In Praise of Water
by Ian Johnsone
ought to appreciate water more. Without her there would
be nothing alive. Of course we value her. We store her
in dams and reticulate her to basins, baths, showers,
toilets and hoses. Familiarity, however, engenders blasé
indifference. We use her every day and would miss her
terribly if she wasn’t, as we say, on tap. She is
our constant and ubiquitous helper; we drink her, cook
with her and wash in her, and use her for many other less
we really appreciated her, we would be as grateful for
her as we are for a good mother. We would learn about
her, understand her likes and dislikes and, knowing that
she is a limited resource in her fresh mode, we would
be more careful about wasting her relentless obligingness.
We take full advantage of her willingness to be stored,
treated and, when fresh and clean, given all the nasty
household and industrial chores of carrying away our wastes,
filth, and dirty disposable body discharges.
can be alluring. Before rain, she gently perfumes the
air with her exhilarating and unmistakable smell.
rain she drizzles and mizzles, patters and sprinkles,
pours and pelts, torrents and teems, drenches, drives,
and deluges, and so on. The wide descriptive vocabulary
we have for rain is an indication of her importance, as
are the many words we have to describe money and wine.
rain she is an indispensable benefactor. She provides
the digestive juices for earth’s stomach, which
is the topsoil, host to the hidden microscopic organisms
necessary for the germination and growth of all things
green. Without her no seeds would turn into plants, which
enable us to sustain, medicate and clothe ourselves.
she lies stretched out and resting, with scarcely a ripple,
she puts us in a calm and reflective mood. She models
for mirrors. When she grows lively, turbulent, flowing,
falling, spouting from a fountain, or cascading in a stream,
she excites us, and makes us want to participate in her
a summer’s day, as a stretch of water in a pond
or lake, she tempts us, like a siren, to take our clothes
off, plunge into her welcoming coolness for physical refreshment,
and to dissolve our fretfulness. She provides an incomparably
enveloping and caressing ambience in which to relax. Tamed
in a heated swimming pool, she is lavishly and luxuriously
calming, slippery, viscous and lubricious.
to herself, water likes to lie still, like a seductress
draped on a lounge. She likes, as we all do, to stretch
out, calm and restful after effort, until stirred to action
by necessity. Her destiny is not, however, to lie relaxed
for long. Sunshine, wind and humidity combine to excite
her from her recumbent comfort into imperceptible vapour.
It is as if she has a soft spot responsive to a warm caress.
Water who seduces us, is in turn herself seduced.
water cycle is nature’s blood circulation system.
It is an ever present symbol of the recycling of all living
been evaporated from her lassitude in a pool, she regathers
her insubstantial self into a kaleidoscope of attractive
formations in the sky, often white and fluffy castles
on blue-grey bases. In clouds she roams around like a
gypsy, gradually strengthening and purifying herself in
readiness to put on a performance. Clouds are her sky-carriage,
taking her on long joy-rides. Clouds are like mobile distilleries.
They harvest humidity, precipitate potential water drops,
and, sometimes noisily, open the sluice gates of their
reservoirs when they are overburdened, scattering our
heroine back to earth. She oscillates between droughts
and floods; between unpredictable irregularity and long-term
has a patent on the chemistry of adding nitrogen to her,
an elixir which makes plants perk up in a way hose water
fails to do. Tap water keeps plants alive, but they flourish
best with rain’s ineffable influence.
has a large repertoire as well as rain. If the conditions
are right she puts on a stormy downpour, a hailstorm or
a snowfall. She likes to give an occasional display of
her versatile and varied portfolio of performances using
her four main modes of existence, gas, fluid, snow flakes
and solid ice.
uses these four modes to keep our planet fresh and clean
and every living thing lubricated as it requires. Someone
has estimated that any water we drink has been through
about eight other people first. She has effectively rid
herself of all those impurities and contaminations. How
we should admire her endless repetition of this ultimate
example of cost-free recycling done with entertaining
panache. She is a model of self-cleaning and sustainability
we could follow.
sun is her favourite partner. The sun energises her to
vapourise, so she can keep her cycle going. Then there
is her glorious double act with the sun, splitting white
light into its seven parts, red, orange, yellow, green,
blue, indigo and violet, curved like a diadem, a brilliant
colour chart for nature’s many products. Occasionally
she displays a secondary rainbow, as if responding to
a call for an encore. Somehow a rainbow reassures us that
perfection and beauty are an indestructible and enduring
part of nature.
uses attention seeking techniques in her percussive thunder
claps, to keep us awake to the existence of rain clouds,
replete and ready to drop their load. To add to these
special effects, there are bright bolts of electricity,
heralding a downpour.
when the sun blazes on a tarred road, or on desert sand,
our thirst is teased with the shimmer of a mirage, which
makes us realise even more how desirable she is. Running
water in a stream, flowing gently or in fast rapids, is
unfailingly interesting and exciting, and, for some, erotic.
snow and hail she mass-produces delicate flakes and dangerous
pieces of shot, all minutely symmetrical and decorative,
finer and more fascinating than any sailor’s scrimshaw.
fog, she spreads her shawl over lakes and ponds overnight,
and wraps whole cities in her diaphanous night-dress.
Then, at the sun’s inexorable bidding, she unobtrusively
disappears, like the obliging attendant that she is, to
attend to her many other tasks, until the next night.
she sneaks into a rock crack and freezes, she swells up,
like a scared echidna, with strength enough to enlarge
the crack. “Shove over”, she seems to say,
“and make room for both of us”. There is something
distinctly feminine in her ability to find her way in
through the narrowest of cracks, to eavesdrop, as it were,
on what is going on inside.
her purified form she is indispensable for baptisms and
batteries. She is mixed with virtually every other substance
on earth, from rice, to cement and whisky. Combined with
paint she softens appearances to achieve incomparably
gentle and suggestive effects in water-colours.
water may look, as we say, as dull as ditch water, but,
on closer inspection, she is doing her job, as always,
of fostering life by teeming with micro-organisms.
surface can be unexpectedly strong, so some small insects
can dart around on it, as easily as skaters on a rink.
she is pushed along in a channel, or released suddenly
from the confines of a pipe, she bounces about, gushing
and splashing madly as if she was in the throes of ecstasy,
or celebratory excess. She delights in her freedom by
going on a wild energetic escapade, shedding all her inhibitions.
We love to watch her when she throws herself about in
a crazy abandonment of propriety, foaming, exulting, and
making for somewhere to lie down and rest.
is an indefatigable landscape engineer, with humans being
her closest rival. She dumps soil and gravel down river,
erodes obstructions, and, given time, she wears away rocks
and smoothes stones by tumbling them against each other.
Her patience is also effective in her limestone habitats,
where, with the help of traces of iron, she forms spires,
columns, and chandelier fittings tinged with warm ochre
colours, in palatial caves. For some, water’s underground
artistry is demystified simply by labeling her main formations
stalactites and stalagmites.
a river of ice, she thrusts glacial moraines aside, creating
occasional icebergs, like some gigantic prehistoric animal
giving birth into the sea.Her oceanic stockpiles cover
about seven-tenths of the planet. These enable her to
rejuvenate herself perpetually. From these gigantic reservoirs
she self-restores, and at the same time hosts marine life
of almost indescribable diversity.
the sea, she synchronises her tides with the moon’s
28 day round of engagements, varying the boredom of that
regularity with unpredictable hormonal swells, and occasional
tantrums of rogue waves. The sea’s tides reflect
our changing moods, rising to a high tide of self-confidence,
pride in achievement and certainty in superiority, and
then ebbing away to a low tide of self-doubt and skepticism.
She shows her annoyances in stormy seas and raging surfs,
and her contentedness in halcyon days, and becalming seas.
pristine and, attractive as a bride in a breeze, with
her trailing veil of spray, she forms waves which curl
with excitement, the green rolling over and the white
falling under, rushing to greet her age-old mate and rival,
earth. She is hungry for the shore. Depending on her mood,
she sometimes gnaws sand from the beach, and sometimes
brings sand from elsewhere and dumps it. The sea has the
same landscaping urges as rivers.
love watching waves. We see in them the endless intertwining
and interaction of regular and familiar laws of water
motion, in the formation of waves, and unpredictable chance
factors of wind, cross-currents, beach profile, shore
consistency and so on. Sea spray treats beach walkers
to a refreshing, and lung-cleansing tonic. When she is
fragmented she resorts to forming spheres. Surely nature’s
first love is the sphere- a raindrop, dew on a spike of
grass, glass balls on the sheen of polished cars, or a
bubble of many colours if it can find some cooperative
can’t like everything. She hates sharing her space
with oil. She unfailingly ostracizes grease and petroleum.
However, when she likes something, she clings to it, like
the sides of a glass with a crescent shaped meniscus,
or absorbs the substance into her very being, as she is
incomparably the best solvent we have. When she is super-saturated,
and has had her fill of a visitor, she gently produces
crystals as a sign she has had enough.
also detests direct contact with fire, although she is
happy with being heated. She is our best weapon of mass-extinguishment,
and our first choice in fighting a war on fire, when fire
is behaving like a terrorist, but is incompetent at fighting
burning oil or electrical fires.
water manages to communicate her invisible attraction
subtly and powerfully to a piece of wire lightly held
by a human conductor, sensitive to this mysterious magnetic
hydrological influence. No wonder this miracle of remote
sensing is called divining!
the form of a tsunami, she whispers to elephants that
a monstrous wave is coming: “Move to higher ground,
is something at the heart of water that is like us. Indeed,
she makes up about six tenths of our body. No wonder we
feel an affinity for her. She behaves a bit the way we
do. She likes to rest, but accepts that she has to be
up and doing. She bounces back clean, in a self-healing
way, as our bodies tend to after an injury. We recognise
ourselves in her, as we do in the weather, of which she
is at least a co-director, with the sun and the wind.
We have our highs and lows, as the weather patterns do,
and our irregularities and extremes of overdoing some
things, and neglecting others.
what can we conclude from all this?
and relentlessly we pollute water for our convenience,
and discharge her into a drainpipe, a stream or the sea.
Just as persistently, and out of our range of awareness,
she purifies herself and returns as beneficent rain. At
no cost or trouble to us, she inconspicuously cleans herself
and comes back for more of the same treatment. In our
habitually blasé way we give this reliable and
unobtrusive marvel our full inattention! That is, except
when there is a drought.
we are coming to realise that the water cycle is vulnerable,
and liable to suffer from our continual abuse. Increasingly
severe droughts may be a product of our creation of climate
change as is the recently discovered phenomenon of global
dimming from fossil fuel exhaust fumes in the sky. So,
we worry briefly, defer action, and then futilely leave
it for the next indifferent and procrastinating government
to remedy. Our competitive consumer ideology ensures that
big and costly remedies for the most challenging problems
are postponed until inaction ceases to be an option. As
some wit remarked:- “Soon there will not be enough
food to eat, or air to breathe, and we are going to have
to learn to live with this!”
forces are highly regarded, but they act as irresponsibly
as the majority of people who constitute them. Forward
looking and selfless conservationists are rejected, and
condemned as deluded and passionate nature fetishists.
We could start to put things right, by improving the way
we save and use water.
is largely the study of the invisible, providing helpful
explanations for things we cannot see, and helping us
to understand causes beyond all our senses. Virgil wrote
“Fortunate is the man who knows the reason for things”.
Surely more fortunate is the person who loves water simply
for what she is, with all her many moods, modes and mysteries,
without fully understanding all her reasons, and her feminine
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Armidale 2350 NSW