Whispering grass sways delicately, its rustling all but obscured by the chorus of a thousand summer creatures. We leave the adults to their chatter and explore the garden that leads to a decrepit orchard the yields to a river bank strewn with egg like quartz stones. A thin solitary trickle makes it’s way in desultory fashion in the centre of the gleaming stones and we play. Absorbed at first in childlike activities, sister and I don’t notice the water level slowly rise until we see that our shoes and socks place far from the water’s edge are in danger of being carried away. We look to our right and in the distance see a shimmering dark shape that is the mountains. The water rises and rises and eventually we return to the party.
Later we feel the heat of summer become oppressive, and the clouds build. We go for a walk to a spring famed for its healing properties. Maize slumps in the humidity, sunflowers tracking the sun to the west, dark skies building from the Alps that gifted us their rain. The spring is in a little grotto of trees, a chapel beside it. A pheasant breaks cover as we approach. The water burbles from a split stone, and we each kneel as though to take benediction in church, and drink the metallic blood of the earth and sky.
On our return we notice the smoke from a barn, and with shocking rapidity flames and sickly sweet smoke starts to billow out the windows, started by the machinations of a trillion bacteria in the vast stacks of hay fermenting in the heat of the day. Before we can do anything the volunteer fire brigade arrives and we watch them pour water to quench the life from the flames.
Decades later on that last visit to a dying father I walk to that same holy spring, and feel my knees tremble with memory when a pheasant again breaks from the copse of trees. I hesitate before sitting in the green grass by the crucifix and try and empty my soul for a glimpse of peace, resolution, safety after the inevitable. I want to know that his soul will flow on somewhere, even if I can’t see it, like the arrival of water on a sunny day, heading to a vast ocean, to all oceans. Yearning.
I drink deep from the water, my knees stained in the mud of this holy spring, and it tastes as sharp and as clean as in my memory. I fill my water bottle, and think to take some to the old man, to heal his hurts, to hope for a miracle. But in the gathering dusk I realise that the healing of water is everyday, that we all imbibe from this wellspring of life giving fluid from our world. What good can this water do him?
The fields are turning that shade of purple and brown of evensong, and the grass stubble crackles under my feet. I taste the water and then stop as a little hedgehog ambles past my feet like clockwork. Can this water save him? Can it save me? What other God do I need but warm sun, cool water, clear skies, that I might make his memory stretch on through my stories, stretch on like a river winding from the mountains to the sea.