Reflecting on Water
At home in New Hampshire
There is nothing that stills the mind like looking out over a body of water. Living on a tidal pond, I have come to depend on this experience on a daily basis—that is, when the tide is high. When the tide is low, I gaze out at mudflats scored by rivulets of receding water. Even the sight of that cratered sea of mud is restoring, though.
A friend from Kansas who came to stay with me woke up in the morning and, when she looked out the window, asked in alarm, “What happened to the pond?” I explained that it was just low tide. The water would be back in a few hours. “How do you get anything done?” my friend asked. “If I lived here, I would sit and watch the water go in and out all day.”
I do watch the water go in and out, although most of the time I am barely conscious I am doing so. When I make a cup of tea for breakfast, I take note of the pond’s state (full). A few hours later, I look up from my work and check again (empty). I watch for the great blue heron who forages when the tide is out, and the buffleheads that bob on the surface of the water in winter. Constantly changing, the pond is at the same time unchanging—its natural rhythms more predictable than anything in human life and often more comforting.
For most of my life, I have lived near water. The apartment where I grew up in New York City was a few blocks from the Hudson River. The river was only visible from a couple of our windows, and all we could see was a slice of gray water beyond the warehouses on 10th and 11th Avenues, but I loved that glimpse of open space. Having the water nearby and hearing the tooting horns of the boats out on the river made the walled canyons of the city bearable.
During college and for a few years afterward, I lived in the Midwest. Life there was more relaxed, the people less concerned with appearances of all sorts, the community stronger, but I could not escape an oppressive sense of confinement. There were no bodies of water at the edge of land, no calming vistas where I could lose myself.
When I returned to New England, I went straight to the coast, as close to the ocean as I could get. New Hampshire has only thirteen miles of seacoast (or eighteen miles, depending how you calculate it), making it the state with the shortest coastline, but that is enough. When I need to look at more than the small bowl of the pond, I make the short drive over to the ocean. There, I am inspired by a truly vast expanse. Stretching away, the water is a reminder of forces larger and more lasting than myself that puts my life and its small concerns in perspective.
In recent years, a restoration of the pond by my house has brought it back to better health. In mid-to-late summer, I see shorebirds out on the mudflats and rejoice at their return. How precious these bodies of water and the life they support are. The view of the pond at the foot of my lawn asks me each day to slow down, to pause and consider the rich world of nature, and to be still as the water is still. There isn’t much in twenty-first-century life that urges us to be still. Find a patch of water and make it your own.