One summer in college I managed the local swimming pool. There were three lifeguards: my brother Marshall, who got the job by his own merit and not because of any fraternal connection with the manager, a high school girl named Kim, who was by far the best looking of the three, and another high schooler named Steve, who was prone to pondering the great mysteries.
One afternoon – I’d say one hot afternoon, but it was Lowcountry South Carolina, they were all hot – Steve came down from the lifeguard stand and approached me with a look that said he’d been thinking.
“Bo,” he said. “Bo, think what you’d look like if you drank all the water in that pool.” He paused to let this image register with me. “Bo, just think about it. You couldn’t do it.” He held his thumb and index finger a couple inches apart. “You couldn’t even drink that much.”
I went swimming this morning, something I do occasionally for exercise. I did not drink all the water in the pool, not even that much. But I did do some thinking, thinking in the way people think when they’re going back and forth, back and forth, with nothing to look at but a blue line on the bottom of a pool, and I believe my thoughts this morning place me in Steve’s good company.
What if, I thought, what if there were no water in the world?
If there were no water, there’d be no rivers. No lakes, no ponds, no creeks, no streams. No bayous, no brooks, no bogs. No waterfalls, no fjords, no oases. No Midnight at the Oasis. You’d probably never have heard of Maria Muldaur. No oceans. No mudpuddles.
There’d be no islands, just one continuous membrane of land: mountains, foothills, plains, canyons, and the like. The highest place on earth would still be Mount Everest but the lowest place would be someplace between here and Japan, six and a half miles or more below the surface of what would no longer be the Pacific Ocean.
If there were no water there would be no fish. No salmon or tuna or bass or trout. No swordfish or seahorses. No catfish or cowfish or butterflyfish or hogfish or goatfish or hawkfish or lionfish or rabbitfish or parrotfish or freckled porcupinefish. No triggerfish or clownfish or blowfish. No sarcastic fringehead or shovelnose guitarfish. No sapphire devils or azure damsels or blue-head fairy wrasse, which are all exceedingly beautiful and you should look up on Google. No anemonefish – that’s the Nemo fish. No holy mackerel. No piranha or great barracuda. No sharks or rays. No blue whales or beluga whales or bottlenose dolphin either, though technically those aren’t fish.
If there were no water, there would be no Midnight Hole a mile and half up Big Creek Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and you couldn’t hike up in the summer and brave the 65 degree water that takes your breath away and makes you think, “This is what it feels like to be on Prozac.”
There’d be no clouds, no lying in the grass looking up and seeing dragons turn into cowboy hats, no smell of rain, no thunderstorms, and no running to your parents’ bed when you’re scared.
If there were no water, I’m sure Otis Redding would be sitting somewhere singing and whistling, but it wouldn’t be on the dock of the bay, and it wouldn’t be watching the tide roll away.
If there were no water, there’d be no raincoats or umbrellas or galoshes or hip waders.
If there were no water, what would Dorothy have thrown on the Wicked Witch?
If there were no water, moms and dads singing “The Wheels on the Bus” to their kids would skip the verse about “the wipers on the bus go swish swish swish” – there’d be no wipers.
If there were no water, John the Baptist wouldn’t have been John the Baptist. No water, no baptism, no Baptist. John the Unitarian maybe.
If there were no water, where would be the river whose streams make glad the city of God? And where would we ride, my baby and me, to wash these sins from our hands?
There would be at least one good thing. The polar ice cap would not be melting.
Two good things. We’d still have Earth Wind and Fire.
But there’d be no triathlons, no surfing, no scuba diving, no floating. No swimming pools either. Or if there were, teenagers would turn them into skateboard parks. And I wouldn’t have got to swim this morning and think about all this.
Bo. Just think about it.