October 30, 2011
Living water. What does that mean? Keepers of the Waters uses this phrase often and I have a vague but informed idea of its definition. In a sentence I might say that it is unencumbered, moving water that contain elements of life-giving nutrients and devoid of toxic pollutants and suffocating detritus. But I sense that the idea of living water is deeper than that, a spiritual reference and a calling to our souls. Why do I sit next to a natural spring, a creek or river and become mesmerized in its beauty, sound and movement and am inspired to feel something of ‘awe’? It has an actual physical existence; I can identify scientifically its molecules of hydrogen and oxygen, and notice its shape, texture and other qualities. And yet, at the other end of the spectrum, from real to profound, I understand that it is the creator of all life on earth.
Water is the creator of all life on earth.
Traveling in remote Tibetan regions with Betsy, Marni Rosner and Lhacuo, our research and documenting collaborators, I felt this. I felt the inspiration of life, the experience of the fertile land, the abundance of flora and fauna, and the day to day living of animals and humans in the landscape. We traveled by car for days through roads that are indescribably rough and dangerous, around mountain contours that inspire bursts of song and witnessed the incredible changes that modern human existence is imposing upon the landscape - like massive road building and instant new villages higher on the hill as the waters rise behind mega dams. And we continued on with even narrower roads more precipitously on the edge of the mountains into an existence removed from any semblance of modern life. Shangri-la? Maybe not, but nonetheless isolated and free from the pressures of contemporary existence, at least for now.
We have gone through all this to visit the head waters of a tributary to the Litang River --- documenting a sacred water site nestled in the midst of a stunning valley surrounded by three mountains in Sichuan Province, China, a two day drive from Muli City. I notice eagles floating in the swells of warm air on the distant ridgeline with forests of fir trees deep in the soils of the mountain edge; a rich sampling of diverse flora that accompanies the expanse of scenery; and luscious man-made garden terraces that hang on the hillside close to the grouping of ancient stone-built homes. Lhacuo has filmed several village elders as they tell their story of the water in their native tongue. Not speaking the language, I fail to recognize the words but I see that it is with passion that they speak about this place.
To reach the springs Betsy, Lhacuo and I join a group of Tibetans in a trek up from the village to a mountain plateau that once held a large and impressively important monastery. We are standing in the midst of 800 year-old ruins that imply grandeur and a sophisticated civilization that we can only guess at. From here, we continue through the paths to an open meadow with horses grazing in the distance. What a sight! Bucolic, nurturing, pastoral are words that come to mind. And, on the other side of the meadow, the texture changes to a vertical repetition of brown and grey toned trees that shadow our path and literally deepens our experience. What a place!
And then we sight the springs. It’s an incredible image as my jaw drops and my feet quicken to reach the edge. It is an experience that surrounds and envelops all my senses. The smell is fresh and earthy with hints of sweet herb and the sight is overwhelmingly filled with bubbling, moving, cascading spring water that filters through a low-lying blanket of luminescent green moss and calcite terraces. The sun cascades down and the water accepts its joyous presence, warming the surface and reflecting hues of color. The water is clean and pure and washes over my hands like a soothing light oil. And the sound simultaneously is the backdrop and the ‘surround sound’ amplified a thousand times in little vignettes of rhythm and movement. It gurgles, it splashes, it beats to the sound of a heart, and it creates its own music.
This is living water. I am standing in the midst of creation. I am standing in awe of the universe and all its mysteries. It is life evident. The trees, the berries ripening on sporadically placed bushes, bugs, little things moving and growing in the surface of water and grass, and lower down the valley, the barley and corn ready to harvest, and the babies who are carried from their homes to greet us. This is life. Living. Water.
“Sometimes I feel like a mad woman at 70 years old trying to visit almost every water site that I am told about in Western Sichuan by whatever means possible -- horse, jeep, and hiking at altitude. Some of the water sites are seeps, drips in remote caverns, some pour forth from caves and others are wells, springs in upland meadows. At each location, we are taking a GPS reading, tasting the waters and talking to people about its history along with extensive documentation that includes filming, photographing the site and recording sounds. Many are on the verge of disappearing forever.
“Am I searching for an elixir of life? Is there such a thing? No, at least that was not in my mind and, yes, there is an elixir and it is 'living water’. Just this summer I attended a workshop in which I could see the movement of alive, good water. It makes such sense that this element, this H2O, made life. Drop a colored drop of such water in another such water and it makes forms, many, in the shape of a camel, an octopus, a fish, a heart. No, that drop does not disappear into the water, losing its shape. Hold a drop of water near to another water surface and they begin to oscillate together. We are water. We pulse, we oscillate and our hearts and minds do that together. They are two parts made from the same cells that communicate constantly, interdependent forever. When we came upon the springs that feed into the Litang River we were at a humming, bubbling elixir of life.
“Our research and documentation of 4 years are now a record of the changing processes that are happening rapidly with damming, extraction etc. These sources, and there are millions around the world, must be preserved as a common resource for this earth and all living beings. We cannot be alive without these waters.” Betsy Damon
The subject of water is a perfect point in which to talk about the connection of a commons community and the environment. Yes, water is absolutely vital to hygiene and sanitation, but to ensure that water is kept clean and available, we need to talk about industry, access, and land stewardship. All aspects of caring for the environment, whether it is taking care of forests, sustainable agriculture practices, industry use, directly relates to the health of water sources and thus the possibility of human rights.
If you like this newsletter, please help us build a rainwater harvesting program in a village up the mountain from the Litang River that we also visited this last trip. They have sadly lost their town spring, their only source of water due to the extensive dam building below. We need $10,000 for the whole project from analysis to the actual rainwater harvesting containers. Your contribution will directly benefit the people in this village and will mean that they can continue to live in their homes that have been there for generations.
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Betsy at the UN: The Power of Collaboration
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Documentation of Betsy Damon's talks in Logan Utah
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Website for Living Waters of Larimer
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ArtPlace Grant for Living Waters of Larimer
March 03, 2015
Living Water of Larimer Workshops
February 15, 2015
January 28, 2015
Press for Living Waters of Larimer
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2015 Fundraiser - Original Prints from Betsy Damon
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Betsy at the International Water Conference
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The Keepers Board Convenes
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February 18, 2011
The Dream of a River
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News from Betsy Damon and Keepers of the Waters – May 2010
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Great news from Keepers of the Waters and Betsy
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Betsy Leaving For China
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News and Projects
November 21, 2007
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Water - The Link in Our Life
June 24, 2006
May 23, 2006
Betsy in China
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Water Exploratoriums in Oregon, Public Art in Beijing
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Volunteer Opportunities in China
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News from China