A RIVER’S CATARACT is an enlivening tributary, manmade or natural. Wild versions exhibit a hypnotizing display of invigorating rapids plus tortuous waterfalls, repeatedly fragmenting into a myriad of criss-crossy raceways. Routes cascade from boulder-to-ledge, over balconies, pouring down eons of strata in a way that’s chaotic, exhilarating, and relaxing all at once. In unison, river and canyon do their patient collaborative work, chipping potsherds, pommeling gravel and sand into silt, conveying nutrient-rich floodwater to downstream plains, while sculpting a three-dimensional petroglyph out from the bluff’s face. It’s creating a perpetual monument and celebration of ongoing work. Turbulence mixes dissolved oxygen into the water, making these stream sections healthier, with higher biodiversity, less algae, and more fish. Whitewater, the deafening roar, whirling mist and bedrock combine to orchestrate a summons to “follow me, I’ll show you the way home.” It’s the engine of movies still today.
Back in the city, cataracts have the reputation of being more domesticated, yet convey the exact same virtual power, prautes style. Once called aqueducts, sluice ways, and tunnels, we found them below cofferdams and mill ponds. Imperial Romans perfected the architecture of delivering water via art – sometimes against grade – along miles and “mille passus” of majestic stone arches and canals. Watermasters opened weirs and floodgates to refresh fountains, irrigate fields, and recharge hot water for cold. Surprisingly, cataracts still exist today as man-made basins, channels, pipelines, and plumbing. Far abstracted it seems from Niagara’s grandeur, we start recalling those spellbinding fountains in front of that hotel on datenight, the penstocks at Hoover, that breathtaking chute at the swashbuckling waterpark, or the phenomenal standpipe at Covão do Conchos Reservoir in Portugal. Not just impressive in scale, those features are enlivening too.
Running the mower in July, that epic 5K fun-run last April, backpacking in the desert, or any trans-Pacific flight. All are enough to make you feel like you spent the weekend at a Tarantella dance-a-thon. Enter that cool drink of water: fridge-chilled on ice, from our Camel bladder after the straightaway climb, carbon-filtered from Ernst Tinaja, the infinity tub lulling us to sleep at the spa, or the familiar rainfall shower in lieu of collapsing inside the front door. It’s almost enough to convince us that “water is life”.
The Tarantella. It’s a vigorous Mediterranean folk dance with lots of spinning, at 18/8 time, like a jig. Named after the Tarantula Spider, most say it’s cathartic. Italians have imitated the spider’s jumpiness, re-enacted its frightening discovery, dramatized being stung, or sweated out its intoxicating poison on the dancefloor for 3000 years. The spider in turn, was named after a Spartan port-city in Southeast Italy, Taranto, where fresh water conjoins sea water in two bays. Mixing at Taranto is enlivening too: cultures, sea with land, old with new, as the spectrum of water temperatures and salinity sustain a dynamic fishing and port-trade based economy.
In Greek, tarasso means mixing or whirling. The words cataract, tarasso, tarantula, tarantella, and Taranto are all related. In the midst of its own turbulence, the water at Bethesda seems to have mixed with enlivening salts and the Spirit as well. One facet of our call is to share that news with everyone we meet, every day of the week. The rest is history.
“Get up and mingle.” – John 5:8
Acoustic: Brand New Key, arr. by K. Dunstan, the Voice (2013)
Artist: Melanie Safka, Gather Me (1971)