The Water is Wide, but It Connects Us All

Monday Morning Musings:

“The water understands

Civilization well”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Water”

There’s a spin instructor

At my gym.

She sometimes lifts her water bottle

And says, “community drink.”

When she says that

I picture a group of people

In a smoky old tavern

Passing around a mug of ale.

History brain.

And as soon as I think “history brain,”

Referring to myself

You understand,

I begin to ponder drinking in

Revolutionary Era America.

At the City Tavern

In Philadelphia

The bill for “55 Gentlemans Dinner & Fruit”

In September 1787

Went mainly for alcohol.

Madera, Claret, Porter, and Beer,

And don’t forget the “7 Large Bowels of Punch.”*

George Washington

Had a distillery at Mount Vernon,

The largest one in North America

At that time.

His hogs were fed the slops.

No waste on the farm.

Perhaps his neighbors

Drank to his health

With the whiskey

They bought from him.

Eighteenth-century toasting

At the table could be an ordeal.

With each guest toasting the health

Of everyone there

And on

And on

Till they could toast no more.

But perhaps it was better

Than drinking water in the city.

Dr. Benjamin Rush once

Lauded the murky water

Of an urban well,

Saying that its mineral waters

Could cure a host of conditions

From flatulence to rheumatism.

But it turned out its peculiar scent and taste

Was due to its connection to a privy.


I guess the doctor is not always right.

Well, well.

There’s a scene in A Town Like Alice

Where an Englishwoman

Returns to a village

In Malaya,

A place where she lived and toiled

During the war

After the Japanese took control

And force-marched her with

Other women and children

Over hundreds of miles.

She had money after the war,

An inheritance,

I think,

And so she goes back

To ask the headman of the village

To let the women have a well.

A small thing

But huge to them.

The scene has stayed in my mind

After all these years.

And I think about how in many parts of the world

Women and children are at risk every day

Because they must fetch the water used for



And washing

From miles away.

They can be assaulted

Or kidnapped

Or killed.

And women in some places

Do not have sanitary facilities

During their monthly periods

And so they cannot go to school

Or to work.


Those of us who have it

Take for granted that we can turn on a spigot

And there it will be.

And I just realized we haven’t seen

The Walking Dead survivors boiling water

To drink

Not that I remember anyway,

I could be wrong.

But then I guess if you’re already

Infected with a zombie virus

It doesn’t matter much

About the water.

Water from faucets,

Wells, springs, and rivers,

The Amazon,

The Nile,

The Thames,

The Tiber,

The Ganges,

And the Delaware

That flows not far

From my door.

The Delaware River from Red Bank Battlefield

The Delaware River from Red Bank Battlefield

All giving rise to cities

And civilizations.

And the oceans–

The magnificence of whales

Killed to supply people with

Oil for lights and corset stays.

The tides call to them

And to us.

I think about my four-year-old daughter

Twirling and jumping on the beach,

Sheer delight at seeing the ocean

For the first time.

Then the day both girls

Were terrified by a storm

That arose suddenly

On that same beach

As if Poseidon himself

Had awakened–

But was not very happy.

Nothing like a grouchy god.

Air and water blended

Into a mist,

The sand whipped us

In tiny, stinging pellets

As the wind howled

And the waves crashed.

And then just as quickly,

All was once again calm.


And life.

Playful otters

Who cavort in rivers

And salmon that swim upstream

To spawn.

Fanciful beings who

Live between water and land,



The Lady of the Lake,

And Nessie, too.

We build bridges over troubled waters.

And we sing in the rain.

We paint water lilies

And glance at reflections,


And ripples

Time passing

On the water.

I'm fascinated by reflections on the water. Knight Park

I’m fascinated by reflections on the water.
Knight Park


We humans spend nine months

In a fluid-filled sac,

Emerging from the womb

To gasp, breathe,

And let out that first cry


“I am here.”

Like our ancestors

Who surfaced from the sea

To build a life on land.

But still,

The water calls.

Spinning thoughts

As I pedal

And the wheels turn.



Though the water is wide.

Raise your glass.




* “Entertainment of George Washington at City Tavern, Philadelphia, September 1787

Merril D. Smith, The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2015).

A Town Like Alice (miniseries 1981 with Helen Morse, Bryan Brown, and Gordon Jackson) based on Nevil Shute’s 1950 novel.

There are so many versions of the folk song, “The Water is Wide.” Here is James Taylor singing it.

25 thoughts on “The Water is Wide, but It Connects Us All

  1. You really took us through time and space in this lyrical treatise on water, Merril. Such a creative reflection on water should have an audience beyond this blog: ecological website? print media?

    Sadly, the lack of water is a fact of life for many, which reminds me of Coleridge’s line from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink,” often a result of pollution in third-world countries. I know there are organizations that purport to address this problem, but I wouldn’t donate unless I could verify their trustworthiness.

    I especially enjoyed the reflection at Knight Park. It reminded me of Monet but with a different palette. Super musings: an A+ in my books!

    • Thank you for your very kind words, Marian, and an A+, too! Woo hoo!

      I also thought of Monet when I saw the reflection in the water at Knight Park. I’m glad my photo made you think of him, too.

      You are right about pollution and being cautious about donations.

  2. A truly wonderful piece of reflection Merril. To top it off with James Taylor is an undeserved treat, thank you.
    I leave you with just one thought in these days of conservation. Save Water- Drink Wine.
    xxx Ginormous Hugs xxx

  3. A marvelous salute to the universal solvent …. Amazing how cities and towns throughout the ages and across the globe were built along waters … what a driving force for growth and expansion.

  4. What a wonderful ride on your words and images, Merril! I remember that story from A Town Like Alice. It reminds me of my husband’s tour in the Peace Corps, in Ecuador in ’85-’86. His purpose was to help build potable water systems. It wasn’t easy, even though the villages needed cleaner water for drinking. Many didn’t understand the need. But it’s a fundamental need for us all, one most of us take for granted now.

    • Thanks so much, Marie!
      I’m glad you remember the story from A Town Like Alice, too. It sounds like your husband did some important work. You should be very proud of him.

      And I’m glad you have some great treats for your NaNoWriMo. I think good chocolate is especially important. 🙂

  5. Merril, I am enjoying your stream (get it?) of consciousness poems. One of the phrases that connected with me was “history brain.” I am not as infected by this disease as you are, but I too enjoy history. One of the things that fascinates me in this stage of life is which facts and stories “stick” in the brain over time and which ones don’t. We obviously are alike in this regard.

    Why do I remember Israel Putnam saying “don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes?” Because my junior high history text book used that phrase as a way to explain the inaccuracy of muskets in the 18th century. Now I discover that the old prevaricator Parson Weems might have been the source of that story. Well, too bad. It’s stuck in my brain and forever attached to Israel Putnam. 🙂

    • Thank you, Shirley!
      It’s a funny coincidence that I recently heard someone ask about that phrase. I was listening to Radio Times, a Philadelphia NPR show, and they were doing a mixture of interviews and calling it “the Revolutionary edition.” There was an old interview with Jill Lepore discussing her book on Jane Franklin, and there was one with a historian who wrote a book about Bunker Hill. He said that the quote probably was not said like that (good old Parson Weems!), but apparently someone did say something similar. From what I’ve read, it’s likely that many people said similar phrases, which as you said, had to do with the mechanisms of 18th century weapons. I don’t think there’s any proof that Putnam said the words, but many probably thought and perhaps said similar things.

  6. Reading only now Merril thank you for this wonderful ode to water. And reminding us that many have no access to it’s life-giving properties. From the sublime of the oceans to the mundane of water faucets, such a graphic juxtaposition! … Wasting of water, pollution of it – it makes me sad. Here in SA, especially up on the highveld, we’re experiencing drought conditions. Oh for rain, for the animals and the land, for our gardens, for those who are thirsty ….

    I’m saving your piece. Have a lovely weekend.

  7. Beautiful tribute to water, Merril. I love your reflections (in words and images!). I have spent a good deal of my life around water. An astrologer once told me that my husband and I are incompatible, but as long as we lived near water, we’d be fine. I thought it was silly, but maybe she was right. We’ll be celebrating 40 years of marriage next year, and we have lived close to or on the water for most of that time. On the Ohio River, near a pond, and now near pond, creek, river, sound, and ocean.

    Thank you for the link to James Taylor, too. Beautiful song. 🙂

    • Thank you, Robin.
      I noticed that your former Ohio home was also close to water (I didn’t know it was the Ohio River), but it’s interesting that all of your homes have been near water. Funny about the astrologer. 🙂

      There are many versions of the song, but I liked James Taylor’s for the blog.

      • My last Ohio home/property had a 1.5 acre pond. It was the Ohio home before that where we lived along the Ohio River (in southern Ohio where Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky meet — and oh the stories I could tell about living in Ohio Appalachia). I was surprised by how different southern Ohio was from northeast Ohio. Only a five hour drive between the two, but northeast Ohio provided a lot of snow, cold, and ice in the winters. We rarely saw snow in southern Ohio. Mostly cold, rainy or drizzly days. I’d rather have snow. The politics between the south and north of Ohio are world’s apart, too.

        M and I have moved around a lot, but there was always water either nearby or on the property we rented or owned.

  8. WOW! This was such a simple yet complex theme, and you conquered it so eloquently! Bravo, my friend. I’ve not heard of A Town Like Alice before, but now I want to research it. And between that, the history, the storm, and the connectivity, you sucked me in and kept me captivated the entire time I was reading. Have a great week! ❤

    • Awww.. .thanks SO much, Rachel! I’m glad you liked this post, and I appreciate your comments. Hope you like A Town Like Alice if you find the book or mini-series. It’s been years since I saw or read it.

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