With a sudsy hand I gently press the plastic lever, which lets a stream of water out of the spigot, sending it sloppily over the bowl in haphazard lines like slow-motion lightning streaks in a soapy glass sky.
I release the spigot lever and adjust the bowl underneath it so that the next series of water lines can try their best to rinse the bowl. This goes on a couple more times before I swish around the water that has collected in the bowl and then dump it all into a bigger bowl in the sink, which has been catching all the runoff during the whole process.
Then I move on to the next dish, washing it with a cloth drawn from a bowl of stove-heated dish water, with only the necessary amount of dish soap (because any more makes the soap that much more work to rinse off), and then setting it in the rinse-water bowl in preparation for its drinking water rinse.
This has been the regular dishwashing process for the last two months here on our off-grid mesa homestead, and it has become quite routine.
We treat our water as a precious resource, because A) it’s a necessity and B) we don’t have much of it.
Through the experience of scarcity one gains a deeper sense of appreciation.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
The water we do have, we use with intention. We know that we’re either going to have to haul it in, one 5 gallon jug at a time down the 50-foot pathway from the car to the house, or we’re going to have to rain dance for it.
Our water cistern is 3000 gallons. It catches the rainwater that hits our roof and flows into the gutters. For two people, a giant dog, two cats, five hens, three water-guzzling ducks, and a garden, a 3000-gallon tank of water in a place of ongoing drought has been, well, not enough. At least, not in the way we were using the water when we first moved in.
So we stopped using the faucets. We fill our eight water jugs in town and use that for drinking, washing, and cooking. I bathe at a friends’ house once in a while and the mountain man goes to the river.
For the ducks and hens we use the water we catch in 100-gallon water barrels lined up around the art studio and the main house, which collect the gutter spill-off and leaks.
I have a whole system set up now to maximize our water and I keep learning new tricks along the way.
When you are lacking something, you get creative.
The 100-gallon barrels are what I use to fill the birds’ water bowls. I keep an old axe handle and use that to pound through ice if it’s frozen. Then I take a pitcher and dip it into the barrel, filling two large pots of water that I keep in the house until the morning.
At night I empty the water bowls into watering cans and use it to water the garden in the hothouse. That way the water won’t freeze in the bowls overnight, and the post-duckbath water is ripened for the herbs and vegetable plants.
Last week we got our first snow big enough from which to catch water when it melted, and there was a frenzy of managing the barrels so that we got as much water saved as possible.
I had buckets and bins at nearly every drip-spot and was outside dumping them into the bigger barrels every half hour. The day before that I had walked around scooping up pristine snow in my gloves and heaping it into the water barrels.
When something is in limited supply, and is not guaranteed to return with any regularity of amount or duration, it’s an opportunity to expand one’s own resourcefulness.
In a world in which much of its people can be inside their homes, lift a little handle, and have water come flowing forth on demand makes for a time in which many of us have forgotten how much of a gift it truly is to have access to water.
A dear friend of mine lived in Guatemala for over five years, and when she moved back to the States we were next-door neighbors. This was when I still lived in the city. One night we were making dinner together. I turned on the faucet and let it run, waiting for the water to heat up. As if by pure reflex, her arm whipped in front of me and turned it off.
I have many stories like this one— she was constantly turning the faucet off for me if I let it go while soaping my hands, and she had a routine of filling up pots with only a third the amount of water I would have used to boil pasta.
We were very close, so it wasn’t entirely odd behavior to have her jumping in to manage my water usage. I admit, it grated on me sometimes, but if you knew what she knew, you wouldn’t blame her. Her tolerance for water-waste was extremely low after having experienced firsthand what it’s like to live somewhere in which clean water is severely limited.
An Ode to Water
According to the Chinese seasonal calendar, the Winter Solstice marks the exact mid-winter point of the year, the longest night, the shortest day, and the time when the deepest dark gives birth to the return of the light.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are just days past this midpoint and still deeply within wintertime qi. In Chinese Five Element theory, winter is associated with the element of water.
We can use it to help us release fear and to cultivate wisdom, adaptability, and flow.
To maximize your appreciation, respect, and care for water, I want to share with you an excerpt from the I Ching, The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth, by Hua Ching Ni.
I have my friend and fellow student of the Tao to thank for sharing this with me, and here I pass it on to you:
From Hexagram 29, The Abyss, K’an
“Water always takes the lowest position.
Obstacles do not hinder it.
It accommodates whatever is in its path
and never loses its direction.
By remaining low it follows its true nature
and its fundamental direction is not
influenced by superficial obstructions.
Water is always ocean-bound,
seeking to reunite with the whole.
To follow the way of water
is to return to ones spiritual essence.”
I’ve made an audio recording of a guided meditation you can do simply by listening to how your body responds to the words above. Please find a quiet place in which you can rest while listening. The meditation is about three and a half minutes long, and can be done sitting or standing.
Whether you have abundant water or the lack of it, there are ways to cultivate a sense of deep gratitude for it.
That being said, there’s nothing like a well gone dry to suddenly make you real thirsty.
How beautifully Life gives us the opportunity to create, by placing before us obstacles that spark desire.
Without a thirst, one lacks the impetus to seek.
May you seek new ways of being, born out of your desire. May we all learn to cultivate appreciation and respect for water, and the resourcefulness and creativity it requires when its plenitude has been jeopardized.
As a postscript I am sharing a link to learn more about how you can take action to help the movement in protecting clean water. Show your alliance with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock reservation and give your support by donating or signing the petition to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Thank you so much for reading. I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on water and what may have come up in response to this article. The idea that the lack of something creates movement forward toward new goals goes beyond water, of course; where in your own life can this idea be applied? Is there something lacking in your life that is causing you to get creative?
Leave a comment below!