An art professor once told me about a conversation with a student that was working at the pottery wheel. The student asked–“where does the clay come from?” The professor went on to describe the clay formation in Texas where some of the best clay came from. “But,” said the student, “where does THIS clay come from?” Thinking that the student was not understanding, the professor described in even more detail the nature of the clay and its source. Now quite frustrated with the nature of the answer, the student asked–“where does the clay come from that comes up through the table onto the potting wheel?” Having now come down to ground from the existential level answer to the question, the professor said: “from the box that is under the table.”
I have been thinking of this story this week after a water main break in my town that first left the entire town without water for 8 hours and then without drinkable tap water for four days. And in addition, the college where I work is going to have its water turned off for six hours later this month. It is only at times like these that you ask: Where does water come from?
It’s an interesting question that depends on where you live. Growing up in the Midwest you knew that it came from the water tower which you could see from afar. But of course it had to be pumped into the water tower from somewhere in order to create water pressure. In my hometown it was the local lake that was created by the CCC during the depression. In Michigan it was from Lake Michigan. I once went by the place with the intake that stretched out into the lake. On Great Barrier Island it was more complicated. Our drinking water was collected on the roof and drained into a big copper pot on the back porch that we would put in pots to use to cook and drink. The water that came out of the tap came from a stream. Visiting Nicaragua for a few weeks, we had water for only a couple hours of day. I don’t know where it came from but I was glad to have it when I did. In Hong Kong the water from the faucet came from across the border in China, but the water for the sewer system was salt water from the ocean. We had a water boiling electric pot in our kitchen, but we basically used the tap water. I carried out an on-going survey of whether the water was drinkable and it was always with mixed responses. We drank it with no ill affects. I did not drink it when I went across the border into mainland China. And it Haiti we washed vegetables off with water with a bit of bleach.
My daughter came home after a trip to the store during the time when we were directed to not drink the water directly from the tap. She was a bit mystified by a conversation she had overheard. Customers had expressed concern that there was little water left in the store. There seemed to be a fear of a shortage of water. In the meantime, we just followed instructions and boiled the water coming out of our pipes for the one minute required to ensure its safety. And put a bit a bleach in the dish water to be able to use it to clean dishes. Really? A water shortage? We had pots of it that we never got around to using!
The next set of questions related to water, of course, might be–how does it get there? In Flint, MI, it is through lead-contaminated pipes. And where does it go when it leaves your house? In Louisiana and Wellington, New Zealand, it was directly into the ocean. But these are different questions for another day.
Where does water come from? You might say Wenham Lake, but my existential answer, unlike the pottery professor’s answer in the case of clay, would be that water is a gift from God.