(Selections from the Novel by William T. Hathaway)
The story in brief: In 2026 the earth’s ecosystem has broken down under human abuse. Water supplies are shrinking. Rain is rare, and North America is gripped in the Great Drought with crops withering and forests dying. In the midst of environmental and social collapse, an old woman and a young man set out to heal nature and reactivate the cycle of flow by using techniques of higher consciousness. But the corporations that control the remaining water lash out to stop them. A blend of adventure, ecology, and mystic wisdom, Wellsprings: A Fable of Consciousness is a frightening but hopeful look into a future that is looming closer every day.
It begins with the narrator, Bob, getting ready to leave his hometown in California after graduating from high school:
Pack my rucksack and get out of this place. Like the song says, “I’m leavin‘ LA, baby. Don’t you know this smog has got me down.” Taj Mahal, a blues singer. I found his album — one of those old black discs — in a box with a bunch of others in granddad’s garage. Old record player with it, kind that goes around and ’round. Been listening to them ever since — all gramp’s favorites from the sixties and seventies when he was a kid. Great songs … despite the scratches.
He said the smog then was nothing compared to what we got now. They didn’t have alkali smog back then. We’re breathing borax and potash blown in with the dust. Granddad died of emphysema but he never smoked. The doc said some people are more sensitive than others. I got his heredity. Mom and dad coughing, especially when they wake up. Even hear the neighbors coughing. Gotta get outta here. “We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do.” Another song — The Animals.
Animals now are dying even in the zoos. Birds gone.
Like to take all his old records with me, but no room in the rucksack. They’ll be here when I come back … if I come back. Mom and dad will be pissed I just left them a letter. But if I told them, they’d just pressure me into staying again, like they did last time I told them I wanted to go. No money for college. They want me to get some shit job here. If I’m going to have a shit job, I want it to be at least some place where I can breathe.
Rucksack’s pretty heavy. Outta here.
Little bungalow house like the others. Dust on all the window sills. Sand in the drain spouts. Hasn’t rained this year. Wind patterns have changed so it rains over the ocean but hardly ever over the land. Grass died, then even the weeds died. At least the dirt won’t die. The Great Drought, they call it. I don’t know what’s so great about it.
Strap the pack on the back of the little Honda 250 bike, spark it alive. So long, Long Beach. Miles of bungalows, fourplex apartments, gas stations, strip malls. Sand on the road, sand in the gutters, sky cloudless but gray. Plenty of water for people who can afford it, but there’s fewer and fewer of those. Outta here.
(Bob meets Jane, 77, and agrees to help her with her quest. She is convinced North America’s water has retreated into a deep subterranean aquifer, and she is searching for the place where it comes close enough to the surface to access it.)
As Jane drives over the Tioga Pass, the east entrance to Yosemite, the sun is setting over the Sierras, shooting rays of golden light through the haze, shining the clouds pink and violet. With a last gleam it drops behind the mountains and lights them from behind into miles of blue craggy peaks.
We have plenty of time to enjoy the view because her motor home is weak on hills; we’re lugging at thirty m.p.h. It’s dark by the time we get to the campground. I like it much better here than the desert — the air is cool and fresh, and I can pitch my tent under a tree.
I wake up several times in the night to the sound of little things falling onto the taut nylon of the tent. Raindrops! I go back to sleep with a smile.
In the morning everything is still dry. Instead of rain, the tent and ground are strewn with pine needles. The tree above me is shedding needles and small branches as it withers. Its bark is gray and flaky, limbs limp.
After breakfast we take a walk to the nearby Tuolumne River, which turns out to be a meandering creek about six inches deep. The meadows on both sides are brown.
We stroll in the Sequoia grove among trees soaring over two hundred feet towards the sky with massive trunks as wide as a house. Some are over a thousand years old. But they won’t get any older — an army of dead soldiers left standing at attention.
We drive into Yosemite Valley, the main part of the park. I remember the pictures I’ve seen of it, taken before the drought: Bridal Veil and Yosemite Falls with tons of white water cascading over granite cliffs, crashing down into deep pools on the canyon floor that’s covered with verdant grass and ferns.
But now the glaciers have melted and snow and rain are rare, so the falls are thin ribbons of water spilling over the cliffs then trickling through brown grass into what used to be the Merced River. We hear an occasional bird, but we don’t see them or any other animals. Jane finds a blue jay feather, which she sticks in her hair — but the jay is probably dead. We’re very quiet as we drive away from the park — as if we’ve been to Mother Nature’s funeral.
(Jane teaches Bob to meditate, and their visions help them find the cavern that connects to the water.)
Jane and I drive around to the north side of Mt. Shasta, hoping to be able to sense the subterranean springs from there. In the moonlight the mountain looks like a silver pyramid soaring up from the horizon into the starry purple night. The ancient volcano is lord of all it surveys. Veils of clouds are blowing around its peak.
We find a grassy glade in the forest, but the grass is dry and brittle and the tree branches droop from the drought. As we are spreading our blankets out to meditate, motion on the other side of the clearing catches our eyes. Out of the trees steps a black-tailed doe. She sees us and pauses, one foot raised, sniffing, listening, looking. Jane and I stare enthralled. As the doe gazes at us, our eyes join across the space, across the species. Communication flows between us: cautious curiosity about a fellow creature. She breaks contact, begins nibbling, then looks back at us as if saying, As long as you stay on your side, it’s OK.
We watch her in delight until she trots off, then we close our eyes to meditate. At first my mantra goes with my heartbeat then slows and goes with my breath. The sound stretches out into a long hum floating through me. I seem to be beyond my skin, filling the whole clearing. I feel like I’m sinking into the earth. I want to hold on, to keep from disappearing, but something tells me to let everything go. I free-fall through space, then realize it’s impossible to fall because there’s no down. I’m hovering … like a dragonfly over water. The sound fades away, leaving me without thoughts. I seem to expand beyond all space and boundaries to unite with everything. For a moment I know I am everything, the whole universe, but as soon as I think, I’m everything, I’m not anymore. I’m just Bob Parks sitting on a blanket over cold ground.
I start the mantra again. Its whisper clears my thoughts away, and my mind becomes quiet. Part of me is watching the quietness of my mind and enjoying it. I never knew I had this watching part before. It doesn’t need to think. It’s just there, aware of everything but separate from it — a wise old part of me.
I realize I’m off the mantra, drifting on thoughts, so I pick up the sound again and follow it as it gets fainter and finer until it becomes more visual, pulsing light behind my closed eyes. It seems to shine into something, a big cavern that’s inside of me but also outside of me. The boundaries between me and everything else disappear — no difference now between inside and outside. I can see dimly into the cavern. The walls and ceiling are crystal, its facets glinting in the mantra light. Below them in all directions stretches a vast dark sea of water, its ripples gleaming. It’s deep, deep as the earth, and I want to plunge in and dive all the way to the bottom. I’m sitting above it. Down there beneath me, beneath these rocks and dirt, rests the water.
I can sense this sea’s immensity, stretching from California under the Great Basin of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, the parched American desert, the last place the corporate drillers would’ve looked. We’re sitting by the tip of it closest to the surface. From here it goes deeper and deeper, soaking through strata of sand and porous rock, a huge aquifer waiting to be freed and flow again.
I want to jump up and yell, “I found it!” but that thought makes it disappear. I take a deep breath and am back sitting cross-legged on my blanket. Too stunned to say anything, I lie back and feel the ground under me, this good ground with all that good water under it.
(Bob gets ideas.)
I step behind her, put my hands on her hips, nuzzle my nose through her long gray hair, and kiss her on the back of the neck.
She stiffens. “Bob! What are you doing?”
She turns around, and I put my hands on her shoulders and kiss her on the lips. She stands still a moment, then backs away, her large green eyes now round. “Bob! Where did you get that idea?”
“A little bird told me.”
“Tell that little bird to fly away!”
I want to kiss her again, but I’m afraid she’ll get mad. “I just thought … maybe we could ….”
She puts her hands on her hips. “You want to jump these old bones? No!”
“No butts — especially not mine!” Then she laughs. “Bob, really, we can’t do this. I’m old enough to be your grandmother.”
Now I’m feeling mean, so I want to tell her she’s a lot older than my grandmother.
“I like you … very much. I really care about you. But not in that way. I’m too old for that.” She turns up the palms of her hands.
“Well, OK. I’m sorry I tried.”
“Don’t be sorry. I’m flattered. It’s just that ….” Her hands nervously stir the air.
“It wouldn’t be right. You should find a girl your own age.”
I get mad because she’s making me feel like a kid. “What does age have to do with it? I thought you were a radical, but you’re sounding like some advice columnist.”
She looks at me with a mix of pity and surprise. “You dear boy … oops, sorry, I mean man. You really are attracted to me, aren’t you?”
“That’s OK, we can forget about it.”
“Well, this is not the kind of thing one can forget, but we don’t need to do it. It’s nice that you would think of me in that way. But really ….” She shakes her head.
“OK, I’ll be good.” I turn away in disappointment, not realizing how much I wanted her until she turned me down.
“Now your feelings are hurt,” she says. “I don’t know what to do. Will you still be my friend?”
I glance back at her. With the pleading expression on her face, she looks even prettier.
“Definitely,” I say.
“Good. Thank you.” She extends her hand for a conciliatory shake.
I take it. It’s warm and soft. I can’t help staring at her breasts rising and falling as she breathes … heavily.
“Please don’t be offended,” she says.
By now I just want to drop the topic. “It’s OK. I don’t blame you. It was a dumb idea.”
“If you need another blanket, they’re up here on the shelf.”
“Well … sleep well. And we’ll talk more in the morning.”
We both give the other a little embarrassed wave, and Jane goes into her bedroom. I can hear the little click of the latch to lock her door. This makes me even madder. Did she think I would come in and rape her?
It’s a long time before I can fall asleep. I keep thinking about her, sometimes mad at her, sometimes wanting her, sometimes both together.
A further sample of Wellsprings: A Fable of Consciousness is posted at http://www.amazon.com/Wellsprings-Consciousness-William-T-Hathaway/dp/1780999941. William T. Hathaway’s other books include A World of Hurt (Rinehart Foundation Award), CD-Ring, Summer Snow, and Radical Peace: People Refusing War. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.