9 comments on “reflective waters, still waters

  1. Today in class we discussed the definitions of “landscape,” “agency,” and “movement” in terms of water; however, as an ex-philosophy major, it is the definition of landscape that most intrigues me. According to lecture, landscapes are “culturally and historically well-defined environments that are topographically distinct and meaningful to particular societies…” but this begs the question of when does a “landscape” come into existence? While I realize the cliché of the riddle “if a tree falls in a forest but no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise” but in a way, that is how I am approaching this basic question of landscapes. Can a landscape form if there is no one around to name it thus? If we define it as being only cultural and historical places, then no, we cannot say it exists without the human element.

    However, what if we expand the boundaries of “culturally and historically” beyond the human species. If we allow all living things to create a cultural or historical relationship with their surroundings, then they too can create a landscape, meaning landscapes existed long before humans ever evolved.

    Finally, we come to the problem of what about an environment in which no life exists. There are rock formations, oceans, lakes, mountains, and rivers, but no life itself. In a situation like this, we must first review how the majority of human cultures have perceived water. In most communities, both present and past, water is personified as a living entity. This comes mainly from the motility of water, saying that it “flows,” “moves,” or “runs” which are all very living characteristics. Now let us go back to our thought problem of a lifeless world: can water in this world create a “landscape” or is it simply there. If water is a creature in and of itself than it can create the necessary boundaries for a landscape to form around it. While this may be metaphysically extremely redundant, it still negates the inexistence of landscape, and so, by contradiction, proving its existence.

    Now to REALLY mess with our understanding of a landscape, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a landscape is a “picture representing natural inland scenery, as distinguished from a sea picture, a portrait, etc.” This definition even more blurs the lines of what a true “landscape” is because now apparently it must be inland, and so disinheriting the largest source of water scenery on the planet, the oceans. But this is a discussion for another day. For now, let us assume that water can form a landscape without the presence of a human culture due to its ability to form a separate entity through the personification of its motility and existence.

    • Hmm… It is very interesting to think of all of the philosophical extrapolations and consequences that arise with the concept of water landscapes. I hope we get to discuss and debate this tomorrow.
      From my perspective, I look at definitions as relative, as everything can only be understood in context. If there is one thing that my experience as a science concentrator has taught me, it is that one word has a million connotations depending on who speaks it and to whom they are speaking.

      Therefore, in the context of art, landscapes are exactly as Oxford describes. In geology (one aspect of my concentration), a landscape has no formal definition but would certainly include rock formations, soil and sediment, the atmosphere, and the water and chemicals that flow through it all.
      Before life began, there was certainly a geologic landscape.

      Questions of existence requiring perception always boggle me, mostly because no one can ever know the real answer. All of the time since the universe began until life formed is pretty certain to have taken place… if that means anything… because we can perceive it all today.
      All of that was sort of obvious and Western perspective-y. But hmm. Too hard.

      One thing I do not like is the idea that water is excluded from the dictionary definition of landscapes. It is one of the most important factors in creating the land that we consider, so how could it be left out?

      In terms of archaeology and anthropology, the definition from the lecture seems to fit perfectly.

  2. Now for my own experience with water landscapes.

    My hometown of Ipswich, Massachusetts (on the coast, 45 minutes north of Boston, 20 minutes from New Hampshire). I like to think of it as one giant nature reserve, being one of the largest towns in the state by area, yet housing a population of only 12,000 citizens. With a strong focus on history and conservation that is appropriate for a town founded in 1634, thousands of acres of land have been preserved. Miles of trails sprawl through forest, beach (the type that does not abut streets and buildings), winding sand dunes, and around salt marshes and estuaries teeming with life. Such beautiful surroundings encouraged me to spend every free moment outdoors as opposed to those glued to their sofas indoors.

    The whole town centers around water. It was founded because of water, and first accessed by boat. Located on the Ipswich River, a milling industry developed and lace making built the town. Livestock was easily fed on the mass amounts of salt marsh hay that, besides protecting the town from floods, support one of the most productive types of ecosystem.

    For me, water is an essential part of my Ipswich life. Besides the “blue water” in our taps, water holds me and my friends together and formed a vital part of my education. One of the reasons that I became extremely interested in biology is because it surrounded me. My teacher constantly brought us out in the field to see magnificent birds as they paused on their journeys north and south.
    When the weather was beautiful but I had nothing to do, I would walk ten minutes into the woods surrounding my house and just sit by a marsh. To meditate, to contemplate, to make decisions, the relax. Just to hear the sounds of the natural world without the grating sounds of cars, sirens, and the artificially-created world.
    Almost every summer day, my skin would feel the cool embrace of slick, silvery silk as my body slipped into the water. I swim at the miles-long beach, the pond two miles from my house, the lakes that dot our aerial maps, and jump off every bridge at high tide. Ahh, high tide! A quintessential instance of water mapping and planning my day, expanding into a temporal space and becoming an agent appropriating my time. It also brings me closer to my friends, my family, all those that I love who share my passions. Water has forged connections with new people who love the same things I do, who can appreciate how magical it is that we can swim!

    And I almost forgot the most unique place of all: the Gloucester (pronounced: Gloss-ter) quarries. Here, the blasting and removal of granite down past the water table gouged out a huge chunk of earth. Ground water began to seep in, naturally forming a pool. I love this place, and it is also great for bouldering.

    In all, I feel that I interact equally often with the terrestrial and water landscape of my town. It has shaped my hobbies and my perspectives, making me cherish the natural world and providing me the ambition to later possibly work in environmental conservation.

  3. Trying to describe an environment, a scenery of any kind, as a landscape while thinking with the mind-set that a classroom creates for me is strange. The word “landscape” only comes to mind when analyzing works of art. However, as I sit here and reflect on last week’s readings, I understand that water is in itself a work of art in the various images, meanings, and emotions it depicts and reflects upon a person.
    The Bachelard reading, despite the amount of mythological references in it, poetically characterized water’s reflective abilities in a way that I never thought of before, considering that I never looked upon water as a mirror. It created an image of still water, a beautifully quiet landscape, in my mind. Nevertheless, the emphasis of the water’s dual nature in the second reading shed a new light on this substance for me. This is when “the word “agency” comes to mind.
    Although I was a bit confused about the context within which this word was used on Wednesday, I have a greater understanding of the meaning of it in relation to water. As Wednesday’s lecture describes it, water has agency in its “ability to have an impact in the shaping of the social, material world…[in its] capacity to act in the world.”
    Bodies of water have never played a key role in my life. Such environments are only images, more like dreams, that news, tv shows, films, books, and conversations have conjured up in my mind. From afar, I have a poetic vision of bodies of water.
    But up close, I’m wary of it because of how it shaped my world when I was younger. Its dual nature used to deceive me. A near drowning experience during a swimming test and sea sickness on every boat I have been on keeps me away from envisioning and enjoying the beauty that water can hold. In addition, the news has shown water’s murderous ways, the key role it plays in the world today, through hurricanes, tsunamis, etc.
    Nonetheless, visually, water has a quiet power that never ceases to amaze me, despite its duplicity. I romanticize it and value it, particularly more so today because the different aspects of water that the lectures and the readings have exposed to me.

  4. I lived my entire “pre-Brown” life in the Ohio River Valley, and because of this, the Ohio will always hold a special place in my heart. I remember going on long trips up the edge of West Virginia with the Ohio visible on my left the entire way up, and on the right for the return trip. This constant presence created a steadying effect. When my family moved prior to my freshman year of high school, we remained on the banks of the mighty Ohio and it gave something familiar in a new and different home. Through these years lived on the river, I swam, canoed, skied, and fished those waters. For me, the river was a place of fun and recreation, and I am extremely thankful for the fond memories I will carry with me from my home and I am sure that my experiences will greatly affect where I choose to live when I begin my life “post-Brown” in a few years.

  5. of all the experiences i’ve had with water – pleasant beach days, hikes along and across streams, canoeing down rivers, etc. – one particular experience stands out as remarkably memorable and distinct. last spring i found myself in a country which itself takes its name from water in its solid form – iceland. now we all know the cliché distinction between iceland and greenland (greenland is ice and iceland is green), but i beg to differ – iceland is simply less ice than greenland. but i digress.

    iceland is particularly known for its abundant store of geothermal hot water. there are municipal pools and hot tubs in every town which make use of this abundance, providing steaming hot water to these often outdoor hot tubs even in the coldest depths of winter. many icelanders begin or end their days sitting in one of these hot tubs. with little or no energy, these pools incorporate the naturally occurring hot water into everyday life. almost all hot water in iceland is geothermally heated. i remember the sulfurous smell the first time i took a shower in my hostel in reykjavík.

    the most intense experience of water that i had in iceland occurred on a (somewhat tacky and touristy, but totally necessary) tour of the golden circle – the highlights of the reykjavík-area interior: þingvellir, gullfoss and geysir. the first of these, þingvellir national park, is a rift valley where the north american and eurasian plates meet. streams run through strange and beautiful rock formations, sometimes apparent and beautiful, sometimes to be hidden underneath the rock, noticeable only by dropping a stone through a small gap in the surface and waiting to hear it splash. here’s a picture i took there: http://www.flickr.com/photos/galdrabok/6811763573/

    another stop along the way was gullfoss, a MASSIVE waterfall, pouring tons of milky white glacial water into a rift unobservable from the viewing platform:

    but the last stop was the most incredible. geysir, the namesake of our word ‘geyser’ used to regularly shoot a huge column of boiling water on a regular schedule (many times daily). now, however, geysir does not erupt as frequently (due in part to abuse by humans). luckily, strokkur, situated right next to geysir, erupts every four and a half minutes or so. in addition to these, scores of little pools of steaming hot water surround the area. there’s one very little pool where the water boils ceaselessly. an eternal boiling pot of water. bizarre. up in the hills behind, snow is mixed with colorful sulfurous rock. water exists naturally in solid, liquid and gaseous form here. the whole landscape transfixed me like no experience of water ever has.
    here’s the landscape:

    the most remarkable thing was the way in which strokkur appeared to be alive. in the moments before erupting, water would flow in and out of the center. there was something sea-anenome-like about its appearance. i can’t really explain it. then suddenly a turquoise bulb emerges for a split second. i was lucky enough to catch this:

    then the whole thing blows:

  6. I’ve had many experiences in life with water: lakes, streams, oceans, rivers, waterfalls, rapids, etc. However, when I was thinking about what one thing I would discuss about water it wasn’t necessarily a specific experience I’ve had (though many have been memorable) it is in fact my long standing relationship with a specific body of water. I grew up in Northern Westchester County just outside of New York City, and the area that I live in is home to the well-known New York City water. New York City water is kind of a being in and of itself. There are plenty of theories, and I believe some scientific facts on the composition of New York City water and why it tastes so good. Some people when talking about this water talk about how amazing it is that even in one of the most crowded cities, the tap water is still so clean and so delicious. Others make the argument that it is the composition of the water which makes New York City bagels and pizza (two of its finest culinary claims to fame) so good. Either way it is an interesting thing that New Yorkers (and I refer to the city dwellers here) take such pride in their water.

    The interesting part is then that for as many New Yorkers that talk about their water, I’d say only half or so even know where it comes from. I went to high school within the City limits and so many of my friends were from NYC. When they’d come to visit me in the “country” they’d laugh and joke about how far away I was, but, I’d remind them that all of their water everyday comes from where I live from. In fact, a whole town was relocated and then flooded when one of the first reservoirs for the city was being built, yet many people from the city wouldn’t know that we, as the water keepers, made these types of sacrifices for them, for water, we barely even drink. It instilled an interesting sense of pride in me I didn’t think I would have. The commuter culture that we have in my area where we live outside city boundaries in fresh air, but still work and rely on the city, then has an additional role, the city relies on us as well. We are the keepers of the water for millions. Our own water supply doesn’t even come from the NYC reservoirs that house such good quality water, my own town’s water is so chlorinated it’s hard to drink, but we take great pride in protecting the water of the city. The city water surrounds us physically as well, it is next to our commuter highways, it appears in mass in the center of our back roads that snake around it, pockets of it are found off the beaten trail often. It is interesting then, to look at this with the title of this course, as water is part of our culture, it was established by a great power, and now we have the power and responsibility to maintain and keep it safe for all those who drink it.

  7. I’ve spent every summer of my life on the small island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Being an island, water plays a very important role in the community. In class we discussed people gathering around water. Although original settlement on the island was a choice to live near water, rather than people gathering around water to use it as a resource, the water surrounds them. In my experience, this seems to create a sense of security and community in it’s isolation, but can also cause problems in emergencies, with the island’s lack of rapid access to the outside world. Salt water cannot be used for irrigation or drinking water, but it is integral to the community for its recreation purposes. The fact that a large body of water is close wherever you are on the island draws people to it. They bring their boats, relax on the beach, play beach volleyball, surf, water ski, tube, wakeboard, kiteboard and participate in any other water-related recreational activity. Without the water, Martha’s Vineyard would have little attraction.

    As far as healing goes, I’ve never heard of any cases on the VIneyard where water was used to heal, but in a more abstract sense, I’d say it’s constantly used by the community to heal. Recreational activities and just the look and sound of the ocean can help people mentally heal, as these have relaxing effects. People tend to go to scenic, calming places when they need to think or relax. On the VIneyard, this is generally the beach. In this way, the water is used to heal. As far as still water goes, as Sarah discussed in her post, I’d say that movement vs. stillness plays an important part in the community as well. It effects who gathers at the water (someone looking to surf or body board won’t go to the beach on a still day), the activities occurring on the water and the general atmosphere of the community around the water. Still water is likely to evoke a calm ambiance and feeling amongst the people in the communities surrounding water, while a lot of movement may not. Subtle changes in the ocean can have profound effects on Martha’s Vineyard.

  8. I am Native Hawaiian, born and raised on the island of Hawai’i. Not everyone in Hawai’i has a close relationship with the Native Hawaiian culture, but I certainly do. One of my middle names in Kai, the Hawaiian word for ocean. My dad always told me it was tribute to Kanaloa, the god of the ocean. Growing up, water was an enormous part of my life. I was a total water baby. I’d take any chance I could get to sink myself to the bottom of the ocean floor, or play in the waves…and I would never want to get out. When asked to tell my experience with water, I could talk about paddling outrigger canoes, the mythology of water in Hawai’i, my connection to the ocean and rivers, the meanings associated with the rain, the King and Queens sacred bathing ponds, the many healing powers water has in Hawai’i…I could go on forever. But I thought I would share a mythological story that I grew up with that I thought about every time I stepped into my favorite river.

    The Wailuku River in Hilo a very prominent landmark in Hawai’i. It’s a long, very powerful river that has countless waterfalls, places of stagnation, and at some places the appearance of boiling pots. It was a favorite spot for my friends and I. We’d go cliff diving, hang out in water tubes, slide down the natural water slides or see how far up the river we could go. However, in the back of my mind, I always knew it was an extremely dangerous river, with a giant “mo’o” or lizard creeping in the dark water, waiting to eat me. According to the story, Hina, the god of the moon, lived in a cave under the biggest waterfall on the river. But she lived in fear, for just above her waterfall lived a giant lizard who was constantly trying to kill her. One day the waters of the river rushed very powerfully and the waterfall grew thicker and thicker to the point that the lizard thought he could safely flow down into Hina’s cave. In fear, Hina called on Maui, a powerful hero, to come save her. When he came he had to ditch his canoe because the waters were too strong, so he tied it to the side of the river and ran up to save Hina. Everyone lived happily ever after. Except Maui left his canoe and the mo’o still lived. When I was growing up, people would die all the time in the Wailuku River. And everyone would say “the mo’o ate them.” There was also a huge rock in the shape of a canoe at the bottom of the river, which we all refer to at “wa’a o Maui” or “Maui’s canoe.” Every time I went in that river, I imagined a giant lizard lurking at the bottom, waiting for it’s next victim. But of course I loved the water too much to let that stop me from going in.

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