Miss­ing the uni­ver­sal sol­vent

The Compass - - NEWS - Peter Pick­ers­gill pic@xplor­net.com Peter Pick­ers­gill is an artist and writer in Sal­vage, Bon­av­ista Bay. He can be reached by email at the fol­low­ing: pick­ers­gill@mac.com

It was Joanie Mitchell who wrote in her song Big Yel­low Taxi the fol­low­ing lyric: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

I thought of that line af­ter what hap­pened at our house last week. It’s all too easy to take things for granted when they are work­ing as they should. Only when the run­ning wa­ter in our house stopped run­ning, then stopped walk­ing, and fi­nally let out a se­ries of small drips and came to a halt en­tirely, did we fully re­al­ize how much we missed it.

In the days since that hap­pened I don’t know how many times I have, with­out think­ing, turned on the tap only to be brought up short by the re­al­ity that there wasn’t any H Two Oh! com­ing my way. And Oh! Oh! Oh! how I miss it. It is a good thing that the term “global warm­ing” has been largely re­placed with the words “cli­mate change.”

If we were still us­ing the word “warm­ing” to de­scribe what is clearly hap­pen­ing to our weather this win­ter, there would likely be pub­lic protests against the irony of it.

The wa­ter in the mu­nic­i­pal pipes leading from the pond on top of the hill to the curb stop out­side our house and thence to the kitchen sink and bath­tub, have de­cided not “warm,” but to “change.” From wa­ter to ice.

Ice does not pass smoothly through the pipes un­der the road out­side our door. Ice in a pipe stops the flow of wa­ter. This causes all sorts of prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties.

When we first came to Sal­vage in the early 70s, sum­mer­ing for the next 30 years on Bur­den’s Point be­fore mov­ing year-round to our yel­low house across the har­bour, we were sur­rounded on three sides by wa­ter.

We were sur­rounded by salt wa­ter, as fine a source of food as you could ask for, in­clud­ing first and fore­most among it all, cod, which in those days we could jig in num­bers as plen­ti­ful as we wished.

Pro­vid­ing a sur­face upon which we could row our punt to and fro, the salt wa­ter was also our road.

But as Sa­muel Tay­lor Co­leridge wrote in his “Rime of the An­cient Mariner,” there was one dif­fi­culty: “Wa­ter wa­ter every­where: Nor any drop to drink.”

To get drink­ing wa­ter in those early sum­mers we walked to a shal­low well 200 me­tres dis­tant that seemed far­ther when mea­sured in feet, but no real trou­ble for healthy folk in their mid-20s.

Us­ing a hoop and two buck­ets we would lug the wa­ter back to the house where we learned to treat it as the pre­cious com­mod­ity it is, heat­ing it on the wood­stove for cook­ing and wash­ing.

Since last week we have been do­ing the same thing, ex­cept we heat the wa­ter we carry in buck­ets on an elec­tric stove, which we find quite use­ful be­tween Nal­cor black­outs when we re­vert to wood.

This cli­mate change les­son we are now en­dur­ing for, I hope, a short time, is mak­ing us re­visit the prac­ti­cal de­ci­sions we made in those days. It is mak­ing us re­mem­ber how long it took back then to do sim­ple tasks like boil­ing the ket­tle or tak­ing a bath.

At the cen­tre of it all is wa­ter, the uni­ver­sal sol­vent, to which I have been at­tracted since I was a child, and which no doubt was what made me fall in love with New­found­land when I first came to this is­land at the age of seven.

When Lisa and I vis­ited Sal­vage shortly be­fore we were mar­ried, she was hooked too. She loves to be by the sea.

Sci­ence tells us that the hu­man body is made mostly of wa­ter. Depend­ing on how much you have been drink­ing, some­where be­tween 60 and 90 per cent of each of us.

Is it any won­der we are so at­tracted to it? It is us. Or a close cousin at the very least. We need it, we long for it, we are happy in its pres­ence.

Now, if only I could get some of it out of the tap.

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