Tag Archives: water

Restoration – fiction

Without water, how can there be plants? But without plants, there is no water. It takes roots to hold moisture in the soil, and the ground cover of leaves to stop the sun from stealing every last drop away. 

When the plants have been eaten by livestock, when the deep rooted ones have been taken out for the sake of shallow rooting food crops… the soil dies. The desert grows. Hunger follows.

How do you make life where life has been destroyed? How do you dream a desert back to life?

So you dig, making places that will hold the water for a while, when it does come. And you plant the toughest trees you know of, asking their roots to cling hard, and to somehow, against all the odds, find life in this barren place. You cover the ground with whatever organic material you can find, you keep the sun off where you can.

Trees won’t be burned by your piss. The outpourings of your own body become a precious resource. You water as best you can. You think about every drop of moisture, every use and reuse. 

You wait for the rain, and you pray to whatever gods watch over trees that they will live long enough. Your dreams are green. Your heart yearns for greenness. Your lips are cracked from the lack of it. 

The sky is relentless. The whole world seems broken.

You ask the tree roots to hold you, to hold the rain, to hold the soil, to hold the pieces of the broken world and mend it somehow. 

(Art by Dr Abbey – Guardian of the West. Text by me, based on reality as best I understand it.)

Water Witches

Water magic is all about healing, and emotions. You place bowls of water in the moonlight to gather enchantment, and take healing baths.

Slowly, you learn to listen to the water. You discover that the water is full of sorrow.

There is plastic in the water, and pollution of all kinds. Death flows where there should be life. There is thirst in the land and in its creatures. You stop wondering about how to use water for magic, and start asking how to do magic for water.

You become a water witch. You go to the edge of the desert to make desalination equipment out of rubbish you scavenge from the dumps. You set up camp at the edge of a poisoned lake and dedicate years of your life to fishing out the plastic, filtering out the oil, bringing the plants back. You make sand dams. You try to become a beaver. You make wetlands and plant reeds and dream about hippos.

In a land of intermittent rain, you build barriers across places where the water floods. Your back hurts all the time from bending and digging, but when the rains come you are ready, and some of your dams hold, and ponds form. The soil will not wash away this time, and some of the water will seep back into the earth rather than evaporating.

When you weep for all that has been lost and damaged, you understand that water is all about healing, and emotions.

(Art by Dr Abbey – these are concepts and sketches I’m playing with, but i think we’re going somewhere with all of this…))

Water in the landscape

While we haven’t had heavy rain here for a while now, there’s a lot of water in the landscape still. The rivers and streams are fast flowing and high in their banks. Streams that only exist when it’s wet are very present, and there are a number of new springs that I’ve seen, and probably many more that I haven’t. The odds are many of those will disappear, but there’s no knowing when.

As I live on limestone, the secret, underground life of water is very much part of the landscape. The spring line on the hills informs where the villages are and where the oldest houses were built. With the weather so unpredictable and so much more heavy rain than is normal, springs can pop up all over the place. I love seeing them, and the arrival of a new one is exciting to me – but that may be in no small part because I don’t live close against a hill and they aren’t in my foundations. I have no idea how big an issue that might be for people locally.

Yesterday I saw a field that had previously had a lot of standing water on it. It’s low lying, it should be a flood meadow and I wonder about its history. Perhaps once it was proper wetland, and carried water through more of the year. We’ve lost so much wetland from the UK, and I often wonder where it was and how differently the landscape would have looked with more of those watery, liminal places.

Relating to the rain

How we relate to the rain tells us a lot about our relationships with the natural world. For the person to whom rain is simply an inconvenience, or a blight on those ‘nice summer days’ there’s a disconnection with the rest of life. Rain is essential for plants and for all wild creatures. What we too often call a nice summer is often in practice, a drought.

Rain can be a massive inconvenience if, like most of our ancestors, you dry your laundry outside. Long wet patches can cause all kinds of difficulties. However, air drying the laundry saves energy and means you don’t have to own as many white goods. So even as you’re feeling challenged by the rain, you have a relationship with it that is more involved.

Rain can be a real inconvenience if you walk or cycle for transport. Getting wet and cold isn’t always a good option. In summer, the rain can prove refreshing and pleasant and be nicer than walking on a hot, dry day.

Of course heavy rain isn’t usually a blessing. It washes away soil, batters plants and makes life difficult for many creatures. Many insects struggle with very wet conditions, owls can’t hunt so readily, everything gets soaked and younger and more delicate creatures won’t necessarily survive a prolonged period of downpour. The more damaged a landscape is, the more vulnerable it is to heavy rain causing massive problems.

If you have a more involved relationship with the natural world, you’ll notice when the rain is needed, and when there’s been too much for the life around you. You’ll notice different kinds of rain – from the soft showers that soak easily into the soil to the dramatic downpours that have destructive power. You’ll know whether rain comes as a relief or a threat.

The desire to control, or avoid weather is part of how we’ve got into this mess. We’ll have worse weather to deal with as a consequence of climate change. We can choose to push back harder – driving more, building more, trying to control the water even as it becomes more uncontrollable. Or we can learn to live with it, respect it, and act in ways that reduce our impact. The harder we try to control the presence of water in our lives, the less control we are likely to have over it.

Re-wilding the water

There’s been heavy rain in recent weeks and all the local streams and small rivers are swollen. They are all brown with the soil eroded by the flow of water, too. Faster moving, the water courses are no doubt more able to strip soil from their own banks right now.

Straightening water ways certainly goes back to the mediaeval period. There’s evidence of it locally on patches of land that used to be inhabited but now aren’t. Straight watercourses give fields regular shapes, and can direct the water flow towards mills, and that used to be an issue locally as well.

However, in heavy rain, straight watercourses allow water to rush through the landscape, taking soil away with it. A wild and curving stream will be much slower even when in full spate. The corners of a wild and meandering watercourse will have places silt collects – usually a river strips material off one side and drops it on the other, so overall there isn’t the same kind of loss. Where there are flood meadows, soil in the water can be laid down to provide future futility. But when all the water does is moves through, the soil goes with it and leaves.

Soil is a precious resource, and letting it wash away like this is a really bad idea.

There are reasons nature doesn’t favour straight lines. Our human obsession with them does us no good at all.

Wild water

I am deeply attracted to natural water. Given the slightest chance and I’ll get in it, even if just to paddle my toes. I’ve swum in the sea and in lakes. In recent weeks I’ve pottered in a stream, looking for archaeology, and swum in an outside pool. The last one was an interesting mix – the predictable man-made surfaces and absence of currents, coupled with the very real cold of swimming outside, and some totally unpredictable weather.

I can’t say it’s really a sensual attraction to water, because wild water in the UK is simply bloody cold and rare are the days hot enough for that to seem pleasant. Arguments may be made about whether I am just slightly masochistic, but for those of you beyond England’s murky shores, this is pretty much how you have to be round here if you want to do stuff outside more than three days in a year. My impression is that Wales and Scotland are, if anything, worse.

It’s an emotional attraction to water. I suppose that makes sense if you consider water to be the element of emotion in the first place. I have strong emotional associations with all of the elements, because this is how I relate to the world. I get some of that emotional impact from showers, bath tubs and indoor pools. Some days having running water from the tap over my hands is enough to do it. Water does something to me, something healing, releasing, liberating, reassuring.

As a child this was a particularly interesting dynamic for me, because I couldn’t swim. I was afraid of water, and of getting into situations that could kill me. I learned caution, but alongside that, the attraction was just as powerful then as it is now. I would go right up to the edge, dangle fingers, and if possible, dabble feet. We tended to do family holidays early in the year, and if all else failed I would get in the sea in my wellies, while trying to make sure the sea did not get in my wellies, because that was at least closer.

Being a confident swimmer now, and much more certain of my ability to make safety judgments around water, I am perhaps more of a child than I was when a child. I get in.



Grey water experiments

It bothers me enormously that we use drinkable water to flush toilets. Granted, the last winter was a very wet one, and extensive flooding can make it feel like water shortage is no issue… but all the water we use comes from somewhere. Whether depleting underground reserves or emptying rivers, human water consumption has a big impact on aquatic life. Our amphibians are not thriving. We hardly return water in decent condition, either. Loaded with poisonous chemicals, alongside all our more regular waste, and having been treated with chlorine, it has to be cleaned up before it can be re-released into the wild.

As Pagans we might honour water as one of the four elements, we might speak in ritual of the place water has in mythology. Our ancestors held rivers sacred, associating deities with them – because water was, and is, essential for life. If we don’t back that up by treating water respectfully in our day to day lives, it rather defeats the object. So what is to be done about the toilet?

I don’t have the option of replacing it with an earth closet – I live in a flat. I can cut down use with the old maxim of “if its yellow, let it mellow, if it’s a poo, flush it through.”

At the same time, used water from other activities is poured down the sink. So I’m throwing away already dirty water so that I can use clean water to flush away shit. A while back I started exploring possible alternatives. I have a 5 litre water bottle with handle, sourced for a different project that had now run its course. I have a cut off bottle top that makes a good funnel, and I started reclaiming used water to see what could be re-used for flushing the toilet. Here are my results.

Vegetable water doesn’t work because it can undertake to ferment surprisingly quickly, and gets smelly in hot weather. It can however be left to cool and used to feed and water plants – so long as you cook without salt.

Washing up water is too greasy and also can ferment and smell funny, and left an odd residue in the water bottle. Unless you can go straight from sink to toilet with no pauses, this seems not to be a good idea.

Shower water is tricky to collect. However, taking my water bottle with me into the shower I regularly harvest enough re-usable water to be able to rinse the bathtub out afterwards, which is a small win.

Water used when sterilizing bottles, jars, demijohns etc reuses very well.

Laundry water turns out to be the best. I’m handwashing, so it’s not difficult to put a water extraction stage into the process. Laundry water is stable, does not ferment, and tends to be a little bit soapy, which works well when flushing the toilet. Handwashing uses a lot less water than a machine would, but I can typically extract enough water for two flushes from each laundry load. That might seem small, but an efficient toilet uses about 5 litres a flush – as I do. So that’s ten litres a washing load. Just assuming I do one laundry load a week, over a year I’ve cut my water use by 520 litres. With two loads a week it would be 1400 litres. That’s a lot of water.

Sleeping with the stream

I’ve always loved running water, always been drawn to paddle feet or hands in it, to sit near it, listen to it. Stroud is wonderful on that score, with its many small streams. There are even a few small waterfalls. I’m especially blessed in that I can hear water flowing, from my bed.

As a lot of my prayer and meditation practice happens around the edges of sleep, I’m very conscious of that space as an environment and I pay a fair bit of attention to how it impacts on me. Being able to feel a connection with the natural world, from the sacred space of bed, is powerful for me.

I’m conscious of a transition as I settle at night, as I cease to be sociable, and gradually stop thinking about whatever’s been running around in my head. I know I’m settling when I become aware of the stream, and every time this happens I also become aware of just how much I filter out with my waking perceptions. The stream has a music of its own, coming down from the hills and heading out towards the Severn River. As I listen, I have an awareness of water as life, water as cleansing, and moving water as a journey towards other worlds. Letting the stream carry me, I drift towards sleep.

Often, waking is initially a process of becoming consciously aware of the water. I often start to surface before the dawn chorus. Awareness that I am waking is often awareness that I am hearing the stream, that it is calling me back to the waking world.

Having lived on a boat, I am very aware that water is often silent. Moving water can be remarkably hard to hear, even when there’s quite a significant flow. What creates the sound is not just the movement, but the interaction between water and something else – plant matter on the bank, stones in the river bed. Mostly what I hear is water passing over a small weir. Where water passes for long enough, it smoothes a silent passage. Stand by the River Severn, and there’s surprisingly little sound. But then, nature is often busiest at the margins and the places of interaction.

Where the water flows

Yesterday we were in Stroud, as the tiger sat an exam, the 11+ that may determine which school he’s going to. (For readers beyond the UK, this is a relic of an older school system, you have to pass an exam to apply for a grammar school, these are generally better schools, which benefit from being selective.) I’ll write about selective schools properly sometime. It’s a big, uncomfortable issue for me, but this was what the boy wanted to do, and I respect his choices.

Stroud is where I intend to be living in less than a year’s time. It’s a small enough town that a person can get around it on foot, which is important to me. It has a lot of unique shops, a great weekly market, a thriving arts culture, lots of pagans, greens and other, lovely alternative people. As far as I know, it doesn’t have a steampunk scene… yet. It’s also easy to get out of, making it an ideal base for us as we set off into the wider world to do events. It feels like the right place to be.

However, stood in the street yesterday, looking at the beautiful hills around the town, the woodlands turning towards autumn, I felt an uncomfortable itch. It took me a little while to pin it down, and it goes like this… I don’t know where the water is. The canal runs through Stroud, sort of, although it’s being restored and isn’t currently navigable. Canals don’t flow, as such and are man-made constructions. I have discovered in myself a significant, personal need to know where the water flows.

In my current location, it’s easy, I can get to the river Severn from the canal, and there are a lot of streams heading that way too. I know this landscape, and it’s one in which water is easily found. Logically, as Stroud is surrounded by hills, the water will be at the bottom of the five valleys. But, where landscapes are developed, often the water ends up in culverts, underground and inaccessible.

I know that when I move, one of the first things I will need to do is figure out where the nearest source of freely running water is. I’m anticipating walking a lot – I love to walk – and with a barely familiar landscape to explore, I’m going to have a lot of fun. But, more than trees, more than hills, I need to know where the water is. Of course trees and hills are easy to spot, because of their size, but water is more secretive, more mysterious.

I don’t think, until I moved to the boat, that I was properly conscious of how important free moving water is to me. I need it. I need to be able to look at it, and walk beside it. I need the sound of it, and the healing effect of these things. Some of that is probably just my mammal self wanting to know where the most critical resources can be found, but this is not just a pragmatic how-to-survive-a-zombie-apocalypse thing. It is very much part of my Druidry.

For preference, what I want to find is somewhere water flows between trees. That kind of place always speaks to me, fills me with happiness. We shall see.