We all have our own personal histories with water, do we not, in most cases beginning with the water that came straight from the source — mothers’ milk. Which is nearly 90 percent water.Right from the start, therefore, youguzzled your water like a pro, which would come in especially handy, as a habit, if your destiny were, eventually, to include residing at 9,000 feet where the consumption of water is nothing short of part of a day’s work. But we’ll get to that later.This wasn’t exactly the case for me. I came along late in the career of an army wife who had already had three children and a miscarriage. Thirty-five — practically a crone in the view of a male-dominated world of bars and stripes and stethoscopes — was considered past the age of safe breastfeeding. I kid you not. So I was put on a ‘50s version of soy infant formula — which I was allergic to. And then on milk-based formula, which I was also allergic to. Finally, a liquid, animal-based protein was provided, which my mother, always with a squinched-up and disgusted face when she said it, referred to as “liquid meat.”
I came into this world, therefore, a sort of toothless carnivore — without a doubt not getting enough water into my system from the get go. I think I am realizing the significance of this now.
There has never, however, been any shortage of reminders of the importance of water in my life. I was born not far from the Allegheny and Monogahela Rivers, and by the age of three was walking the beaches of Carmel daily. At four, I boarded an ocean liner and crossed the Atlantic for six days with a dark and violent sea beneath me, and then lived on the banks of a lazy tributary of the Loire River. At eight, I lived on Lake Washington and frequented the ferries of Puget Sound. In New York, I lived in the shadows of Atlantic maritime mist, wedged between the Hudson and East Rivers. And here in the San Juan Mountains, I live five minutes from an icy and undammed river, and just a few short miles from alpine lakes so turquoise they hurt my eyes.
Water, water everywhere — yet it appears I never really drank enough. I don’t recall any serious commitments to hydration (on my part, at least) in the old days at altitude 20 and 30 years back. There was no clipping water bottles onto backpacks for a two-hour stint at the library, let alone a half day of hiking. There were no CamelBaks. I don’t even remember simply pouring out a glass from the tap and taking the time to drink fully of this mysterious and life-giving fluid. (Though my memory could have dehydrated, as well.)
I remember lots of beers and sucking those up. I remember swilling down coffees at 4 p.m. to get through the rest of the day. I might remember plastic squeeze bottles at certain key bike-riding moments, and filling up gallon jugs in the desert.
About 10 years ago, I finally began carting water bottles with me to work; yet, still I failed to empty them, still I returned home with water (or dumped it, to rid myself of guilt). Did I need a better bottle? Did I need to add salt to it? Did I need ice? Was I mistaking thirst for hunger, as I’d read about? Would coconut water be better? Did herbal tea count? Was I, actually, unlike everyone else, not really in need of more water? No, no, no.
Only recently (in the nick of time, actually, as my skin begins to crinkle) have I begun the daily work in earnest of drinking water, something precipitated by my chiropractor telling me she couldn’t properly assess me because I was dehydrated. Really? But after just two tiny Dixie cups — bam! — it was a go! In that moment, thinking about my laziness regarding hydration, I started to wonder if there wasn’t an app on my phone that would…
Well, of course there is. (Dozens, no doubt!) My silly low-tech app simply reminds me to drink eight cups of water a day, which I tick off, one at a time and get a cute sound effect. Eight sips of water, eight times a day.
My penance for over 30 years of dehydration? To remember what water is. Eight-three percent of my lungs, 73 percent of my brain, even 31 percent of my bones. It is 71 percent of the earth’s surface, and, as recently as last summer, has been discovered in gigantic (three times the amount of all the oceans combined) reserves 700 kilometers beneath the earth’s surface inside ringwoodite, a blue rock.
Water is the life of this blue planet, inside and out. It is the life of this body. Hardly a penance at all, repeating this.