The Search For Water

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Sproutin’ Spring, Hamburg Rd.

A year ago — right before I moved back to California — I took two day-trip adventures1 with my friendor2 Emilie in her red Toyota Camry convertible, checking off bucket list destinations I hadn’t visited in the past five years of DC living. Yesterday, while in town, we made a third journey.

When she suggested we drive to Frederick, “to visit my mountain spring and get water,” I didn’t exactly understand what she meant, but the success of the previous two adventures really indicated that whatever we were heading to would be more-than-fine. And, in fact, this was by far the most specific treasure hunt of the three. It was only well into the drive, that my Virginian companion noticed all three of our water-seeking-adventures had taken us into the territory of her bitter confederate rival of Maryland.

As we entered a town, I spot a comic book store with a Stormtrooper out front and a sign indicating it was Free Comic Book Day™. A holiday that always seems to find me unexpectedly.

For future reference — it’s the first Saturday in May.

I point at the mini-strip-mall parking lot — our first (de)tour of the day —  “Let’s… go?!” The store is large, well organized, and full of geeks and kids and board games and I pull the three most recent single issues of Saga, 1/4th of the way away from the next trade paperback that I have been collecting. For the record, I’ve never “pulled” a comic before.  That there are enough readers in my circle who I have convinced to read all eight of the trades, and I’ve been waiting four or six months or however long it is between trade releases, it felt like the right time to switch to being a legitimate comic book reader buying issues directly from the store (rather than the hipster bookstores or Amazon or, even, checking out from the library, as I had been prior). Emilie, after searching the children’s section for her Pink Panther, stumbles upon a King Arthur collection that looks a bit like Prince Valiant. In either comic, my mom would be pleased.

We’d parked in front of the Waffle House and as I am about to get back into the car witnessed the most overly apologetic young boy and his mother while he is just so sadly trying to get a pair of headphones out of his mom’s front seat next to me, rush someone now that we are looking to leave. I try to let him know that it’s “totally okay, we aren’t in any hurry” but for some reason, there are tears just underneath his timbre voice, passed-down and echoed by a sweet but overly timid mother, too. I don’t know what they were afraid of, but it clearly was something greater and more powerful than the two of us.

We aren’t further than a quarter-mile down the road when I point to the other side, a Play It Again Sports to the right, reminding me of my PT prescription I need to fill.  “We need to go there, next.” I find used golf balls and then decide to teach Emilie the basics of juggling (there are no basics, or of course there are; imagine a box, throw to the corners, etcetera), she finds a colorful, used, small outdoor basketball for the court near her new apartment, a frisbee (for her grandmother’s upcoming 90th birthday party competition), weights, and we each get a racquet or lacrosse ball to do our PT. Emilie is a big cross-fitter and I’m, well, I’m going to use the lacrosse ball on my shoulder and read about the fundamentals of cross-fittings.

As it turns out, we weren’t just in a town, we were already in Frederick.

In the historic looking downtown we eat Thai and visit another Free Comic Book Shop Day™, having warmed up to the whole endeavor and holiday, now claiming fifty-percent of our allotted six free comics (including a new series by Bryan K. Vaughn, the writer of Saga, that the first shop did not have) and Emilie purchases a copy of Monty Python Fluxx. At a discount.

We head out of town, toward Yellow Springs Elementary School, and the road slopes across hilly pastures and the houses are all beautiful in the way only these places can look, old and quaint and architectures of a different era and influence and Appalachian history. She turns the GPS off after we pass Yellow Springs, “that’s the landmark I use to get into and out of town.”

We pass into wooded areas and are climbing at the rolling foothills of a small mountain. It is green across fresh spring leaves on tall trees, she rolls the windows down despite the rain and slows down to smell the air. She explains where we are going and suddenly I’ve fallen into a myth-like expression of wonder and past life re-enactment like those grey soldiered cosplayers of the collective unconscious shooting smoke into the green-blooded stretched canvasses of the backyards of Gettysburg.

There are two five-gallon jugs in the back of her car, without tops, and the ziploc bags that fell out of her bag when we parked next to the kid with the held-back tears all begins to make sense.

This is a pilgrimage. To a source.

My mother always has talked about Vichy water. And my sister drops trace minerals in her waters and I’ve been noticing — as a lactose intolerant drinker — that if you close your eyes with the right dilution, traced water notes the sweetness of milk.

Can water taste good? Is it supposed to taste like anything? It certainly can taste bad? But so are we striving for an asymptote of invisibility, or elation?

And as a sensitive someone who has recently been experimenting with not drinking alcohol, and just really can’t or should drink caffeine, either, that this is kind of like going to the distillery or the coffee roasting factory in a mystical and holistic sense. In search of what we already are, mainly.

There’s something potentially religious about it. Something perhaps that I’m a bit skeptical of, too, despite an otherwise go-with-the-flow cavalier attitude to just see what happens when you just say yes to most things. Perhaps skepticism and religion are bonded like hydrogen and oxygen, two parts doubt to balance one of faith.

This spring (of which there are many in the area) is just on the side of the road. And there’s usually a line. When we arrive, near the trees with the red spray-painted marks and the fire road gate, only one truck is there and a migrant couple is filling up a dozen large blue jugs. Thanks to the rain, the queue is brief and then we aren’t rushed.

Emilie is excited and provides some greater context. She’s brought a lot of people here over the years and always worries if it won’t be as good. But it is, per her recollecting. This fretting is just like my journey to get Half Moon Bay chai, and about the same distance drive. Some people believe the water has healing properties. Some people drink it solely, as she did for a while, as their only source of hydration. I wonder aloud perhaps if that miracle is more of a leading or trailing indicator. If you begin the practice of sourcing water in this deliberate way, against the conveniences of the aqueduct,  you’re probably doing other things differently, as well. Perhaps just paying attention is the elixir and alchemical process, something about the ritual itself makes you more keenly aware. Like keeping kosher as a meditative reminder of a spiritual connection, which is what I talked about on the jet bridge before I accidentally sat myself (on purpose) into 13E.

“If in the course of drinking you get better, but it’s for other reasons, maybe it’s still magical water because of its origin?”

It does taste fresh. Not quite milk mineralized sweet, though. I think of the Cenotes that quenched the Mayan people. It’s also, and I just kind of wonder for a moment, like I did in perpetuity within the Yucatan, that perhaps the water might not actually be safe at all (and if anything without direct knowledge and experience is verifiable), despite the stories and the shared usage I see a clear set of evidence pointing to.

It’s also a stream. Ever changing. You can never be certain.

There’s a long pole creating a clear, powerful, uniform stream, and pallets have been laid down to create a platform area around the grotto to counter the marshy perimeter that runs to the road.  Can I trust Emilie’s repeated trips to get water here over the years? Can I trust the couple whose back trunk of their SUV was weighed down with 100’s of pounds of this water? Supposedly it’s from a freshwater aquifer, and there are 150 years of historical records about the collection of the spring.

I still have doubt.

I still marvel at the speed at which the fountain stream fills up my 750 ml water bottle.

After collecting, quickly, ten gallons and two bottles full each (in which they fill up so quickly it is as if they were never empty), we hike up to the top of the mountain, off-trail, across soft beds of leaves that have been laid down over years of seasons. The green across the treelines are soft and uniform and young like the old moss atop the quartz rocks. Near the summit is fleeting deer and at the summit a turtle pile of rocks and two pine trees isolated, out of place, like the white dogwoods blooming in scattered trees.


  1. The first trip was to Baltimore, mentioned in my first post as the demarcation milestone of the beginnings of this sabbatical. I googled and reddited for about five minutes before we left to decide what was important to see, circled back to the recently opened second venue to grab my camera, on one of the first event Saturdays in which I wasn’t on-site, and then after driving top down into Maryland, proceeded to tour the Harry Potter-esque Peabody Library, ascend to the top of their own Washington Monument, yoga stretch on the grass of a Mount Vernon plaza, also tour The Walters Art Museum, eavesdrop on four separate bridal party portraits taking place in a 2 block area, have thai for lunch, tour the Baltimore Museum of Art, drive around the marina area, walk in and out of a famous but kitschy bar in the Fisherman’s Wharf g-d awful tourist part of town, stumble into the backlot of The Wire while her car door flew open, play cards at a living-room bar across the street from the very popular crab shop, and then have an authentic Maryland Crab feast, and take photos in front of the Domino Sugar sign. It was a very good day with the top down. The next trip, a few weeks later, was to Annapolis, which was equally spontaneous and fun and again on Chesapeake related waters. We listened to someone playing the cue from the Interstellar soundtrack on a public piano and somersaulted across the Naval Academy’s practice football fields and nearly got stuck in their maritime history museum at closing after discovering it contained my ancestor’s silver wine coolers that had been aboard the USS Constitution. It’s a platonic friendship, and perhaps that is why these trips are so playful and free; but I have often felt they are a good model for adventuring through life with a partner. Have an idea, be ready to improvise, and just see what happens in the course of any and every day, in any direction.
  2. friendor (noun, portmanteau) a vendor befriended from the events world; typically a caterer.

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