Sweet Water to Salt (Deborah Kennedy)
Sweet Water to Salt
Each drop wends its way
from the crest of the hill
down to this small pond,
the edge of the end.
Water doing what water does.
Yellow musk blooms in the seep,
a pair of mallards, his feathers gleam
like teal satin, hers all modest browns,
spin in stately circles,
courtiers dancing the minuet,
nodding with careful courtesy.
The still water flows down,
spills free over cliff’s edge
water rushes over the brink,
wind gusts blow crystal beads
straight up to the sky.
They hang for half a breath
and then fall to ocean surge.
Every drop finds its way,
at last, sweet water wedded
to salt sea, turning, returning,
following the sun’s driving beat.
Sweet Water to Salt: The Truth of Water
On a visit to Hawaii, I visited an ethnographic museum; where I learned about watersheds and their important roles in the natural world. A museum guide of Hawaiian descent told me fascinating stories about local island culture before the European invasion. He told us about the ahupua’a, a system of land division that traditional Hawaiian people used to organize their communities. Ahupua’a were not identical to watersheds, but they took into account the nature and area of the watersheds, and connected communities to their water supplies. When I returned home, I researched watersheds and found that a watershed is an area of land, usually a valley with surrounding hills, where the surface water collects and drains into a common outlet. The upper edge of a watershed is the crest of the mountains or hills in that area and the lower edge is frequently the ocean, bay, or river that receives the water.
Like ancient Hawaiians, contemporary environmentalists are realizing that the health of watersheds is vitally important to the health of communities and the natural world. Watersheds provide innumerable ecological services, including gradually moving sediment to lower areas, and creating and enriching the soil. A densely forested watershed can collect water from fog, which may produce up to 30 percent of the available surface water. Wetlands, the lowlands of a watershed, help to filter and purify water, providing cleaner water for people, animals, and plants. Plant life slows the movement of water, protecting the land from erosion and helping recharge the water table. Loss of the services provided by healthy watersheds can increase droughts and flooding as well as the loss of one of our most important natural treasures—soil.
Maintaining the quality of the water in a watershed is critical for thriving people, animals, and plants. Because of the fluid nature of water, pollution can easily damage entire watersheds. When surface water and water moving below ground become polluted, toxic materials often move with the water, spreading and contaminating larger areas. Water is essential to all life; therefore, maintaining a healthy watershed is crucial to the health of all species living in that area.
I am fascinated by watersheds and have continued be inspired by them. On a bike ride, I went in search of the lower boundary of a watershed where fresh or sweet water joins the sea and found several along the coast. I also created a public artwork titled Watershed Walk,reflectingthese natural systems that are quietly and constantly working all around us.
The illustration depicts the end of a watershed in Santa Cruz and features the cliff, a small waterfall, and roiling waves on the coast—the inspiration for this poem.