In the 1990s, I bought a remote tract of land in the upper end of the county. I fell in love with the views toward Camp Allegheny Battlefield and into Virginia. I fell in love with land teeming with so much wildlife, such astonishing variety of tree and plant life as I’d never imagined in my city home. Mushrooms, butterflies, flowers and berries. Deer, turkey, bobcat and bear. After a time, I decided to build a log cabin on the ridge. It was to be a summer home, a special place to spend holidays, a place to learn about nature far away from phones and screens. But before I could build a home, I had to find water. Because, I realized for the very first time, water is life. Without water, life in my little slice of West Virginia heaven was simply not possible.
As one of those people interested in “Saving the Planet” since I was a child in the 70s, I was fairly conscientious about water use in my city life. I didn’t leave the faucet running while I washed dishes or peeled vegetables. I turned it off while I brushed my teeth. But while I fretted over our country’s use of potable water to irrigate lawns and wash cars, I did those things, too. Fact is, I took the water that flowed from my faucets entirely for granted.
Here, I had no such luxury. I had to find and contain and transport and manage the water on my land. I had to forge a partnership with water, one based on awareness and respect. There would be no taking water for granted here. Not if this was where I wanted to live.
And now I live here full time. For nearly two decades, a spring on this land has made so much life possible. Apple orchards and conifer groves. A vineyard and a big garden. Goats, chickens and ducks. The work-a-day existence of my family. All of this life and something else: inescapable awareness of my dependence on the natural world. I abuse this relationship at great peril, not just to my own life, but to all the lives now fostered here. If I am a careless steward, I’ve no one to blame but myself.
And so it is, all these years later, when I fill a pot for pasta or a bucket for the goats, when I step into the shower or spray seedlings in the greenhouse, most times my thoughts return to our spring. I see it nestled down in the holler, some 1,200 feet from the house. I hear water flowing into it through cracked limestone, from dark underground places where ice doesn’t form. I hear gravity pushing it down into a storage tank. I hear the well pump pushing it up through a pipe buried in an old cart road. It might as well be the sound of blood in my veins. Because, I now know as absolute truth, water is life.
I call on all of us who live here, whether by birth or choice or fate, not to fall into the trap of the city dweller I once was. Let us never take our water for granted. If we are careless stewards of this, our most valuable resource, we’ve no one to blame but ourselves.
Dawn Baldwin Barrett