The Ripple: Hunting for Springs in Western MA

Spring Hunting

Spring has a leap of the leprechaun in it; who can deny that?—but spring’s called spring not because of its leapiness.  Spring’s called spring because of the upwelling waters that appear as the frozen earth thaws.

Right now is the best time to hunt for springs. We had a great ice winter, a record snow and some flood-causing rains, so the conditions are approaching perfect for finding the little springs that make Spring spring.

Why would parent and child hunt springs? Well—we’re pasty from sitting indoors for five months and, no matter the age, cobwebbed and crotchety.  A good hard bushwack, a mucky hill scramble is therapeutic. When the sun pours through the grey tree limbs, you can almost feel them swell like you swell, soaking the glow, craning for warmth, more heat, more nourishing radiation.

The trick to hunting springs is: you can only hunt springs that you don’t yet know about. If you know about them, it not possible to hunt them.

So, you have to enter a place, a terrain, a topography that is a mystery, and that draws you to it. It can be your backyard, or a town park, or wherever there isn’t too much pavement to occlude the upwelling waters. The best places are the ones where few things have been constructed—the deep woods, the sides of mountains, the banks of rivers. I suggest, though, that you start by trying to find a spring w/in a five or ten walk from your front door. 

Springs are formed by gravity. Rain water saturates, and courses beneath the surface of, the soil. It flows down, like rivers, from higher to lower altitudes. At points where soft meet hard geological substrates, where soil meets bedrock, the water seeps. The most pressurized springs are found at the bottoms of slopes.

Look for a hill or slope, and for rock outcroppings, that meet flat ground. You’ll feel under your feet the sog of saturated soil. Look closer for a bleeding spot at the head of the soggy area, and you might just bag a spring.

Last week I spotted a long Godzilla-back granite ridge in Chesterfield, and at its base was a grotto where beautiful walrus tusk icicles hung—a sign of a subterranean flow thereabout. I cleared away the snow and leaves and dug a small basin. Icy water soon filled it. I waited until the duff particles cleared, then drank from the pool. The flavor was sharp, mineral-y, with a hint of peat and flint. I’ll return in May with a sack of thin and wide river stones smoothed by eons of abrasion, enlarge the basin and line it with the stones. Then, I’ll hang a tin cup or better yet a bamboo ladle on a nearby branch. A secret mossy place it will be, where the mountain waters can be slowly and gratefully imbibed.

Note: Be very careful about drinking from springs you find—in fact, don’t do it unless you are 100% sure the water is good. Make sure no development has occurred above or near it, and that no giardia-sharing beavers live in the vicinity. I’d definitely avoid drinking from springs in one’s neighborhood. The one I found last week is far away from roads, even colonial roads, in a forest that hasn’t been logged since WW2, and there were no wetlands above it.

Acquire spring-hunting skills as you’d acquire the skill of meditation or yoga or playing piano. There is no need to rush. As in the act of learning these other skills, spring-hunting is an activity that reveals aspects of reality and one’s self that are miraculous—and one feature of that revelation is the new way of seeing how water threads the living mandala that is your biome, your bio-home, your “home of life.”

The goal of spring-hunting is to increase one’s awareness of how the earth transpires (which means: “pass off in the form of a vapor or liquid,” from Middle French transpirer (mid-16c.), from Latin trans- “through” (see trans-) + spirare “to breathe” (see spirit) [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=transpire].

Little springs are the sources of tiny streams which merge and form great rivers which feed the seven seas. That is a hydrogeological reality; but it is also a metaphor that informs us of a profound metaphysical truth: from secret sources are we made.

And what we are is roughly 70% water and 30% solids—a ratio that matches that of our living planet [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth#Surface]—something to consider the next time you sweat.

Like the earth does in Spring.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kurt Heidinger, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Biocitizen, non-profit school of field environmental philosophy, based in the Western MA Hilltown of Westhampton, MA where he lives with his family.  Biocitizen gives participants an opportunity to “think outside” and cultivate a joyous and empowering biocultural awareness of where we live and who we are. Check out Kurt’s monthly column, The Ripple, here on Hilltown Families on the 4th Monday of every month to hear his stories about rivers in our region. Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!

[Photo credit: (ccl) NOAA Photo Library]

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