In my wanderings off the beaten path, I have always looked for veins of water that seep and flow up into the wider world. Sometimes at the headwaters of these springs there is heavy compelling thirst that draws me down to drink. At other spring meet-ups I have been less thirsty. But I sample them all, parched or not, having decided long ago that one short lifetime is barely enough anyway to sip from all the springs I might find.
Unlike municipal water, spring water is still alive. Due to different geological substrates and flow patterns, underground water picks up a wide variety of minerals in unique and flavorful combinations. Because of this, no two springs are quite alike, and many are quite different. Some are sweeter than others. Some are flat tasting. Some are bitter. And some have a little fizz. But whatever the taste, it is always the flavor of the place and worth trying out.
Many religious traditions have given high regard to springs, calling them sacred and holy and healing and clean. In Japan I explored every Buddhist temple I could find, as they all seemed to have flowing springs that pooled in troughs of chiseled rock. Beside each spring there was usually a communal wooden dipping cup with a long handle, which I would use to lift myself a drink or two with polite regard to the monks nearby. Cold clear untreated clean water always seemed like such an anomaly inside all the hyper-industrialism and untouchable foamy grey sullen streams that made up modern Japan.
As one might imagine, springs come in all shapes and sizes. The smallest ones hardly seem to flow at all, while others are gushing torrents. No matter how many times I hike to the headwaters of Bailey Creek, I cannot grasp how so much water pours out all summer long when there is no glacier above and no measurable rain for three months. It is one of the unrecognized and under-appreciated miracles in our midst.
So is the tiny seep in the Grand Canyon that emits a single drop every 270 seconds, water so ancient that it is yet unsullied by the radiation so prevalent throughout the atomic testing grounds of the desert southwest. All spring water is miraculous, coming willingly to the surface after its long intricate subterranean journey, cleaner and more raw and more giving than we could ever make it. In the modified words of Wendell Berry, there are no unholy springs. There are only holy springs and desecrated ones.