My youngest sister lived for several years in Colorado. While there, she wrote longingly of the bodies of water that she missed, rendering to them an almost human status. She spoke of the blue waters of our lake welcoming her, holding her, buoying her, embracing her. While I agreed with her on the necessity water to our existence, I really didn’t understand what she meant about the dryness of her soul that resulted from living so far from the sight, sound or influence of water.
Now I know. Although I never saw the ocean until I was quite old, I lived within easy distance of some lake, stream or river. New England is abundantly blessed with water, a liquid portion of the country, so as an adult I have almost always been near enough the ocean to at least see it or drive to it.
I remember our first experience actually living where I could see ocean every day. I think it was then that it became a necessary component to my “soul health”. From our front window was a vista of such changing and magnificent splendor that I rarely grew tired of gazing at it. I wasn’t a native, but I grew to enjoy the deep, almost cobalt blue of the Atlantic on a sun drenched morning; the churning green when the wind strove against it; the stormy gray of a late winter afternoon. I sensed a powerful presence and sweet peace just by being near it, or even looking at it from afar.
A move overseas to New Zealand in the 1990’s impressed on me the sheer magnitude of the Pacific and acquainted me with a variety of different waters. The Pacific proved a sensual, warm and sometimes pushy companion, while the Tasman was boisterous, even aggressive; colder and darker. Lake Taupo was a silent deep inscrutable place that seemed alluring yet aloof. These waters affected the daily weather patterns and general atmosphere of the area with a drenching, sometimes overwhelming presence.
For the last five years I lived close enough to a particular lake, the lake of my sister’s longing, to understand the connection between that body of water and her soul. Whenever I felt disturbed, needy or anxious, I found tranquility there by the lake. The lapping of the waves, the expanse of calm blue on a quiet morning, the smell of the water as I indulged in a canoe ride across the cove, the twilight call of the loons as the sun was setting, the solitude of a frozen winter there – these all lodged in my heart as rich and lustrous components of every day.
Now I have moved to the Midwest, a needful move but difficult. In seven months I’ve seen less than seven days of rain. The landscape of Oklahoma is as foreign as if I’d gone to Mars, and as just dry. Winter has enhanced that sensation with the grass a dull brown, the trees bare of leaves and the soil a rusty red color. The air lacks moisture so that even my husband, who has never had a problem, has dry skin. Getting up from our microfiber couch charges us enough that we might be able to power a small city. Did I already say that it’s dry?
We were heading south to visit family in Texas and I saw on the map that we were approaching the Canadian River. That sounded promising. Visions of a sparkling blue jolt of color through the forever brown filled me with anticipation. Perhaps a cacophony of white water tumbling over boulders awaited as we crossed the bridge. I think I actually slumped when I saw the pittance of meandering red-brown water that was barely more than a slick of mud. Maybe the ones who named it the Canadian River were ever hopeful.
I’ve read enough about the Dust Bowl to be profoundly thankful that conditions are much improved. Technically there is drought here, but not so severe as in years past. There is a mighty aquifer, the Ogallala, that stretches from South Dakota down through Texas. It supplies my drinking water, and that of almost everyone who lives in this High Plains area. I believe it’s there, however, I can’t see it unless I watch it come out of my tap. Somehow sitting by a bathtub of water will never compare with the powerful sense of calm and inspiration that comes from a sojourn beside my lake.
I fully understand now that thirst that seems to pervade the soul; the sense of longing for a glimpse of sparkling whitecaps, the sound of chuckling waves or the particular heady scent of a New England lake surrounded by pine, cedar and spruce trees. In our town here in Oklahoma there is a small man-made pond of limited proportions and tea-colored water. If I squint in the sunlight, it almost looks like…well, definitely not an ocean, but nearly a lake. I’m so dry…it will to do for now.
*This post first appeared on Mainecrimewriters.com as a guest blog.