Winter in Canada is a time to think about snowflakes, lots of them. I find the fact that Snowflake has been propositioned as a term of weakness to be both ironic and mildly hilarious. Snowflakes, each unique, can fall thousands of meters. During that fall they retain their shape. Sometimes they coagulate with others, sometimes they remain singular. When they land, they land softly and they do not shatter. I wonder if I would do the same? I mean, it hurts when I accidently belly-flop from the side of a swimming pool, let alone fall from a storm cloud thousands of meters above planet Earth.
In the west, we tend to ignore water, treating it as an infinite resource, or worse a commodity. We take it for granted. Water is disposable and essentially harmless. Until it’s not. We forget it’s power, until the frozen pipe bursts, or the basement floods or the wave crashes over us.
Even when, in Ontario and Quebec, we call Electricity “Hydro”, I think we forget the connection, though thanks to this wonderful liquid (and the rocks it falls over) water accounts for 1/3 of Ontario’s electricity production, and, of course, is pollution free and renewable.
We still don’t fully know how all this water got here. Was it deposited by Asteroids? Was it trapped in rocks during the Earth’s formation, gathered from the nebula and ice-clouds from which this planet formed? Then, did it seep out through bedrock, or cascade via shifts in the Earth’s tectonic plates? We know it is an abundant resource in the universe and have identified other water worlds in our own solar system: Vast oceans lie under ice in Europa around Jupiter and Enceladus in orbit around Saturn, to name but two. We could even, if we were daring, extrapolate that some primitive life may have evolved on these worlds as it has here in the unforgiving heat, darkness and pressure of the 'Black Smokers' in some of the deepest parts of our ocean.
The water we drink and bathe in is the same water where the earliest life on Earth formed. The water that was drunk by dinosaurs sixty million years ago (and peed out by them too). Every cup of water we drink from the tap is a direct link back to the very formation of our planet. Each cup of water contains 8 trillion trillions of water molecules that are each billions of years old!
Despite this power we take water for granted and we don’t have a tendency to treat it very well. BBC Earth is currently showing Blue Planet II, the awarding winning documentary on Oceans, including a (yet to be aired in North America) disturbing episode on pollution, especially plastic pollution. A Blu-Ray of the Blue Planet II was Theresa May’s rather pointed gift to President Xi on her recent bi-lateral diplomatic visit to China. The Plastic Oceans Foundation estimates that we produce 300 Million tons of plastic every year, 8 tons of which is dumped in the ocean with catastrophic results. Plastic is being ingested as microfiber and plastic particles throughout the food-chain and in every part of the ocean, including the deepest abyss. We do not know what the impact will be but given the evidence about BPA and the effects on hormones, it is unlikely to be positive.
As well as polluting the water directly, climate change is leading to vast areas of the ocean becoming depleted of Oxygen, rendering life virtually impossible. We are on the verge of a mass oceanic extinction.
At a time when we should be looking to reduce waste and pollution, when we are increasingly aware of the impact it has on the planet, the US EPA is looking to loosen pollution regulation in line with the other regulatory vandalism. The UK is threatening that Brexit cannot be green. Canada is missing the mark too. The water we swim in is increasingly polluted. The water in major cities like Flint MI is still unsafe.
In reality each of us have the ability to make choices every day, like using reusable water bottles not plastic.
Like most families we love playing in water. The places we have chosen to live and vacate are all linked to accessibility to it. We are fortunate to have access to the warm waters and crashing waves of Hawaii, the tide pools and cliffs of the California coast, the blissful Mediterranean and the lakes of Ontario. Water sanctity is my wife, Taliaferro’s, passion and mine by extension. The power, majesty, the very essence of water has inspired her throughout her life. It resulted in the creation of art: glass sculpture and photography and more importantly an ongoing and deep philosophy. I am reminded of the famous quote that she used in the artist statement for the show she was working on when we first met:
“True goodness is like water, in that it benefits everything and harms nothing. Like water it ever seeks the lowest place, the place that all others avoid.”
Lao Tzu. “Tao Te Ching.”
Water. We are of it and surround ourselves in it. Let’s be mindful of it.