From The Woman Who Watches Over the World: A Native Memoir by Chickasaw poet, novelist, and essayist Linda Hogan:
"It must have been a desert person who said from dust we come to dust we return, because, for most of us, water is the true element of our origin. Broken birthwaters signal our emergence into the air world, and through our lifetimes it is water that sustains us, water that is the human substance, the matter of cells.
"Some years ago I turned my attention to water. Perhaps, as people have done since the beginning of time, I went to the water to seek a cure, and became enamored of the deep. I was drawn to it in all its forms, ocean, river, lake, swamp.
"In the dry country where I live, water comes to us as rain and snow and trickling creek, so I paid frequent visits to this mother element in her other shapes. I swam in the ocean, overcoming -- but only cautiously -- my fear of the depths my human feet could not touch.
"I sat in mangrove swamps watching as the trees changed salt water into fresh. I waded around the 'eye of water,' the entrance where spring water rises from beneath the surface world, and floated underground rivers inside white limestone caverns. I paddled kayaks in the unsought but welcome presence of dolphins and wales, including a female humpback who gave birth where my friends and I sat. I submerged myself in hot springs and visited glaciers, and looked into the tragically endangered world of the paling, breathing coral reefs. I looked into a kelp bed, down into the dark, cold water, at thumb-nail sized jellyfish, white and pulsing. With my sister I walked from the edge of the sea to the black caves that, at low tide, are full and open with life as the tide goes out in its endless back and forth. There, in the tidepools at the edge of the sea, were worlds of beauty, starfish, orange and alive, anemones, seaweed, and patient waiting, a sort of creature faith that water would return.
"I myself am a failure at faith. And also impatient at waiting. But I do know this, that thoughts and visions of water are always the same. They are beneath and inside, like the watershed which travels underground and the water that falls into it. And so, despite all my outward journeys, mostly I frequented water in an inner way, looking at the depths of my own life, my body of brine moisture and blood rivers. But there, too, in keeping with the nature of water, I realized my feet would not ever touch bottom.
"The inside of a person is more mysterious than the inside of the world. It's just that we seem to inhabit it more plainly. Still, who knows it? Our human theories do not stretch large enough to pass easily through the inner territory. We are too fluid to pin down, and passing through our lives like water, we cannot easily be called back as we fall into self, time, and what seems like destiny. Like water that, in its oceanic destiny, follows a fierce journey of its own desires through rivers, sea waves, and even beneath ground, we each have our own journey too.
"It is only now, from within my own body, and from the other half of a century, that I can begin to see myself. I am just now becoming a human being, as many tribes say. And I am becoming a person old and joyous and vulnerable in new ways. Half a century is a great beginning and still the mystery of the self is there. Like water, I rush toward a destiny, a balance, a harmony. I call it sea level."
Our hill this winter is green, gold, and soggy, the streams white and wild with winter rain. My studio, though a dry, warm haven, rattles in the wind like a ship at sea. Rain drums on the roof, knocks on windows and enters in muddy paw prints criss-crossing the floor....
"Water does not resist," writes Margaret Atwood . "Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does."
The passage by above is from The Women Who Watches Over the World by Linda Hogan (W.W. Norton & Co., 2001), a painful, brave, and beautiful memoir that I recommend reading in full. The quote by Margaret Atwood is from The Penelopiad (The Canongate Myth Series, 2005). The poem in the picture captions is from Jane Hirshfield's collection Gravity & Angels (Weslyan University Press, 1988). All rights reserved by the authors.