By Daniel Montero
Reading Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks this morning came across this entry: “winterbourne, a creek dry in the summer and running in winter.” A course of water borne by the winter, born in the winter. Born on a good winter. It reminded me of a winter afternoon we hiked in the Mesa, Pine Forest’s easternmost ridge, tipped by the notable crag of Sentinel Peak. We left our car along the county road and climbed up the basalt ridge line until we were high above the desert. We looked south across what was—just a blink ago—an inland sea while high fast clouds moved quickly along the passage of the planet. In Annals of the Former World, John McPhee writes, “lakes are so ephemeral that they are seldom developed in the geologic record.” The lake bed below us, with watermarks washed into the rocky hillsides for a hundred miles as far as we can see and farther, is just a splash of the ocean that was and will be again. There was fresh snow on that winter afternoon and the Mesa was uncharacteristically white, so that high above the playa we floated on a different kind of ephemeral lake.
A few weeks ago I reread this passage in Craig Child’s beautiful book, The Secret Knowledge of Water, “We are not as ephemeral as clouds. We cannot dissipate at the first downtrend in humidity, then expect to re-form elsewhere.” Remembering being on that ridgeline, with snow blowing around us that would be gone in a day if not hours, and with the remains of an ancient lake at our feet stretching as far as the eye can see, I think that maybe we are more ephemeral than clouds, who also graced the sky of the dinosaurs and beyond. And even more so: we’re not going to re-form anywhere. Reading and thinking about the water moving along, appearing and disappearing, I realize that it is only reappearing and disappearing for our eyes, that ephemeral as a word and a concept is only a matter of perspective, and from that perspective, from the vision of our bodies as we make our way along the planet’s curve, the water disappears and reappears. But it is always there and we are what is just transitory on this sphere, as Child’s writes elsewhere, we are in fact mostly giant bags of water. Ephemeral water.
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