The Cherokee people call the river "long woman" as the she curves past their villages. A group of uptown New Yorkers call a woman who is taller than five-foot-five inches "a tall drink of water", as she sways past their stoop. Myths have portrayed water deities as female since the beginning of time: Oshun from Africa, Aphrodite from Greece, Ganga from India, and the Seal Woman of the Irish.
Water is a simple and essential substance, one with which we interact every day of our lives; the way we hold water in our collective psyche has a profound impact on how we shape our lives. Our lungs are 90 percent water, our brains are 70 percent water and our blood is more than 80 percent water. Water is defined by science as two particles of hydrogen and one particle of oxygen. It is an amazingly simple structure that sustains all of life. Water regulates our body temperature, moves nutrients through our cells, keeps our mucous membranes moist and flushes waste from our bodies. We need water to live. We need to drink it, swim in it, feel it in the soil and the air, and have it fall onto our heads.
That relaxed feeling you get at the beach, near the water, or after a thunderstorm is a result of the negative ions balancing the positive ones. Research has shown that we are physiologically prone to prefer landscapes with more negative ions. Computers, dry winds and stagnated air in office buildings all create an accumulation of positive ions in the air, which cause our bodies to tense up and drains our energy. The accumulation of positively charged ions that stagnate in dry air are dispersed with the rain. People naturally fill their lungs with fresh air as the body receives signals that all is well in the world again. Humans instinctively seek out these negative-ion rich environments. It’s like curling up with a good book.
There is an intangible, intuitive relationship between rivers and stories, which are two of my great passions. Stories lay the outline for individual understanding, for human dynamics, and for culture to arise. We learn how to interact with one another through listening to and living these stories. We recognize ourselves and our relationships reflected in the situations of the story, and then we find a way to solve the problems that arise based on what the characters have done. At our best, we learn to take different paths than those that are shown to cause imbalance and suffering.
But there’s more to story time than entertainment or morality; through the language of symbols it is possible to re-wire our physiology. Picture this: a tire forms a groove in a muddy road. The next car that comes down that path then falls into the same groove, and this groove deepens each time the car tires pass through it. Similar to tires in a muddy road, the memory that is embedded in an energetic groove along our neurological pathways from past moments informs all future moments. In this way, we become what we repeatedly think and act on. We are fundamentally wired by the stories we tell ourselves.
Maureen Murdock, author of The Heroine’s Journey, says that women find their way back to themselves differently than men do. Men move up and out into the lights of the world, but woman's challenge is to move down into the depths of their own ground of being. Water moves that way too, downhill and inward.
I am beginning to wonder if women are more fluid than men. If their liquid portion is higher. How else can we as a culture explain why women in particular seek external approval and are so thoroughly thrown off center when they are insulted? As a transparent liquid, water is highly influenced by the surrounding elements. In the earth, water turns to mud, in the presence of fire, she boils over, in cold air she turns to ice. Water loses herself easily when she comes into contact with other elements, as do too many of my female friends. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
A river creates her own pattern. She starts with a few drops of curiosity in one direction, followed by a trickle of play in another, and eventually the route is engraved for greater surges of creativity and streams of delight to follow.
Serpents of currents form over the land in patterns that may seem random, but these currents follow the law of their own hidden memories. The river these memories create feels her way along the earth’s surface, finding the way of least resistance, of acquiescent texture, and in this way she actualizes herself into the landscape as a sculptor, a painter, and a storyteller.
If women can recognize their watery nature and tendencies, and learn from the balance between river and banks, she can help bring flow back to life and landscape.
Eila Kundrie Carrico is an enchanting new voice in the American canon of nature writing. She celebrates culture and wild nature and awakens a felt sense of our human story as deeply embedded in the natural world. Visit her at EilaCarrico.com or on Facebook as Eila Kundrie Carrico.