Friday, August 07, 2020

The clear, cold trickle is summer’s refreshment

| July 16, 2020 1:00 AM

The first one was green and s-curved into the yard like a rubber snake between the cement slab at the bottom of the cement steps and along the cracked cement sidewalk that wound from the front door to the garage. The faded garden hose lay in the yard with the dandelions, sputtering water that made the lawn soggy because the faucet was left on.

We ran to it sweating, wearing the T-shirts our moms bought at the same store where all-beef franks were sold with bleached bread and garden seeds.

With a thumb pressed over the end, we shot water into the sky and stood under the falling spray with our tongues out, then drank from the metal end, all of us taking turns, along with the dog and the barn cat.

The hose was dragged to fill the stock tank where the heifers bawled and then returned to the front yard and attached to a sprinkler head.

Sometimes the chickens, the one or two with adventurous spirits, pecked at the working end of the hose or lay down in the puddle by the nozzle and fluffed themselves in its spray.

A lot of animals and kids had a turn at it.

The garden hose was pretty useful that way.

In a different part of the world where I had gone to take photos and write stories about brave men and women mostly, a member of the service said he had been to the front lines of this particular war — located anywhere outside the safety zone, which wasn’t that safe by most standards — and he had drank from the water bottles of line Marines!

He said this with great gusto and a certain amount of complexity. Then, with what he may have considered a sort of right of passage, he handed over a water bottle after drinking from it. The temperature hovered vulture like in the upper reaches of a mercury thermometer as we passed the bottle around.

A friend who gill-netted sockeye salmon on the Alaska peninsula drank only beer because the water was no good, he said.

Colombia, same thing. The beer was warm and we shared it before walking from the jungle into town where a braying donkey followed us to a cantina. We sat exhausted, dripping sweat and methodically consumed a half rack of Coca-Cola one small, green, glass bottle at a time.

The second hose was like the first one, but it was new and less stiff and we shared it with the horses that learned to drink from it, and the pointing dogs that like the horses were skittish and afraid of being sprayed.

Water is a precious commodity in any season.

These days, drinking from a sealed bottle seems most judicious.

But who can begrudge us the memory of laying on our bellies, sidling up to a stream of cold ground water we heard while hiking up high through the shadows. Its sound faint but distinguishable. We looked and found it. A small stream splashing out from underground over rocks and through moss and liverwort before disappearing back under ground.

We craned our necks and sipped at first. So cold.

Then we drank like the wild animals that probably shared the stream, filled canteens and we marked the place, but haven’t returned.

It doesn’t seem likely that we will, but we may.

More likely we’ll return to the tradition of a garden hose on hot summer days, or the spigot on the lawn hydrant that leaks into knee-deep grass, green, in a circle around it. There, a toad — looks to be at least a pound — lies flat and ghoulish under the rubber, livestock feeder pan. Its yellow eyes watch us as we watch it, while we take a drink.

So cold.

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Ralph Bartholdt writes from North Idaho. He can be reached at