As a kid growing up in the farm country of northeast Ohio, I was raised on well water. It was all I knew, and it was the only water I drank unless we went out to eat at a place that served “city water.”
I hated city water. Still do.
Then came the “bottled water” craze. I hated that, too. Still do.
Now that we’re on the road, hooking up to a hundred different spigots and hydrants, for safety’s sake we run our cooking and drinking (and coffee) water through a Berkey Water Filtration System that sits on the counter in Ernie’s galley. We recommend doing that.
Deb drinks the Berkey water straight, but I don’t. It has no taste, no character, no soul.
That’s why it’s such a treat for me to fill my Nalgene bottle at Gray Spring, like I did on Sunday. While in Montana I also made a point of stopping to fill at the Shepard Memorial Fountain, across US Route 2 from Bad Rock Canyon between Columbia Falls and Hungry Horse. Both Shepard and Gray are even better than the well water of my youth.
Not every spring is safe for drinking, of course. I’m not stupid or cavalier about it. But if the water is coming straight out of the side of a mountain, I figure it’s probably just fine. Over the last 50 years I’ve slaked my thirst and filled canteens directly from dozens upon dozens of springs and I’ve never had a problem.
Water is a thing, an important thing, maybe the single most important thing in life. Without it we don’t survive or even exist. The older I get, the more I think about water — and not just the drinking of it.
Our time in Montana was a sort of pilgrimage for me, reaching back and reclaiming something I’d left behind decades before. Water was a big part of it.
Flathead Lake. The Middle and North Forks of the Flathead River. Lake McDonald and McDonald Creek. Kintla Lake and Kintla Creek.
The day we arrived in West Glacier we drove to the banks of the the Middle Fork of the Flathead. I knelt down, dipped my hand into the river and splashed the cold water onto my face. At the time I wrote, “It was, in no insignificant way, a baptism.” I repeated the ritual at Kintla Lake two days later.
The acts were quite intentional. So is my characterization of them as baptisms. While I don’t mean to go full-spiritual on you, it was a personal sacrament, as essential as anything I’ve ever done.
And now the Buffalo River draws Deb and me back to The Ozarks.
It’s the water.
Our friends from Texas set off on their Harley yesterday and rode to Eureka Springs, one of the places on our own (long) list of places to visit in the region. I gave myself time to recover from my morning migraine and was fairly coherent (if not entirely chipper) by the time they returned.
For the third straight day I built a campfire, something we missed during our ten-week push north and west and back — burn bans were in effect virtually everywhere we camped, the exception being Flathead Lake. There we enjoyed seasoned cedar and morning as well as evening fires.
Yesterday’s campfire was for cooking, at least to start with. I made a quick and tidy blaze, let it go to coals and roasted hot dogs for the four of us. Deb made her famous bean salad and our friends brought contributions of their own.
When dinner was done we threw a few more logs on the coals to turn up the ambience, warming ourselves and chatting long into the chilly Arkansas evening.
Before heading to bed we spread out the embers inside the fire ring and let them fade. By this morning they’d burned down to warm ashes. I love to see that.
We’ll venture out again today. The weather should be perfect. We’re thinkin’ north, into Missouri.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.
(Today’s header image: Walking the shore at Kintla Lake, September 10th.)