A prayer for water

I spent the last week of August secluded at a cottage on Fairy Lake. Touted as one of the jewels of the Muskoka region, Fairy Lake is also the gateway to Algonquin Park.

Calm in the early morning, churned into action by rainfall or the odd passing motor boat, and a natural mirror for glorious sun sets, Fairy Lake was very much alive. Yet, far too often, we take the restorative power of water for granted.

After my trip to Fairy Lake, I was invited to a “water blessing” organized by the Wellington Water Watchers (WWW), the Guelph-area residents group that’s been fighting water bottler Nestlé’s efforts to expand its water-taking operations in the region.

The hour-long celebration, which included a walk to the Eramosa River and potluck lunch, had me seeing water in an entirely different light.

Two dozen people comprised our spiritual circle. We were an eclectic group. Women and girls out-numbered men and boys six to one. Perhaps this is how it should be, since traditional First Nation teachings maintain women have a sacred connection to water, or Nibi. And in many developing countries, women and girls are responsible for collecting and carrying water from a central well or spring, often travelling miles before returning home.

This interconnectedness with water is something that we in the West have completely forgotten. Water ceremonies help us reconnect to these responsibilities.

WWW Executive Director Arlene Slocombe tells us that our health is intertwined with the health of our lakes and rivers. “When I pray for the health of our rivers, I also pray for all of our health,” she says.

Slocombe shared with us her daily practice of expressing gratitude to the river that passes close to her home. She often includes her daughters so they also learn to acknowledge that all life comes from water.

Then it was time for each of us to share a brief story about water. That’s when Paul, one of the participants, reminded us how access to water is “a fundamental fact of life” for many people in ways settler culture cannot imagine. He says he discovered that reality years ago while working on wildlife surveys in what is now known as Nunavut.

“Ice is the defining form of water in the Arctic. Ecosystems and Inuit culture and livelihoods depend on frozen oceans. Seals, walrus, whales and fish form the majority of the diet in the Arctic islands. Hunting depends on travel across sea ice most of the year.”

We were then invited to pour water that we had brought, and that held personal significance to us, into a communal vessel.

My contribution came from my backyard pond, which is home to countless small rocks and pebbles I’ve brought home from the various bodies of water I visit each summer. This summer’s collection was from Fairy Lake. Once the waters had time to mingle they were gently released into the river.