If we wish to understand a culture in its deepest sense,
follow the water. What water means. How water is used.
How we image it. Is water alive? Or is it merely H2O?
Is water sacred? Or is it merely a resource? And if it
is a resource, who owns it? Who controls it? I want to
find out, so I figure the best way to find out is to go
to the water itself and ask. I’ve done this now for 30
years, or more. To live with it. To drink it. Or to
understand why I CAN’T drink it. To run the rivers in
my new base area of the WALLOWA from head to toe,
over and over and over again. That’s why I refuse to
use cars. I want to hear the river. To smell it. Feel it
rushing in my feet. The picture that emerges is both
inspiring, magnificent, but also utterly sickening and
Here’s a set of 13 images and watershed map. It runs
a tiny part of the great Eagle Watershed, a stream
about 48 kilometers in length, dropping from 2,200
meters to 600 meters, a fall of 1,600 m. It is of
itself an amazing journey of purification, an entire
ribbon of life renewing itself rhythmically every day.
If we say the water is pulsing at 5 km an hour, it is
born anew 2.5 times a day. Now think of that for
a moment. Renewing itself 2.5 times a day. That’s
a miracle. Until, that is, it slams into a dam, and a
small rural community with a thousand more cows
than people, every mammal in sight pooping and
pissing and then dumping nitrogen fertilizers and
herbicides by the tonne directly or indirectly into
a now totally blocked movement of purification.
Again. Think of that. Totally blocked.
But the story doesn’t stop there, however, with
the pollution and a dam. What I find most striking
is the parallel between water and consciousness.
To my way of thinking, we are not aware of the
corruption of the water in exactly the same way
as we are not aware of the totally unnecessary
divisive and destructive nature of our thought
and thinking in general. I’ll leave it at that,
for the moment.
[Just one note to meditate upon: The difference
between the first photo of pure spring water —
I drink it straight from the source, unfiltered —
and the last with water in the reservoir behind the
dam just down the road from my picture-poems
Office with the ugly green-paint-like coating of
cyanobateria, is identical to difference to healing
natural sound and what our Music has become in
Western culture. When I hear Elliott Carter, or
Schoenberg, or Gubaidulina, or Glass, or Reich, or
Boulez, or Michael Jackson, or Tchaikovsky, or
(sorry, it’s along list) I hear that green gunk in
the picture. I, for one, don’t want myself, or my
students, drinking it.]