Ode to Dad and Mingo Creek
January 7, 2023
When we were children, our dad would take us on long Sunday drives. Dad’s driving style is “meandering” – he drives slowly, pulling over to let other people pass or waving people on at a four way stop. On our Sunday drives during childhood, the meandering gave us lots of time to observe the scenery through the car windows.
In his work life, Dad was a civil engineer. Most of his work involved projects to ensure water quality, access, and management. Our Sunday drives often took us past giant water treatment plants, reservoirs, or residential or commercial developments with drainage systems designed to prevent floods during heavy rains. We would slow down as we neared a particular site of interest to my Dad – I wonder today what he was thinking or looking for.
I could have been an engineer like my dad - I loved math and science. The summer before college I worked for him at the engineering firm he started and grew with two colleagues. One of my tasks was to put together a card catalog (remember them?), pasting abstracts of particular journal articles onto index cards and filing them alphabetically. These were journal articles about what I thought of as the “three S’s” – sludge, slurry, and sewerage (or was it sewage… or both?).
I could have been an engineer – would have had a ready-made job waiting for me after college. But c’mon – sludge, slurry, and sewerage? I was into studying relationships – PEOPLE stuff. And for decades I used my knowledge and training as a psychologist to help people develop healthy relationships with themselves, loved ones, co-workers, communities, a higher power. It was rich and intense and gratifying work – and it was a privilege to do this work. Even after retirement, I find that every day brings opportunities to think more deeply about relationships, especially about humans and the larger world.
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I am still, post-December-surgery, limited in terms of physical exertion. I can’t yet walk long distances, much less hike. So on my frequent trips to Mingo Creek, I have chosen a 50 feet or so stretch of creek bank to visit and observe – a small but beloved piece of the larger world. Oh the water in this small creek! Just in the last few weeks, I have seen the creek move through many different states. It (she?) has been frozen over, looking solid enough to walk across. There have been days with large chunks of ice floating, of transparent sheets of ice through which I can see brown water gurgling, not hampered at all by the ice above it. Recently, due to big rains and warming temperatures, the ice has thawed and the creek has deepened and widened, the brown water rushing roiling and rippling around boulders and fallen branches.
I feel like I have a relationship with this tiny corner of the world: I have become familiar with and developed affection for the rocks, the undulations along the creek bank, the twists and turns in the creek’s course. But something has occurred to me. You know how little kids see their parents when they are very young? How the parents don’t really exist for the little one apart from the time spent together? The child takes a nap, and kind of imagines, or believes, that Mom is just sitting there inert and unchanging until the child wakes up – then, and only then, does Mom kick into action. It takes most of us years to recognize that our parents are living, growing, changing, acting totally apart from us.
Without realizing it, when I near the creek, I am imagining that my old friend will be there to greet me – almost like nothing has changed since my last visit. It is sort of like - the water I am visiting today might look different but is basically the same water that I saw last week.
I should know better.
The creek is in constant motion, interacting with the larger world through such processes as evaporation, condensation, precipitation. Some of Mingo Creek water evaporates, condenses in clouds that are blown hither and yon by the wind, and rains on farmland – then ends up being taken in by us humans when we eat vegetables and drink milk produced on the farms. And then it is excreted from our bodies to rejoin the water cycle. Some will end up flowing into connecting waters, perhaps moving into the Ohio River, then the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Eventually Mingo Creek water may end up in a loch in Scotland, or in Mosi-oa-Tunya (aka Victoria Falls) in Zimbabwe, becoming part of the lives of people living in those places.
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For the last 15 years or so, my focus as a psychologist on relationships has expanded to include our human relationship with non-human parts of nature – plants, animals, water, rocks and mountains, air – and how good attention to these relationships might enhance our well-being. Or how our neglect or inattention through pollution, waste, or climate disruption fosters ill-being, deterioration, and destruction.
Our relationship with water may be the most essential one we have, as the animal beings that we are. Water is not “out there,” separate from us. We are inextricably connected to it. Over 50% of our body weight is water. We are part of the water cycle. Water connects us ultimately to every other living being on the planet. Without water, life on earth as we know it is not possible.
Thank you, Dad, for the work that you did to protect our water. Thank you for more recent conversations about how some of what was done in the past in water management (like building dams or changing the course of rivers) had many unintended negative consequences that we need to learn from.
I didn’t know it at the time, but on those Sunday drives, you were planting in me seeds of awareness of the importance of safe, abundant, and clean water, seeds that are coming to fruition and leading to deeper learning for me decades later. (And, P.S., you also instilled in me a love of long meandering drives!)
My dear friend Sharon Eakes, via her friend George, shared the following Barbara Cecil quote with me:
“The work of these times is not about saving the world,
but in belonging to it more fully.”