DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: The shapes of water surround us

I’VE BEEN ALERTED to an evocative statement; one that makes perfect sense.

“From salt-laden tears and singing streams … water has been called the first medicine,” Will Hornyak wrote.

A man who works with people in a range of settings — from elementary schools to prisons and corporations — Hornyak is a teacher and storyteller. Often his tales speak of water as balm and refuge.

Thanks to the Story People of Clallam County, he’s coming to Port Angeles to give a performance titled “Holy Wells and Healing Waters” on March 19 and a workshop March 20.

ClallamStoryPeople.org has the details about Hornyak’s performance, to take place in the Port Angeles Library’s Raymond Carver Room, and about his workshop, “Telling Stories Well: A Toolbox for Storytellers” at Agnew’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall.

“In myths and fairytales, water often symbolizes emotional life, fluidity and fertility,” Hornyak noted.

“The healing way of water is the way of descent, slowing down, immersing oneself in the depths of life.”

I’ve been thinking about the ways water — be it the Sol Duc River, Lake Constance or the whole Salish Sea — runs under and through our days.

When I first moved to this part of the world in 2006, I was the Peninsula Daily News’ Sequim editor. I wrote about motorcycle wrecks, city council meetings, casino expansion, firings of city officials, organic farming, the First Friday Art Walks, lost dogs, new restaurants, the Sequim Food Bank, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, the Roosevelt elk herd and the potential relocation of wolves.

At the end of each weekday, I was one wrung-out dishrag on the table beside the computer.

Come dusk, I’d stumble out the office door to my bicycle. One foot push-off and I was coasting along the Olympic Discovery Trail. As I arrived at Railroad Bridge Park, where the old trestle bridge looms above the Dungeness River, I could exhale.

The Dungeness — never dammed — plummets down from the Olympic Mountains for

32 miles before releasing itself into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. One of the steepest rivers in the country, it carries the sound of the wilderness.

Standing on the bridge, listening, I felt normal again. The river was all I needed. Hornyak feels the same effect, he told me, when paddling a canoe along the Willamette near his home in Milwaukie, Ore.

This winter I was fortunate enough to roam another peninsula, the Iberian, where the land is shaped much like the Olympic. I gazed upon Spain and Portugal’s human-made wonders: cathedrals, bridges and palaces.

Surrounding them like an embrace are the Guadalquivir and Tagus rivers, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean seas.

So much beauty, withstanding the centuries.

Then, Nazaré. Situated between Lisbon and Porto on the Costa Prata — Portugal’s Silver Coast — it’s a surfers’ mecca. With no surfers in sight on a high-seas morning, I went up to the bluff top then descended a steel stairway to the feet of giant rocks studding the Atlantic coast.

Rooted to my spot on the bottom stair, I beheld Mama Nature’s spectacle. The incoming waves reared up before me like colossal white horses, manes flying in the wind. Roaring higher, they rendered me an awestruck speck on the edge of Europe.

Witnessing this, I forgot everything else. The ocean put me right there in the moment.

So there’s the majesty of architecture, yes. Then there’s the all-out thrill of waves doing what they do best.

What’s your pleasure when it comes to water? Does the Elwha River speak to you? Is Lake Crescent a deep, blue respite for the eyes? Does the sound of the waves at La Push refresh your mind?

Whichever — let’s take time, often as we can, to give ourselves the first medicine.

_________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be March 20.

Reach her at [email protected]

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