“The Naiad,” by John William Waterhouse, 1893. Not based on real life.
From the Dark Mountain Project (see sidebar on main page), this: “Keepers of the Spring,” by Caroline Ross.
And with my ears ringing, and something between a sob and a giggle in my chest, it occurred to me that it is nothing like it says in the books. When the old keeper of the holy well passes on the sacred task of protecting the waters, there aren’t any capes or bells or dancing cherubs or goblets of wine, nor any ceremony beyond the unselfconscious, convivial oversharing that ordinary Dorset people recognise as good manners. As I sat, sweaty and scratched, in my baggy army-surplus trousers, I remembered all those Pre-Raphaelite paintings (which I secretly loved as a teen, and still love, despite myself) full of adolescent pale naiads, surrounded by their long, untangled hair. And I thought, Dante Gabriel Rosetti and J.W. Waterhouse would not be at all impressed with my scant bleach blonde ponytail and lack of flowing robes.
Anyway, one contact lens is sitting right, and it’s making my eye water, so I have to go deal with that.
In September, the flow is just a trickle, typical for the season. So I made a little wreath. M. used to make wreaths professionally, woven from grapevines from our backyard at the Cañon City house and filled out with dried flowers. Mine was simple by contrast: a willow branch and some Liatris (blazing star) blossoms. Yet my thanks and best wishes were sincere.
I had to follow Wind over Tide, “a folk band specializing in traditional music of the British Isles and Americas with special emphasis on tales of seafaring and adventure,” which was kind of a challenge.
The evening before I was scheduled to give the keynote address at the Fort Collins (Colorado) Pagan Pride Day on August 24th, M. and I were driving around the city, buying groceries for the camping trip we planned to take after the event, and sight-seeing a little bit.
The university town where I spent some of my teenage years has tripled in size. Yes, it’s weird seeing what was ag land turned into “technology parks” alternating with chain hotels and chain restaurants. And the drive up from the Denverplex was hellish.
Biologists studying the Poudre River above Fort Collins (Colorado Parks & Wildlife).
But one thing has changed for the better — the community’s relationship with the Cache la Poudre River, which leaves the mountains nearby and flows down through the city before continuing eastward across the High Plains.
My outdoorsy friends and I went rock-climbing at Horsetooth Reservoir, backpacking in the Rawah Wilderness, etc., and hunting wherever, but we ignored the Poudre River once it came out of the canyon and was no longer considered fishable. I don’t recall anyone canoeing it or anything like that. It was just a conduit to farms and towns further east.
In Fort Collins, a sign under a bridge shows the river’s flow in cubic feet per second.
Now the river has been dignified as the Cache la Poudre National Heritage Area. In the city, the change is huge. Suddenly it is a place that people want to visit for hiking, biking, kayaking, tubing, fishing, and so on. And at its nearest, it flows along edge of the downtown area, only three or four city blocks from the park where the festivities take place.
Where College Avenue, the main north-south commercial street, crosses the Poudre River.
So as I was standing there talking about nature religion and urban animism and such things, it hit me: the Pagan Pride Day ought to end with a procession to “honor the river.” (“Honoring” sounds suitably bland and inclusive, don’t you think?) Make up some wreaths of native flowers and grasses and toss them in with appropriate invocations. And of course there would be music.
I put that suggestion into my talk. Whether anyone takes me up on it remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I should be doing something like that for Hardscrabble Creek. Devotion begins at home.
Last week M. and I climbed over the ridge to “Camera Trap Spring” (our personal name for it) to leave an offering to Tlaloc.
Thing have changed a little bit since a year ago. The ground is black with ash. Stones have cracked from the heat of a forest fire.
That ground-up bark on the ground is mulch dropped from a helicopter in mid-April. Mixed with grass seed, it is supposed to help the grass grow to hold the slope against erosion. For more about that re-seeding and our visit, see the other blog.
The tiny spring is in the upper right quadrant of the photo. The little jar holds a liquid offering, while the turkey feathers are offered in lieu of a real turkey, which if I had been an old-time Nahuatl-speaker, might have been offered in lieu of a human child.
Obviously, things change.
In my personal practice, I care less about questions of authenticity, ethnicity, book-knowledge, or “the lore” than I do about the land. I think that I live at the fringe of the area in which Tlaloc (or Someone like him) was anciently honored; therefore, for the past two years, I have been trying myself to do so.
This little seasonal spring is like a miniature version of the whole hydrological cycle. Rain and snow fall on the rocky ridge above it — the entire collection area is probably smaller than a football field. Then the spring flows, in direct proportion to the winter snows, until the water is all gone.Through evaporation, through the urine of bears and elk — however it goes — the water flows back into the cycle.