I grew up in a city that was built around a river, is famous for its locks, was flooded by a creek, and is perched on the cusp of a wilderness of lakes. As kids we ran through the sprinkler for hours on the hottest of days. In the dead of winter we flooded the backyard to build a massive ice rink. We let the water run while we brushed our teeth, flushed toilets with abandon, and showered for as long, and as often, as we pleased. We knew no limit to what flowed from our many taps. We were water rich. It was weightless and we were drowning in it.
I live half of my year in a half-built house in rural Australia with my partner Dave. Our home is a quiet, off-grid design that is being made out of storied parts and salvaged supplies, built by our own two hands. For the last four years, every drop of water we’ve required has had to come from the sky. The only tap we have is at the base of a rain tank. Our two tanks are connected to our two roofs by a series of gutters and pipes. Every drop of rain that hits our steel ceiling finds its way into our holding tank. One day those tanks will feed into more pipes that will funnel into our finished house. One day there will be taps and sinks, even a bath. But always the water that flows from them will come from those two tanks, those two roofs, that one sky. Until then, every bit of water we use needs to be carried—from the tank, up the hill, to the kettle, the dish pan, the washtub. We feel its heaviness every time we use it. The weight of our water is teaching us its value.
My hometown is not far from the shore of great Lake Ontario. 40 minutes of driving has me standing eye-to-eye with the water’s edge. Smokestacks and seagulls and Canada geese are ever in the periphery, but if I position myself just right, I can look out and see nothing but wet horizon. Those pebbly shores have saved me many times, on days when the world felt too big, the questions too heavy. The gift of big water is the chance to feel small in its presence: I can stand and look out as far as my eyes can see and still not find the end. It’s the gift of the sound of waves lapping, a music that resonates deep in my dry bones. It’s having a body to throw stones at without causing harm. It’s being given a void to yell into when I need the strength of my own voice more than I need to be listened to. Big water is a humbling force that proves strong enough to carry the weight of whatever I need to unload.
The rain started falling on my caravan roof while I’ve been sitting here writing these words. Not a heavy rain, just a light spattering that will likely evaporate as soon as it hits this sun-baked ground. It’s easy to be awe-struck by the sound of rushing waterfalls or crashing waves. The force of water can be deafening. But sitting here tonight, even these small, seemingly insignificant, rain drops held a weight that was loud enough for me to hear. They played a song on this tin box that made me pause in my tracks, made me listen.
Yesterday we drove the winding 25 km from our grassy shack to the big beach, to submerge ourselves in the cold waters of the Tasman Sea. We were heat scorched and in need of a bath, worn from a day of building. Without fail, every time I put my salty skin in the ocean waves, I squeal like an excited child. It is a full-immersion saltwater baptism that leaves me laughing and lighter and grateful to be alive. The sea is teaching me trust and respect. I am learning how to be brave in water that is merciless and wild. I am discovering how to let my limbs ride the waves. I am abandoning composure, handing myself over to the raw pleasure of being soaked to the bone and swept along, weightless and reborn.