Sacred Springs


A clear spring bubbling up to the surface of the earth was once one of nature’s greatest gifts to humans, holy wells by whatever meaning you give those words. Having your own clean, unpolluted water “on tap” without much effort or expense was a priceless treasure. Significantly ancient sacred springs honored in “pagan” rituals remained holy even after they and the people who used them were Christianized.

I honor all springs as holy. It is one of the few things I have craved to own all my life, even more than a rather unholy Thunderbird in 1955. I had a better chance of owning a spring too, and came close. In college days, our seminary buildings were surrounded by a huge marsh along the Minnesota River that was entirely fed by clear, clean, cold spring water full of trout and watercress. All our water came from there. We also used it occasionally to cool the forbidden beer we “borrowed” from the faculty’s supply.

Springs to this day ooze up rather invisibly in the bed of the creek that runs through our farm and that is why it does not dry up in August like other creeks in the neighborhood. In earlier days, the land roundabout the creek was a veritable paradise of springs and the creek was full of all kinds of aquatic life, even mussels that only disappeared a few years ago. These springs dried up before my time or were in the process of doing so, but my kinfolk of earlier generations pointed out their locations to me. They are also marked on the old maps. One was right across our property fence line in what we call “Albert’s Woods” and the depression where the water once bubbled to the surface is still there.

I thought of these springs when the news reported recently that Silver Springs in Florida wasn’t so silvery these days because the quantity and quality of its water is deteriorating. The ground water level in much of Florida is declining as increasing human population uses more of it. Also increased use of fertilizer and chemicals flowing off of residential lawns and farmland is causing pollution problems, as are septic tanks and manure from animal confinement operations. As the water table falls, wells in coastal areas are being polluted with salt water. The state now wants to reduce pollution and water use to save the springs but no one of course talks about reducing human population without which the efforts will hardly have much effect.

Do springs in the natural environment perform the same service for us as canaries used to do in coal mines? When springs die should we know we are in trouble? I can answer only from what I see here in my home country. Since not all areas have lost their springs (or haven’t yet), I am fairly sure that ours dried up because of intensive corn cultivation, especially after so much of the woodland that once held the water has been cleared and tile drainage has been systematically installed under nearly all of the land. Without intensive tile drainage, this clay soil can’t be cultivated profitably for corn as profit margins contract. It won’t dry out quick enough in the spring to get all those acres planted within the economical “window of opportunity.”

But I am watching and waiting. The narrow strips of bottom land and the short but highly erodible slopes along our creek, cut through by little but numerous ravines, are making it unprofitable for farming with large-scale machinery, tile or no tile. You can lose money on a hundred bushel per acre yield these days. So some of this land is being abandoned to brush and tree saplings. Will the springs come back some day and all that will remain of today’s reckless farming will be hulks of big abandoned machines decaying away in the woods like dinosaur bones?


Here in my neighborhood in NE Connecticut most of the farmland has gone back to woods for many decades, and fields that were dry have returned to swamp. I’m enjoying it while it lasts!

Thanks for the info–I will keep it in mind. I don’t own (or lease) any of my own land yet, just interning on someone else’s farm, but I hope to have my own place one day. I am in Maryland to intern and the amount of water on/in the land here is astounding. Back in California where I’m from you can count yourself lucky indeed if you have any water on your property at all, and even luckier if it’s water that lasts through the summer!

Actually, it’s not that hard to sponsor a spring. Just build earthworks to catch and hold water as high as you can, slowing the water’s movement as much as possible and cover the tops of your hills with trees. The water will seep slowly through the soil and emerge further down. Not a big deal. Geoff Lawton has some great fee videos on his site that cover this well and will point you to additional resources.

Strikes me that parking lots and electricity could be a good thing in the millenial kingdom though.

Florida is an interesting example. One would think there would be simple alternatives to running people off of the land in a state that gets 50″ of rainfall. Or are you suggesting euthanizing Floridians? Surely they could catch their household water supply and still have enough to replenish the ground water supply. Further, having traveled there regularly, I’m going to suggest they could back off the extensive earthworks built to drain the swamps as those earthworks cause the same groundwater and biodiversity problems tiling causes in the midwest.

For me, corn as a crop comes at too high of a price. We grow grass. The cows pug up wet areas initially but we add carbon, the land heals and becomes spongy over time. Higher organic matter = less runoff, more earthworms and fatter cows. I’ll leave the corn growing to the rich guys on flat ground. We have a number of springs in the hills and hollows. Makes for exciting sledding. No tiling here please.

With much of the U.S. still in drought i can only imagine that more springs (and lakes, and rivers) will dry up as they are drained by farmers seeking to irrigate and the wider population that continues to grow.

That is so beautiful and green in the photo but aren’t we a destructive society.

I, too, always wanted a farm with a spring on it and we were very fortunate to acquire one. In the early 90s the former owners had the spring excavated into a spring-fed pond. It is located about 500 feet up the mountain from the house. A 1-inch poly pipe is run from the pond to the house so we have a gravity water system. So no pump, no tank, constant pressure all the time and if the power goes out we still have water.
Since moving here in ’99, I have: installed an outdoor faucet for watering the garden, etc., buried a ½-inch poly pipe from the house to a float valve in a water trough in an adjacent pasture, and last year we had a pond dug by the barn and it is fed by the overflow from the spring-fed pond. We are tickled with the pond. Nothing like having a body of water to look at. It is always changing.

Stanton, an interesting idea.but I wonder. If a tile line has much grade to it and you plug it up, it will, at least sometimes, blow a hole up to the soil surface back upgrade in the field someplace. Farmers spend lots of winter days repairing blow holes from broken down tile and I doubt you could talk them into plugging the tile deliberately. I love your picture of the drainage exhibit right next to the wetlands class. Gene

I took a wetlands class at Ohio State. I thought and still think one of the most ironic and sad things is that the wetlands class was held in the Ag Engineering Building with the Ohio Drainage Hall of Fame right outside of the auditorium. Although we did not know aas a society all the implications back when we drained the wetlands (i.e. Great Black Swamp in Ohio), I still sadly think we would make all the same mistakes again. As far as tiles go I think a compromise would be to temporarily plug the tiles after harvest, then open them back up in the Spring – might help with water/soil quality and allow planting within the economical “window of opportunity”. Just some thoughts and ramblings.

Good luck Deb. I think it’s a real calamity that we are sullying our precious water tables for years to come for a few dollars today. With the boom and bust of oil companies, they’ll swoop down, pollute your water, extract some oil and be gone with those jobs.

here in youngstown, ohio we will soon vote on fracking. the frackers are pouring money into making concerned citizens look like job- and economy-killing devils.

even if fracking is forbidden in some areas the water table doesn’t care and the bgenzene and other ‘proprietary’ chemicals in the ‘saline’ solutions will kill for generations to come, especially as water of any kind is desperately needed in an ever drier land.

Springs are great to have for sure I have several on my farm the one I really put to use
is one up on the side of the mountain that I have a water line from it down to my garden about 1500ft so I have a supply of water to water my garden all Summer when it needs it without having to pump it.Springs are valuable more so years ago when wells were hard to dig.I know of several lawsuits over rights to springs as the water rights to springs were sold off sometimes.Springs in my area are far better off than 50 years ago I’d guess because there is far less land being farmed and has grown back up into timber/woodlands.But they are interesting and are a real asset.

How long is the land to mourn
And the vegetation of the countryside to wither?
For the wickedness of those who dwell in it,
Animals and birds have been snatched away,
Because men have said, “He will not see our latter ending”.
Jeremiah 12:4
You have to have an awful lot of hope in humanity to imagine the springs will return before Christ does. If He frees captives when he comes, springs and streams and rivers will certainly be among them. I don’t think an inch of drainage tile, asphalt or power line will make it through that day. In the time being, wouldn’t it be nice to have a stream to care for? . . .I can hope for that 🙂

life of the hand - life of the mind April 24, 2013 at 9:22 am

Watch and wait, friend. And believe. Better the second coming of springs then the second coming of Christ.

I’ll be thinking about the tiles for a while. Water has been on my mind for a long time. I’m lucky to be in a place where it’s not so life or death an issues as it is for some, But soon enough, fracking will be jeopardizing that for us too.

So many varieties of threats to our farmland nation-wide. I love how our USDA conservation programs don’t count keeping lands unpolluted by industry at all… just keep those buffer zones.

I’m blessed with a beautiful spring. I fear for it’s future every day.

Here’s to seeing springs, indeed all water as holy. That view is true in my book. It’s also necessary in a country where half of all rivers can’t support life.

We’ve long said that the water was trying to tell us something. Here on the Root River Watershed, a huge conservation project for the state of Minnesota, the community is tackling the issue through both farmer-led and community-led groups. My kiddos have already been down to the Rush Creek this spring, as well as what we call, “Little Spring Creek” which runs by our place and already has watercress in abundance. I can only hope these bodies of water will be there for their children as they have for four generations of our family.

One can only hope.

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