The Western Abenaki Dictionary by Gordon M. Day lists 98—I counted them—versions of the word water. They are so varied that I wouldn’t even dream of explaining all their subtle differences.
I have seen so much water recently that I am fascinated by it. My family and I were on an ocean liner for days, and I found it hard to take my eyes off the ocean’s beauty, vastness and its undulating moods—calm, choppy, rough, and everything in between. This was my first cruise.
I grew up by the shore and live by the shore with my family, and yet the power and depths of the water are still such a mystery to me.
When we arrived home from the cruise, the first thing I noticed was the contrast of the land to the sea—the thirsty dirt and plants in our gardens. As I replenished them, my mind began wandering, thinking about this vital resource some people take for granted.
Water is essential, primal and significant to our lives. I find it interesting that 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, and an adult human is comprised of 70 percent water.
On our cruise ship, I watched the excellent featured videos on the stateroom TVs. The video I found the most impressive explained how the ship used water treatment of the highest quality, and how food scraps were compressed and heated into mulch packets, which were then turned into fish food. They were wisely aware of the need for environmental responsibility.
Our country uses approximately 346,000 million gallons of fresh water per day; however, most of it is used for irrigation and thermoelectric power. Just a few years ago, a report from the United Nations declared there was enough water for everyone on Earth, yet access to it is restricted by political corruption and mismanagement, ineffective methods of delivery, and a host of other issues.
Drinking water, also known as potable water, is best for we humans, yet poor water quality and bad sanitation often make it deadly. It is estimated that some 5 million deaths per year are caused by polluted drinking water.
Can you imagine living in a third world country where there is little but wastewater containing sewage and other bacteria-laden forms of waste? Much wastewater can be put through filtration systems and treated to make it potable again.
One of the worst pollutants is pharmaceuticals used by humans. Not long ago in our town, a developer wanted to build over a hundred housing units for people 55 and older on the edge of a fragile marsh where birds nest and lay their eggs. The nearby salt water contained irreplaceable aquatic life. The sewage treatment container the developer wanted to use was proven to be inadequate to ensure that no pharmaceuticals would get into this marsh and seawater. His proposal was denied. Good.
Naturally, my rumination on water lead me back to how our ancestors used water, and how clean it was. They drank fresh spring water, and consumed no milk, sugar or alcohol, and they certainly had no fluoride in their drinking water. They were strong, straight and could run miles on a handful of parched corn, and rarely had tooth decay.
Wow! What progress we’ve made!
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.