In this week’s posting, Saskatoon writer Candace Savage reflects on the nature of water. Could it be that you’re all wet? (This excerpt is drawn from her award-winning book Prairie: a Natural History.)
Water is amazing. The droplets that collect in a roadside ditch, or that rain down on our heads, may have been in existence for billions of years, perhaps since the earliest beginnings of the universe. Originally derived from the cloud of roiling, boiling gases that gave rise to the sun and stars, water is a fusion of hydrogen and oxygen into a compound, H2O, that still participates in the restless energy of creation. It is constantly in the process of transformation.
That raindrop on your nose was, until recently, a cloud. And before that, those same molecules of water may have gone through countless passages from snowfall to spring runoff, groundwater to marsh, marsh to river, river to ocean, ocean to wind, wind to cloud, in an endless cyclic journey through the physical world.
And that is still not the whole picture. For not only is water capable of shifting from solid to liquid to gas—making it the only substance to exist in all three states under normal conditions on Earth—it also routinely makes the unfathomable leap from nonliving to living. The miracle of life derives from a thin, protoplasmic soup that, depending on the function of the cell, consists of between 50 and 90 percent water. (Our own tissues average out at about 50 percent.)
So that same raindrop, which by now is dribbling off your chin, has likely also made a journey through the living world. From rain to soil, root to leaf, leaf to goose, goose droppings to soil, soil back to air, it has flowered through the food web, moving freely from organism to organism. Has it experienced life as an amoeba? An earthworm? A brontosaurus in a swamp? In the shape-shifting world of water, stranger things have happened.