What is water? What is a river, or a lake? These are the questions that come easily to mind during a vacation week on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan. The lake water is constantly in flux, calm or stormy, blue or green, with waves going left or right, and water clear or murky. We can describe the water with words or pictures, but what, really, is that water?
A conference on “Steps Towards Discorvering the Intrinsic Nature of Water” will be held in Blue Hill, Maine, on July 31-Aug. 5, to address the question of what water is. My friend and colleague, Jennifer Greene, director of the Water Research Institute, is organizing the conference (click for details) along with Wofram Schwenk from the Institute for Flow Sciences in Germany, and David Auerback, a professor of fluid dynamics. They take their inspiration from the philosopy of Rudolf Steiner that there are lots of spiritual forces at work in our universe, and we can learn about them through careful observation of, for example, water.
Western culture has decided that water is a resource and not a spirit, and that bodies of water such as Lake Michigan are pools of resources to be exploited for the material benefit of people. That philosophy drives water development in a particular way, with debates about the details riding on the question of what strategies can yield the greatest benefits for the most people. Re-orienting water development towards a concern for the wellbeing of the lake itself requires a different way of conceptualizing what the lake is. That’s what this blog, and the Water Culture Institute, are trying to do.
To get beyond our own cultural categories that tell us that Lake Michigan is a giant pool of resources, we can engage in a bit of cultural therapy simply by observing the lake and seeing what’s out there. What does it look like? Does it look like a resource? Does it look mysterious? Sacred? What color is it? What is the shape of the water as it touches the air? As the waves crash onto the shore?
I engaged in a bit of therapy during the past week on the shore of the lake, in Lilly Bay, just north or Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. I spent a lot of time looking at the lake and as Socrates (I think) said about the river, you can’t see the same lake twice. The colors and the waves are always in flux.
There’s the classic blue, or “wine dark” as the Greeks described the color of the Mediterranean.
In the early morning there is usually a red glow from the rising sun, which I only rarely managed to see;
and at night, the lake becomes black, except when illuminated by moonlight:
The sand on the lake bottom gives a tan, green, or yellowish hue when the water is calm, and the subsurface texture can shine through.
And there is a lot of white color along the shore, as the blue waves get transformed into white froth as they hit the shore…