Nature's Cure

Mary Kuykendall

Mary Kuykendall

Nature's Cure was selected for MSUL’s themed call for work about Water, in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum’s fall 2023 exhibition, Flint is Family in Three Acts, featuring the photography of Latoya Ruby Frazier.

"If only everyone knew the simple joy of tasting cool, clear clean water." That was the answer my great uncle Henry had for everything going wrong –from world wars to genocide to divorce to just a bad day.
He would say this as he dipped his wooden ladle into the mountain stream running through his house. His great-great grandfather Nicholas had settled in this Appalachian hollow 250 years ago.  According to his note in the old family bible, he chose this hillside because of its spring.
Now 82, Uncle Henry is still living in the cabin Nicholas built directly below the mountain spring. Two wings were added over the years and his father had even added a garage.   Uncle Henry had all the amenities plus some he said he didn't need such as the big plasma TV set his son had given him.  
But even though there was infrastructure in his hollow now for all the houses and trailers lining the road and foothills, Uncle Henry never gave up his mountain stream for city water. He had saved enough land from what had been handed down to him from the original hillside farm to have a garden as well shutter himself in with trees so he had no need for curtains.  
Uncle Henry had even piped some of his mountain spring water down to the road so his neighbors could help themselves to his holistic solution to life's woes.  In just 30 years, the sounds of whippoorwills and farm animals in the valley below had been replaced with lawn mowers and barking dogs. There were times when he wondered if there was some undiscovered plant that Mother Nature had wisely infused with birth control.  It was needed now.
But Uncle Henry was not a recluse. He enjoyed the company of his neighbors, most of them relatives including me.
My uncle also used the running water from the mountain spring to irrigate his garden when summer rains were scarce. He had even piped it so it could be channeled into rows, taking pleasure in knowing the plants would soon enjoy it as much as he was.   
He would invite us up to share in his garden, particularly on rainy summer days. He would tell us to throw away our umbrellas, strip down, and enjoy the refreshing reminder of our place in nature and how peaceful the world can be. After recanting how his father used to look out over his corn fields and watch the parched corn blades pocketing out to receiving the nourishing rain, he would point to his garden.  "If you took the time," he would suggest, "you could see the green tops of buried carrots, radishes and potatoes spring upward for the rain.  Even now you can see the red tomatoes, green and yellow peppers and even the spotted bird egg beans happily showing themselves off in the glistening rain."  
He would tell us how his grandmother used to set out a couple of old wash tubs to collect water for her flowers.. He would help her punch tiny holes in used cans, fill them with water and place them beside her flowers during dry periods so they could slowly have their summer rain.  
He would recall how his grandfather, rarely missing a forecast of rain, would scurry to gather the cut hay so it would not mold in the field. Afterwards, he would relax and enjoy letting the summer rain wash off the heavy sweat he got hurrying the hay into the barn.
 "And it wasn't like we kids didn't enjoy a good drenching, too, after working up a sweat" he would say when he knew he had our attention. "Our job was to get all the stray chickens back in the coop. Unlike ducks, they do not like rain and that's why ducks never smell like wet chickens. Another job we had at the coop was laying some boards across wet loose ground which contained a lot of chicken manure. In a couple of days -- especially when it got hot -- worms and large night crawler worms would find their way up to refresh themselves under these cool, damp boards.  When you pulled up a board you had to dart fast to grab them because they would quickly head down their tunnels to escape the heat of the sun. We not only used the worms for fishing but sold some of the larger night crawlers to fishermen along the river."
He would admonish us never to forget that even the worms as well as fishermen knew the answer for having a good life: Cool, Clear, Clean Water.
Uncle Henry ran his hand down the smooth handle of the cherry ladle, now burnishing a deep burgundy patina. He figured it had been made by Nicholas. He still had the stone trough in his kitchen which his ancestor had built to hold running water before it made its way to the garden. Uncle Henry said it still served as his best refrigerator. He still had a milk cow. Every morning he would fill his crocks and know that by suppertime, he could run his finger across the top and scoop up gobs of cream. Uncle Henry also raised rainbow trout in his spring-fed trough. He blessed them as they darted among his crocks when he fished one out for dinner.  He did not like frozen fish.
Over the years people just stopped complaining to Uncle Henry about government corruption, terrorism, crime or greedy Wall Street bankers and CEOs. They knew Uncle Henry would recommend a drink of his cool, clear, clean water or a summer rain bath to get rid of hate, jealously, pride, avarice and all those wants of what other people have.   
But now Uncle Henry is feeling the doom and gloom of world pressures. His cool, clear, clean water is being threatened.   Mountain-top removal of coal was coming to his part of the Appalachians. He had relatives who had to move because the hollows were filled with sludge, the streams polluted with acidic runoff and many of their homes worthless from dynamite damage. At least, in the old days of underground mining, many had jobs.   But it only took a few engineers to blow the tops off the mountains. Drilling for gas was not the answer.   He had read how they could easily drill more than a mile down into the earth and then go sideways using water and chemicals to explode the Marcellus shale to get gas.   
When Uncle Henry heard the widespread fracking process in Pennsylvania had released so much methane that one lady had actually been able to set fire to the drinking water coming out of her well, he was devastated. 
Uncle Henry understood the need for energy. He enjoyed his electric lights and he had even grown fond of that huge, glaring plasma screen. But he also felt all that black gold money the politicians liked could be spent on wind and solar power.
He looked up at his mountain springhead. The sun was shining on it. The trees were swaying in the constant breeze. A summer rain began to fall. Uncle Henry stripped down, and with ladle in hand, he headed for his mountain spring where he could enjoy nature's bathe and nature's beverage.
We knew what he was going to say when he went up there. "If only everyone knew the simple joy of tasting cool, clear clean water." Now he was adding: "Problems can be solved.  Why can't everyone realize Mother Nature has the answer? It is blowing in the wind and shining on us."

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