reflections on water

A. has been painting barren fields and stark windmills for months now.  And as I drive by reservoirs, my gaze maps the retreating water line.  I see brittle shrub perched on hillsides, waiting for a passing spark.

We have been thinking about water a lot in California. In the fourth year of a severe drought, we see our ground water supplies evaporating.  Each winter seems to bring a snow pack with low moisture content, which means the Spring thaw does not replenish streams, reservoirs, and ground water.  Dutiful conservation combats winner-takes-all attitudes where some people / corporations get as much as they can before it’s all gone.

And then there’s the myth about water; for most of us we just turn on the faucet, and it rains.  There is no doubt or trepidation in this act.  Water appears at our whim.  What magic.  What luck.  What danger.

This scarce resource is more than just a giver and keeper of life.

impressionist water © JL Colomb

impressionist water
© JL Colomb

Satin and silk.  Sometimes it looks like blown glass, and other times like stiff peaks of meringue.  A blanket tucked up over the land, or an angry specter.  An impostor, it disguises itself in the garb of others, and in the same moment it reflects the world around it.  An imperfect mirror.


lake champlain, VT © JL Colomb

lake champlain, VT
© JL Colomb

Growing up, I would fly back to Vermont every summer to visit family.  Lake Champlain was a hub of activity all year long, but in those wretchedly hot months, it was the place to be.  Boating, fishing, swimming.  I had a problem with the lake, though.  Any time I tried to slip into its silky embrace, my imagination conjured graveyards and shipwrecks on its muddy bottom.  Algae blooms and the nature of the lake itself made it opaque.  Mysterious touches brushed past my legs and sucked at my feet.

Even when my uncle would take me fishing in his boat, I waited for the lake to reach for me.  As a precaution, I would watch his fish finder, waiting for it to find more than just fish.


Sea Organ, Zadar Croatia © JL Colonb

Sea Organ, Zadar Croatia
© JL Colomb

This problem of imagination persists. Several years ago, I had taken a ferry from Ancona, Italy to Zadar in Croatia.  It was my first overnight ferry.  I remember the slow slog of the boat, and the bland water of the Adriatic.  I attempted to sleep in cramped private quarters, but the steady clanking vibration of the engine surrounded me.  As if there was a chance of escape, an entombment of steel served as another layer of confinement.

But let us return to the bland water of the Adriatic. It was bland in that moment, but like all things, mutable.  It is volatile. Capricious.  When I arrived, the sea organ in Zadar sighed in the lazy swells.  But in the pauses I could hear the phantom of a storm, and its crush of sound.


fontana, Milano IT © JL Colomb

fontana, Milano IT
© JL Colomb

Water, like wine, has terroir.  Perhaps it’s a strange thing, to fill a glass of water from the tap and taste it (as opposed to drinking it), but what your taste buds detected says a lot about where you are and from where the water came.

In northwest Vermont, it’s sweet.  There’s a brightness on the tongue, almost like it’s super oxygenated and stirred by cherubs.  This might be inaccurate, but I’m pretty sure that water is locally sourced.

In San Diego, hard minerals build up on the faucets.  If the water tastes like anything, it’s usually a dash of chlorine to clean up whatever the filtration process does not / cannot catch.  The Colorado River is the primary source for water in Southern California; only ~17% comes from local sources. It’s easy to understand how the water here would be “hard” (mineral rich), considering how far it’s traveled before it reaches the tap.

Paso Robles water is distinct.  If it doesn’t taste like algae, it tastes like chlorine.  If it doesn’t taste like chlorine, it tastes like sulfur.  Much of the time, it is undrinkable in its straight-from-the-tap state.  But the main supply is a groundwater basin in a geothermally active region.


calf creek falls, UT © JL Colomb

calf creek falls, UT
© JL Colomb

Deserts have scents.  I associate that class of smells with the notion of microscopic particles of minerals coating the ground, and air and the bodies moving through it.  The smell is desiccated, and sticks to the inside of your nostrils, the lining of your mouth. I was hiking through a portion of Utah desert with my my mom, and I could smell when we slipped closer to the watershed.  Molecules of water blossomed in the air, bloomed across my skin and tickled my nose.  They didn’t bear any added chemicals, just smelled like a bouquet of rain.

RaNDom FaCtS About H2O:

Links to check out:
CA Drought 101
No running water for 2 years
City of San Diego Water Conservation
San Diego County Water Authority Tips & Resources
Wine and Water (San Luis Obispo Feature)


One thought on “reflections on water

  1. I had seen this one on FB but was unable to read it at that time so I was happy that I also get a reminder in my google account. Excellent presentation about a simple but special resource. It encompasses the many interactions we have with water…

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