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The Language of Water – How to Turn It Into Words

Water. You cannot hold onto it. No matter how hard you try, it will slip through the fingers of your cupped hand. It will trickle back through stream-rounded rocks and polished pebbles and then into the sand. How, then, do we capture this ephemeral feeling and turn it into words? I think about this as I walk through the dry wash with my dogs. It is 7:00 in the morning, and already it is warm. In another two months, the heat at this time of day will be difficult to bear.

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Water. You cannot hold onto it. No matter how hard you try, it will slip through the fingers of your cupped hand. It will trickle back through stream-rounded rocks and polished pebbles and then into the sand. How, then, do we capture this ephemeral feeling and turn it into words? I think about this as I walk through the dry wash with my dogs. It is 7:00 in the morning, and already it is warm. In another two months, the heat at this time of day will be difficult to bear.

For me, nothing tugs at the heart more than the music of his howl. His whole body sings: ears (nine inches!) thrown back, throat tipped to the sky, mouth in a wide ‘O’, lips tremulous with the sound of pure joy.  It is this howl that tells me I am forever in love. It is this howl that tells me I don’t ever want to lose him. “Look at me,” this howl says. “I am here. I am!”

Scout was bred to run; he’s a coonhound, and he comes from a family of back-woods hunting dogs. They tracked mountains lions and jaguar. When he was four months old, he became my running buddy. He couldn’t wait to get out and stretch his long, muscular legs. At first, we jogged down the block. My husband and I had trained him to fetch the newspaper, and he would stop at every driveway to pick them up. I had to go on a second run to put them all back. By the time he was a year old, he was a constant presence on my runs. I had a fanny pack I looped his leash through, and he led me on seventeen-mile excursions at a furious pace. When I was fried, he would look at me like, “Well? Where’s the coon?”

Now, our backs are failing. My knees. I can still make it through my morning jogs, with time off for injuries, but Scout has trouble walking. He has difficulty with proprioception, and he often knuckles on his rear paws, which makes me wince.  I have trouble with aging. As a wild hippy, giddy with youth, I feared it, and I fear it still. The difference is the bar; my college-aged self set it at thirty. Now, I refuse to put a number to it; they are all too large; they all terrify me. It is difficult for me to write these words, as if by keeping them to myself, I have not yet turned them into truth. Unspoken, they are still illusory—a glimmer of water—here, and then gone.

I feel helpless watching Scout slip down the backside of his years. I would do anything to stop it, but despite the underwater treadmill, the laser, the physical therapy, the slide continues, although perhaps at a slower pace. I would like to think so, at least. It’s like water. You kneel beside a mountain stream and you hear that sound, the rush of mercurial liquid over stone, and you bend down to drink. You cup your hands and plunge them in. You want to hold onto that jeweled stillness that rests in your palms, but you cannot. In the end, everything returns to its source.

And so, I will hold each moment that remains, catching each one and then releasing it. I will hear inside them the language of water and commit the sound to paper in a way that captures the elusive shine. Until Scout is too unsteady, I will continue our walks in the dry riverbed that before the population exploded, greedily sucking up every drop of sustenance the desert offered, flowed with clean, clear water year round. The stream fed a lush growth of cottonwood and mesquite that are now dying all around us. Dead branches litter the dusty ground; a scruffy beard of foxtails sprouts from the soil. But I won’t write about loss and death. There is still the surprise of coyote scampering through the brush, even the occasional joy of bobcat and deer sightings. The sky glitters with morning blue. Scout still has his spirit, and JillyRoo, herding him in the right general direction, will do her best to keep him safe. We can still throw back our heads and crack the desert silence to announce our presence. Look at us. We are here. We are. This affirmation of joy is the only thing I need to put into words.