Taking a little food, a light walking-stick,
I wander up to my home in quiet mystery,
the path along streams winding far away
onto ridgetops, no end to this wonder at
slow waters silent in their frozen beauty
and bamboo glistening at heart with frost,
cascades scattering a confusion of spray
and broad forests crowding distant cliffs.
Thinking it’s moonrise I see in the west
and sunset I’m watching ablaze in the east,
I hike on until dark, then linger out night
sheltered away in deep expanses of shadow.
Immune to high importance: that’s renown.
Walk humbly and it’s all promise in beauty,
for in quiet mystery the way runs smooth,
ascending remote heights beyond compare.
Utter tranquility, the distinction between
yes this and no that lost, I embrace primal
unity, thought and silence woven together,
that deep healing where we venture forth.
-- Hsieh Ling-yun (385-433), from Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, David Hinton, translator, New Directions Books (2005)
* * * * *
Is there any liquid more delicious to drink than clear, clean mountain water? In the view of many of us, not likely. If there’s an elixir of life, that could easily be it.
The quality and taste of tap water can vary greatly, and piped water sometimes has traces of toxic chemicals and other undesirable ingredients that aren’t tested for.
The best tap water comes from natural sources, but it doesn’t stay pure on its way to our faucets. It can’t rival spring water that comes directly from pristine sources.
Granted that most of us don’t live in a location where we can readily imbibe such unadulterated water -- except when we’re out hiking or camping, of course.
Claims are often made for the healing powers of mountain water. This may seem a bit of a stretch, but anyone who has soaked their feet in a wild stream, or immersed themselves in a mountain lake, knows that it can feel unexplainably wonderful.
There was a time, as recently as the 1970s, when many hikers -- including yours truly -- frequently drank directly from mountain streams when we crossed them.
Unfortunately, in recent decades the incidence of parasites and unhealthy bacteria in streams has increased, primarily -- you guessed it -- for human-related reasons.
On hikes we sometimes drink directly from springs, where the water emerges from a mountainside. Once water flows above ground there’s a risk of contamination.
On our camping trips we use “water purifiers” (filter pumps and other devices) which effectively remove any bacteria or parasites, making the water 100% safe and not affecting the taste (boiling is another option, but it creates a “flatter” taste).
Mountain water often has an especially high mineral content, which adds to the potential health benefits of drinking it. That holds for some expensive bottled waters as well, but these have the unhealthy drawback of being stored in plastic for weeks or months (meaning minute amounts of plastic are likely to leach into the water).
Although there are water shortages elsewhere in the US and the world, thankfully in the mountain areas where we hike and camp there’s a super-abundance of pure, free-flowing water.
And it’s no secret that wilderness waters -- in the form of streams, rivers, and waterfalls -- also happen to offer some of nature’s loveliest sights and sounds.
-- Charlie Cook