Water : a unfailing companion throughout our history
Omnipresent, often untamable, pursued and revered, indispensable to our survival, yet dirtied and wasted. Water is nothing short of our planet’s “blue gold,” and has been an inherent part of human history since the dawn of time.
What comes to mind when you think of water?
Rain pattering against the window, magical first snowfalls, roaring mountain torrents, frozen purity imprisoned under ice. The babbling brook pouring into the river that runs down to the sea, penetrating the thirsty soil to bring the planet to life before being expelled as vapor to create the most astonishing clouds. This same lifecycle has continued since the very first traces of human existence.
“A drop of water is enough to create a world,” said scientist and philosopher Gaston Bachelard.
And it’s not for nothing that water is the very symbol of life itself.This shared commodity is a major part of our ecosystem. It covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, and is the main component of every single living being. As the protector and creator of all life in this world, it seems that water does indeed make us human. After all, more than 99% of our molecules are made up of this precious element!
Whether dormant or thundering, elusive or subjugated, water is capable of shattering rock and “bypassing all obstacles to go where it must,” according to a Chinese proverb. In its swirling depths we can read the story of humanity, as waterways were the first maps followed by our ancestors, Homo erectus.
Our hominid predecessors realized water was essential to survival, and saw the link it formed between heaven and Earth, and therefore between heaven and human. They sanctified water from their very first steps, worshiping the countless powers it conferred such as the ability to heal body and mind. “Water washes away the sins of the world,” so many have said. And every religion that has blessed great rivers, from the Nile and the Ganges to the Indus, the Jordan, and the Mekong, has believed in water’s capacity to purify and elevate the soul.
“Humankind is like water, from heaven it comes, to heaven it rises, before returning to Earth, alternating eternally,” wrote Goethe.
Water has been a source of inspiration for poets, writers, painters, and musicians, and continues to fascinate scientists even today. It seems the H²O formula still has a few secrets to reveal. “This thing that covers more than two thirds of our planet’s surface is still a mystery to us,” said Philip Ball, former editor-in-chief of the prestigious Nature journal.
Water steeps, soothes, creates life, washes clean, and renews. It is a natural miracle that we unfortunately often fail to treat as such. We have all seen the polluted streams and rivers that sweep along the stench of a society that consumes too much and too carelessly. Marine biologists have even found plastic particles some seven miles under the sea, trapped in the world’s deepest underwater abyss.
And yet this bounty of nature may one day abandon us. Around 40% of the planet’s population currently struggle to obtain clean water, and shortages and unequal distribution are one of the geopolitical issues that will define the 21st century.
We leave the final word to astrophysicist Hubert Reeves, who said “on a cosmic level, water is rarer than gold.”
Exergue: Water steeps, soothes, creates life, washes clean, and renews.