Interviewsand Articles


My First Best Friend

by Helen Gennari, Jan 28, 2021



My First Best Friend
Dark dense morning.
The sky spilling rain at dawn.
Water splashing impishly against my windowpane.
I sit and watch it fall.
I feel the call - come out and play with me.
Into her splashing arms I run.

Long before we came along, there was water: great oceans that welcomed the rivers; rivers that welcomed the creeks; creeks that flowed from springs that opened some place in the earth, and released this living liquid to go out and play and nurture the planet.
     In 1945, a child too young for school, I wandered from Grandma’s porch and a short distance away, found one of those little creeks which would be my playground for the next few years. Here I formed my first friendship. Thereafter, following my required nap, I ran off to the little stream that flowed at the edge of the woods that bordered my grandmother’s property.
     For hours I would kneel and watch her flow by and curl around stones sparkling in the sun before vanishing. I listened to the bubbly voice that seemed excited to see me. I ran my child fingers through her crystal clear body that always escaped me but then returned, fresh from upstream. I once made a little dam of mud and dry weeds to hold her longer, but she seemed to giggle as she found a way around it. Until Grandma called me back, I was lost in wonder.
     Mary Oliver says, in her book Upstream, “In water that departs forever, and forever returns, we experience eternity”.
     I missed my little friend, the creek, when I went off to first grade. One day, on the way home from school and after a storm, I discovered that my little creek had overflowed her banks with the heavy rain. The strong flow of what was now a stream three times its normal size, frightened me. I needed to cross it to get to the house but I was sure that if I stepped into her swollen waters, I would be swept away. I stood there, listening to the loud, gushing liquid, not knowing what to do. I must get to the other side but in my five-year old mind, there were few alternatives. So afraid, I began to scream for my mother, but the sound of the water and the distance from the house made it unlikely that she would hear me. No one came.
     It was then that I made the first major decision of my life; I remember it well. I knew I had to go into the water and try to walk through. And so, I stepped into the rushing stream, up to my knees, feeling the pressure of its cold force. When I reached the other side, I fell forward on the wet ground, pushed my drenched self up, and began to cry. My only pair of shoes were ruined. By this time, Mom, who knew that I should have been home by then, came running and swooped me up in her arms. Little did she know the significance of what had just happened.
     That day with my raging creek, I learned, at some unconscious level, that I could face fear and survive, a lesson that has served me well into my eighties.
     As I advanced through grade school, my play with water included chores that kept me well connected with my dear friend.
Grandma’s spring was about thirty yards from her front porch, a place of hospitality, with rocking chair and a bucket of spring water on the table. Above it hung a large dipper to be used by anyone needing to cool off with a drink. Her spring flowed from a hole in the hill at the lower end of a slope which began at the edge of her front yard, a space marked off by a row of purple phlox, yellow yarrow, and an ancient rose bush that reportedly was brought over from Alsace Lorraine by our paternal ancestors.
     It was my responsibility to keep the porch bucket filled with the spring water. I dared not let it get below half full. I would dip the bucket into the cold, clear water, noting the condition of the spring. One of my chores was to keep the spring clean, which was difficult because there was no roof other than the limbs of an old Oak tree that stood close by and seemed to enjoy dropping its leaves into the water. They would float for a while and then settle at the bottom of the spring which was, at its deepest point, about two feet.
     I remember the challenge of dipping the leaves or anything else that might have fallen in, perhaps with the help of a hungry squirrel. In my bare feet, I stood in the large round hole lined with stones and dipped until it was empty of debris. The cool liquid never stopped flowing from some hidden opening in the hillside. I had to work fast.
     My family home was about a mile away where there was no source of water. This required my sisters and me to carry water from Grandma’s spring across several fields. It was also our task to water our sizable vegetable garden.
     But my play with water still went on. When it rained, I would dance under its wetness, or stand on the porch and hold a tin can under the eaves to catch the water rolling off the roof. I was fascinated by how the rain flowed in rivulets on the ground into puddles.
     I still  love to walk in the rain and wiggle my toes in a puddle, especially if it’s made in a hollowed out grassy spot.
     In my child play I knew nothing of the vast ecosystem of which I was a part. I did not know about all the life, beyond what I could see, that swam in my little creek and lived along her muddy banks of watercress, mint and ferns. I would avoid the craw dads, marvel at the swiftness of the minnows, and catch the tadpoles to place them in a coffee jar with a rock and water to watch them eventually transform into little frogs.  There were certain times of day when the heat slowed me down. Then I was content to watch the clouds, caught in her sparkling surface or tease a large sycamore leaf with a twig as it floated downstream, and imagine the little boat determined to carry its invisible cargo to  some distant destination.
     By the time I reached high school, the one thing I still longed to do with my friend, the creek, was to take my own journey, upstream, to discover where she was born, to find that place where her cool waters escaped the depth of the earth to find her way to Grandmas place. I had attempted several times to follow her upstream meanderings but always ran out of time before dusk arrived and sent me home.
     In recent years I’ve discovered computer maps of streams and actually set out in my car to find their beginnings, only to run into dead ends. The streets and arrangements of buildings where I live make it difficult to explore. The desire to find that magical place must be in my DNA.
     When I wasn’t playing in the little creek or the rain or doing my chores, you would have found me off in the woods, exploring the plant life or following a path to see where it would lead me. The trees adopted me, sheltered me, gave me comfort when I ran from my home where the violence of my father was more than I could bear; when my fear for my mother’s life at his hands gripped me and tore at my heart; when the threat of what he might do to me and my sisters drove me to gather them and take them with me away from our house.
     I had to walk many paths and through enough doorways to live into the lessons I learned from my creek and mothering trees, lessons  recorded in my child heart to await my readiness to discover what had been growing there all the time~~like a seed dormant until the conditions were right for its emergence.
     The trees are still teaching me faithfulness, presence, rootedness in the earth, and the intertwining of life and death.  The little creek taught me the importance of flowing with life; of flexibility, and not letting obstacles stop me; how to make a “joyous sound” (in my heart) of acceptance, but hold on to my determination.
     In my reflections, I realize that the little creek drew me into a relationship that has become an integral part of who I am today. I didn’t know that as we played together, as I carried water, danced in the rain, I would forever cherish this life-giving liquid so much so that it would change my life. Today, I turn on the faucet and water is there. I remember. I say thank you. I take only what I need.
     The aging process has a way of deepening our sensitivity to the eternal, to what is real, to the life mysteries with which our hearts resonate, even when we don’t fully understand the why and what for. Who does not feel a sense of peace, refreshment, curiosity, even stillness when they enter a woodland or come upon a stream or watch a sunrise over the ocean? Have you not had your own perspective readjusted after spending time in Nature where so much goes on that we don’t fully comprehend? The biodiversity of such a space is at once a miracle and an invitation to understand our own place within its cycle of life and death.
     Today we know that we are all not only in a relationship with the trees, the rocks and rills (streams), valleys and hills; the clouds, the bluebells, all creatures great and small~~we are all a wonderfully woven web of life, intimately connected even to the moon and stars of which we are made.  The life energy that circulates throughout this biosystem knows no boundaries; is expressed in a myriad of ways that impact all, regardless of species, race, color, gender.
     Even as we appreciate the wonder of it all, our streams and woodlands, our soil and mountains, the very air we breathe are under attack, The good news is~~there are many committed people and organizations struggling to protect our precious resources but they need our help. (A few are listed at the end of this essay.)
     What can we do personally to nurture our friendship with water and take care of it? Please, imagine the possibilities. Something as simple as using only the water you need by not letting the shower run needlessly; create a rain garden; teach the children about their relationship with nature, how the water finds its way up the trunk of trees, benefiting the trees and then, through transpiration, is released to benefit us. Plant trees. Stop using plastic straws to reduce plastic waste in the ocean, and so much more.
      Let’s make a difference. We can befriend, respect, and protect nature, who sustains and nourishes us.  We can honor our relationship with the earth, whose destiny is also ours.

Organizations that work to sustain our natural resources, especially water:
Food And Water Watch
They champion healthy food and clean water, standing up to corporations that put profits before people. They are leading a strong campaign to educate us about the dangerous effects of Fracking, with a focus on how it puts our drinking water at risk.
This is the nation’s largest non-profit environmental law organization. EJ is at the forefront of many battles now taking place in courtrooms across the country, standing up to the concerted attacks by industry to water down the regulations intended to protect our water. They represent clients free of charge.
The Nature Conservancy
They work to change how the world manages water and improve the health of our fresh water resources. They do this by focusing on integrating natural solutions and implementing agriculture best practices.
Sierra Club
This is our largest grassroots environmental organization and was founded in 1892 by John Muir. They have conservation campaigns in every state; have worked to establish, expand and maintain our national parks. They have been on the forefront of defining landmark legislation like the Clean Water Act.
Arbor Day Foundation
Their perception of trees: “They clean air, filter water, ease poverty and hunger, prevent species loss and feed our souls.” They partner with cities to do watershed conservation, using trees to protect water as an alternative to more costly engineered solutions. e.g. A new filtration plant for one city was estimated at $8 billion. Watershed conservation could provide clean water for $1.5 billion. In addition it would provide a wildlife habitat, store carbon, clean the air.         


About the Author

Helen Gennari is a writer who lives in St. Louis, Missouri. Her most recent book is From the Heart of An Abandoned Daughter.   


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