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THROUGH THE WOODS: Water is crucial to my life

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SOME OF MY FAVORITE DREAMS are spending the night wandering along a stream. It feels like I am searching for something and is so relaxing and enjoyable. I often wandered up and down streams as a child. Sometimes I was trout fishing our meadow creek on the farm, floating small rough made boats, and sometimes I was just looking for adventure. I was never disappointed. Turning over stream rocks produced all kinds of bugs, worms or moisture loving amphibians. Water snakes and garter snakes liked to lie in the sun on the banks. I mostly went barefoot back then and once stepped on one of these snakes. I don’t know which of us was more surprised as we fled in opposite directions.

Our lives are so dependent on water it is probably instinctual that we seek it and enjoy it. Native American centers were often near the Hudson River, near large creeks like Stockport and the Roe Jan, or at lakes like Lake Taghkanic. They were full of fish, ducks and geese, beaver, and animals like deer that would come to drink. And of course there was plenty of water for man to drink, make pottery and wash things.

Abby. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

When the weather was warm I loved to swim in the farm ponds. At the shallow ends where the cattle liked to drink there were abundant creatures to study. I could lie in the water and just quietly observe unless some cow wanted to be there too. Usually the cattle were also startled to see a human in their water hole. I didn’t think about it at the time, but cows are pretty messy creatures, so all the life and green grass at the edges of this place were probably due to dropped cow patties. Fortunately it never hurt me and I was usually closely associated with this part of a cow in one way or another. My father used to laugh at us kids when we ran through the barnyard barefoot and told us all that fertilizer would help us grow. It didn’t stay on us long because a brook, puddle, or pond soon washed it away. We also developed great immunity to things through this constant exposure. As far as I can remember I have never had a problem with food poisoning so maybe all this helped.

When you are in the water you are bound to swallow some of it too. We used to net bait fish out of a pond near the barn at my grandfather’s farm up our road, and I remember finding some weird spider-like insects with light blue bodies. They would come out of the net on the mud and could sting like a wasp. If I was swimming in that pond I remembered to keep my feet out of the mud.

My uncle’s shop was near this pond, and one summer I was hammering on some project when a swallow’s nest suddenly fell off the rafter above and landed on my head. It was full of bird lice that started crawling all over my head and neck. It was a horrible sensation and gave me new insight into what the poor birds suffer. Without hesitation I took off on a run and jumped in this muddy pond and went under water. All the horrible bird lice floated away and drowned, hopefully to feed something else.

Birds also use water to wash away lice, and also fluff their feathers in the dust of dry ground to kill these parasites. The dust clogs the breathing pores of these pests and kills them. Water seemed the better cure for me. I was a little muddy after this new adventure but quickly dried, and being mud covered was not unusual for me.

We always had to clean up by evening, so a bath or a long swim in a cleaner pond was the remedy. I often think of the filthy clothes my poor mother had to deal with. Our play clothes were in pretty sad shape. They were often full of barbed wire fence tears, grass stained and very faded. Out in the middle of nowhere in very rural Austerlitz what we wore didn’t matter much because we rarely saw anyone back then, and neighbors and relatives had grown up the same way. Add a little water to us and pretty soon we were as good as new.

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