Conversation Between The Rivers And The Freeways

I was on my way to a morning workout and listening to my local public radio station, WFUV, when I was struck by some of the lyrics in the song From A Window Seat by Dawes.

And I find that the hero in this song that I am writing
Doesn’t know he’s just an image of myself
But as much he resists the conversation between the rivers and the freeways
He’s somehow always asking them for help

Part of the challenge of making meaningful change in how we as a society manage our water resources has to do with our attitudes about water as a part of our lives. On a daily basis we view it in utilitarian terms when we encounter it — we use it to cleanse our bodies, cook our food, wash our clothing, flush our toilets. We remain distant from the many “hidden” ways in which we use water — such as the approximately 240 gallons of water used to manufacture a smartphone or the 660 gallons it takes to make a hamburger, according to the Water Footprint Network.

Those of us who live far from the rivers, oceans, or other major bodies of water can become completely inured to the powerful beauty of water, viewing its majesty from a distance rather than through a close encounter:

A satellite view of the Northwest Passage in August 2016,
Source: NASA Earth Observatory

As the northwest passage sits somewhere below me as I sleep
I dream of captains and explorers eating boots
When I ask if I can join them and they offer one to me
I wake up as my home comes into view

So I reach out down for my notebook to see what impressions could be spun
But it’s just buildings and a million swimming pools
So I leaf back through the pages to see where I am from
Or for some crumbling map of what it’s leading to

How can we have more imaginative and productive conversations “between the rivers and the freeways” in order to find balance between our individual, societal, and environmental needs? Part of the answer lies in getting up close with water, discovering how it hides in everything we experience. For a simple way to get started, try this Water Footprint Calculator or the Product Gallery tool at the Water Footprint Network. These tools will give you an idea of how much “hidden” water there is in your life. We are always asking water for help — growing food, making clothing, building structures, creating technology.

Then, next time you have an opportunity, spend some time at your nearest body of water simply watching it. Take time to reflect on how long it has been there, how it has changed over time, and the resources it took to make that body of water accessible to you — the freeways that take you to the rivers, lakes, or beaches. Start to have the conversation.

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