Earth Science

Looking for the Water and Missing the Well

River, run, Rhine,

rhine herons

Herons, Assmannshausen am Rhein

Rhone, stream, Strom, flow, fleuve, current, rapid, cataract, these are all one word, a Celtic word, for life’s excess, that streams, that rrrrrrrrrrrrrs. It is a sound.

rhine dock

Dock, Assmannshausen am Rhein

It is not the sound water makes here. Water winds here.


It has more in common with wind and grass.


It stones.


It has more in common with cliffs.


Water, so much for its rrrrrrrrr, and as for it’s ah, its Wahhhhhter, well, that’s latin’s aqua, which is the swallowing, but what of this substance in the world, separate from human enjoyment of it?


Sure, that’s grassssssss, the sound of wwwwwwwwwwwwind or breath between pursed lips blowing, but what of the water there?


Even in drought it’s still there. Such mystery!  But not just mystery: essential work. Here’s a thought:

When the rain strikes the dust on a hot day the air smells of a forge. That’s what life smelled like when it began. It is the breaking apart of bonds and their reforming in new material that holds its new shape. That is the essence of water.

Another old word, little used these days, much lost, adds to the conversation:


Celtic Well, Hauterive, Suisse

Words matter. If we call this stuff “water” we get one result. If we talk about hydrology, hydraulic pressure, riparian areas, and so on, we get one result. If we throw that word away, even for a moment, and talk about welling instead, we see a different earth, with different possibilities.


Well (Formerly Mariposa Lily)

All that is a well is available to us, in connection with this substance the chemists call H20: the wound, the blood, the miraculous appearance out of earth, the earth as water, the going-to-the-water with your body and taking of the water by hand, the mouth, the lip, the cool deeps, the irrepressible force, the living eye, and so on. Soon, hey, we’d see the water here together:


We would not see drought. We would go to the well. Until then, we’re dreaming of the Rhine.

We’re looking for the run of the water and missing the well.

2 replies »

  1. Thank you for this lovely post- again it helps me see things afresh.

    Some years ago, a writer friend, Nancy Mattson, suggested writing a metaphor for myself. What came flows into your post- from a well dug on the edge of unbroken pasture in Saskatchewan, next to a creek- which I drank from until I was almost fifteen :

    Well Water

    I am the water in a well of prairie pasture- soak past roots of wild mint and bluebell into the expectancy of well earth-held, I hold the cold of springs, the taste of summer rain; unknown by wind, I wait the priming pull to spill, tin-dippered into ready mouths.

    Ruth Anderson Donovan


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