Just off the highway on the edge of our town is an artesian spring that runs continuously from spring to autumn. The public can stop for a cool drink from the bubbler, or to fill their own empty jugs and bottles beneath the faucet.
The bubbler is surrounded by a stone structure. Unused water flows through the drain-hole and out the back side where it drops across the stacked stone wall and flows into a small stream. The stream runs downhill for 15-20 feet, then into a drainage ditch along the road.
The spring is a favorite place of my children’s – they often beg to stop there for a drink. Last week, when our Michigan temps finally rose into the 70s, I pulled over on the way home to let the boys fill their bottles and throw dandelions into the stream.
My middle son (age four) ran back to the car and returned with a small toy hippopotamus who then “drank” from the brook.
A smile spread across my son’s face. He looked at me, then reached up and placed the hippo on the stones at the back of the structure. He lifted his hand, allowing the water to carry the hippo down into the stream.
My son ran down the hill, watching the hippo bounce along, get hung up and freed up many times, then stop in a small swirling pool where the water entered the drainage ditch. There, my boy would snatch him from the water and dash back up the hill.
Each time he returned the hippo to the stone wall, he’d look across the stream to make sure I was watching, then flash a mischievous grin as he removed his hand from the hippopotamus.
“Did you see that, Mom? Did you see that?” he’d ask when the hippo’s journey ended, waiting for my excitement and approval over his game.
More than once, I considered returning to the car in search of a phone or camera so I could photograph his amusement, but something within me said to just be still.
An acquaintance came along for a drink, and stopped briefly to chat. She smiled at my son’s game, and commented about how wet he was getting.
“Always,” I replied. “But this is our last stop, so it’s really no sweat if he ends up soggy.”
“It’s nice that you let them have fun,” she said. “Lucky boys.” Then she walked down the wooden ramp to her car.
I turned back to my children on the grassy slope.
She’s right, isn’t she? I thought to myself. These boys are lucky. They are lucky to have a freshwater spring at the edge of their town and a lifestyle that, although it may not seem fancy to some, affords luxuries like dilly-dallying in a gentle stream on a spring afternoon.
“Watch the hippo, Mom!” my son called. “Are you watching?”
“I am, Buddy. I am.”
And I was.
I never went for the camera that day, but I did capture the details of the scene.
I still see my son tilting his head and smiling at me, looking up from the bottom of the damp slope – the way his eyes shine themselves like wet rocks. The back of his neck is already brown from the spring sun, the bottoms of his blue sweatpants darkened by water.
I smell the dirt and wet grass – that fertile, verdant scent present only when the earth is coming to life again. I feel the cool mist spraying my forearms and the tops of my sandaled feet as my boys traipse along the dandelion-spotted hillside.
I may not have a photo of the hippo-in-the-stream game to give my boy, but we both know we’ll remember it. And I think we both know, too, that what I did give him were my eyes and my full attention. He knew I was watching, really watching, and delighting in him.
Delighting in his delight.
As much as I’ve longed at times for a perfectly-curated-in-snapshots life that’s worthy of Instagram or Facebook or even my own simple blog, I think I’ve discovered the beauty and freedom that exists in the not…
Not taking every picture. Not holding a cold piece of metal between me and my object of delight.
Not sharing. Not updating. Not being distracted by cropping and filtering and saturating.
Not getting it all down, but rather taking it all in.
Maybe this could be a new way of living for me. Maybe there’s a whole new territory of possibility resting in the not.