The center of the hydrosphere

My brother-in-law is frequently amazed when water works – not water so much as indoor plumbing, how a faucet functions. I’ve known him for more than two decades, he’s a cardiologist and a scientist. To this day, every couple years, he’ll be standing at a running sink in a kitchen, incredulous, he’ll say with wonder, “Can you believe this? Look at how this works!”

I enjoy indoor plumbing, too, but it’s water itself I find mesmerizing: its softness, its mobility, how quickly it escapes containment. “An inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odorless, and nearly colorless chemical substance,” as Wikipedia would have it, but could they be more gray? I probably take more joy from water than any other substance. Streams, tides, swishing and swilling, the sound of lapping waves, the silence of snow. Is a wave in the ocean just a breeze in liquid? Then again, ask a surfer what it feels like to get brained by a crashing ten-foot wall. I once heard a firefighter say that moving water six inches deep can knock down a person, twelve inches can lift a car, twenty-four inches can float a truck. It’s remarkable to think how little water you need to kill someone. (I’ve been reading Patricia Highsmith again.)

A month ago, I heard someone compare life to water, that the sea is the universe and each of us a wave, each of us shaped a little bit different from the rest but looking and behaving pretty similarly – propelled across time, rising up at moments perhaps to make a brief impression, then returned to the greater whole. There’s a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem that begins, “The water understands civilization well,” and one by Anne Sexton that says, “all day long we are in love with water.” The former, which I don’t quite get, is probably how I think about water, but the latter, which I know quite well, is how I feel.

Sidebar: My weird new nonfiction book, Everything Now, is available for pre-order via AmazonBookshop, or your favorite local store. The book will be published in June by MCD x FSG (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Nice people have said nice things about it. I'm told that pre-ordering is the single most important thing you can do to help a book succeed, so I'd really appreciate it if you gave it a shot! And hold onto your receipt, at the very least I’ll send out some signed bookplates to newsletter subscribers. Thanks!

What the what? An occasional newsletter by Rosecrans Baldwin of (very) short essays about things he finds beautiful. Most books mentioned in the newsletter are on a list at Bookshop.