“Traditional knowledge teaches that all facets of the universe are alive and interconnected. The stones and trees can hear, see, and act. Animals are cousins, possess consciousness, and speak in languages that humans understand. The land, sky, and water are imbued with a spirit shared by nature’s living creatures.”
– Glenn C. Reynolds, “A Native American Water Ethic”
“the eyes of the flesh close; then in this sleeping head, which is less inert than is generally believed, other eyes open; the Unknown appears. The dark things of this unknown world come closer to man…
all this mystery that we call dreaming and that in fact is the approach to an invisible reality. The dream world is the aquarium of night.
So, at least, thought Gilliatt.”
– Victor Hugo, Toilers of the Sea
“and what was I but a guzzling sweating bag of certain saps waiting to give up its moisture: press me dry, powdery dry, and you’d have a lump of mineralized soil, about enough to pot a geranium.
Tell me, O Swami of the Waters, in a word, what is the essence of life? Saith he, Borrowed.”
– William Least Heat-Moon, PrairyErth
His chin had salsa on it. Bright red, it nearly dripped to his shirt before a mindless index finger picked it up. If he’d taken time to breathe between bites of burrito, he may have looked around to see me rudely staring in his direction. He and I were the only two solo diners on the Chipotle patio I’d decided to loiter during my lunch break. I wasn’t staring on purpose, but his flat features brought me back to someone I’d seen before. The pallor of his skin reminded me of an old science teacher.
I’d been thinking about that teacher lately. Searching for ways to connect to my middle school students, I thought of how he taught my class about water. “Water is in everything,” he’d say, “you are mostly water, tomatoes are almost completely water, plants are around 90% water,” etc.
As a middle schooler, hearing this cast me deep into my imagination; I was trying to comprehend how “up to 70% of my body is composed of water.” Doesn’t seem to leave room for much else… As was my habit, I checked out of the classroom to explore my mind, hoping to find answers to my questions dreaming of streamside walks beneath symphonies of invisible insects.
He would have told us about osmosis. Osmosis is the net movement of liquid (especially water) from an area of high solute concentration to an area of low solute concentration across a semi-permeable membrane, tending toward a uniform solute concentration across the system. (It’s also defined as “the process of unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.”) My textbooks informed my consciousness about the physical forces around me, and my consciousness passively informed my imagination.
Never do I feel closer to nature than when I sit amongst the grasses, forbs, insects and birds, turn off my thoughts, and let my mind grow into its surroundings. As I dream, the membrane of my mind is made semi-permeable, and the knowledge of the Earth moves by passive transport to dilute the conscious thoughts of my ego. The system tends toward a state of uniform harmony, and I begin to hear myself in the songs of my earthly neighbors.
Our minds are more open to the truth when our consciousness is not fully alive, and the stuff of life can drift in unimpeded by thought.
Black Elk, a Sioux medicine man, says that “sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.” In a world where the incomprehensible outweighs our understanding of reality, dreams take a step closer to that eternal plane where our Genius lies. Dreamtime is circular; the past informs the present about the future.
So here I am, dreaming about my past, trying to use it to educate my students so they can take better care of our future. I keep being held back by something that bothers me about what my teacher said. He taught us that water is the universal solvent, meaning things are universally dissolved into it. If that’s true, then my teacher had his grammar wrong when he said “water is in everything.” Rather, he ought to have said, “everything is in water.”
On this muggy afternoon, on the black metal table in front of me sat a peanut butter and honey sandwich (I made it that morning so the honey had soaked in to the bottom slice of bread – nom), a string cheese, and a handful of cherry tomatoes. I’d stolen a lemon slice from the Chipotle, and squeezed it into my water to make the hard tap more palatable. Wanting to learn more about water, I thought I’d ask my drink a thing or two. I listened, it said, “it’s damn hot, and I’m damn cold. You’re welcome.” I thanked it, and drank it, and slowly slipped into dreamtime…
the essence of lemon in water.
it has more character,
has the essence of life in water.
the essence of a stream must reflect the character of a place.
life is water,
dust is the essence,
and sunlight animates the elixir.
I am a walking aqueous solution,
grass to beast to man.
one form of life to the next,
all transformations of the same fluid –
– no –
life-becoming (unbecoming) water.
fluidity all about me sings
a mixture of bird and bug song in the wet mid-summer heat.
in nearby grass a spider clings to an insect,
slowly sucking the sentient solution into itself.
hexapod to arachnid.
the medium of change
the agent of death
the solvent of life.
all around us ancient dust is made new by
the river which is always running through it.
same old current.
but in God’s world,
water never carries the same solution twice.
Back to my afternoon tutoring session.