and refreshing, toward what enriches your soul.
I’m writing this on a rainy Sunday. There were baptisms at church this morning, where water takes on a sacred quality. Then after church, on the way to my car, I came to a puddle on the sidewalk. I decided that it, too, was sacred. I jumped into it. With both feet. Splik! I’m still smiling.
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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.