In May 2000, during an arduous backpacking trip near Parry Sound, I came down with what I thought was a case of the flu. There’s nothing quite like having to go to the bathroom every fifteen minutes on a group excursion in rattlesnake territory on the Canadian Shield. There wasn’t even a bathroom to go to, and finding a private place without poison ivy and enough soil to dig a hole was an adventure in itself. When we got to our campsite my friend Barb sent me to bed and went down to a lake to filter some fresh water for me, because I’d finished all the water I’d brought from home. By the time evening rolled around I was feeling considerably better and I chalked the whole episode up to dehydration.
Sunday evening when I got home there was a message on my answering machine from a friend letting me know that the whole town was under a boil-water advisory. I lived in a third floor walk-up in Walkerton. For the next month I carried bottled water up the 36 steps to my apartment and put bleach in my dishwater. I was extremely fortunate to get off with a mild case of e-coli—six other people died. Although I spent a lot of time on the toilet during that surreal summer, we all received health-monitoring, compensation, and a provincial inquiry into what went wrong.
What I learned from the experience is just how much we take clean water for granted, and how important it is to our health and our happiness. Shockingly, over 100 First Nations communities in Canada do not have clean drinking water, and have not had it for years—and very little has been done about it.
One of the most central tenets of yoga and Buddhism is the principle of interdependence. All forms of life, from bacteria to elephants to humans, directly impact one another. If I dump toxic chemicals into the lake, eventually the effects of that will show up in my body, or the body of someone I love. If I’m pouring chemicals onto my lawn, I shouldn’t be shocked when the frogs start to disappear (the return of the spring peepers around this time of year is one of my greatest little joys). In the yogic view of the world, humans have great power, but they don’t exist separately from the rest of the natural web. Historically, millions of us have been taken out by bacteria too small for us to even see. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can always supersede the laws of nature. When we damage the environment, we damage ourselves. In a culture that espouses “me first” or “jobs first” we destroy the very resources that are fundamental to our survival.
I know that it’s an old chestnut, but I love this quote:
Canada, the most affluent of countries, operates on a depletion economy which leaves destruction in its wake. Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money. Alanis Obomsawin
Balancing survival with caring for the environment is a work in progress, and I am not holding myself up as a role-model. I also am struggling to be content, live simply, and to stand up for nature in whatever situations I can. I try to find battles that are big enough to matter and small enough to win. Regardless, I like to remind myself of the Star Trek phrase, that human beings are just “great big bags of mostly water,” and that the hydrological cycle means that we’re all sharing the same resource. So when the environment is under attack, for me at least, it’s personal!
May the well that you drink from be deep and clean,
PS The David Suzuki foundation is currently promoting an action alert petition to the prime minister about clean water for First Nations Peoples. If you are interested in signing the link is davidsuzuki.org/2water. Also, all Moksha Yoga Studios are doing a month-long fundraiser in April called #growyouryoga, with all proceeds being donated to the “Water is Sacred” project.
PPS Any thoughts on ways to preserve water, or local organizations that could use some support. Leave a message in the comments below?