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Listening to Water

Story and photo by   MIV SCHAAF

Duck in a pond

BEFORE LIFE GETS ANY more hectic, give yourself a break. Take to the water. I don't mean ships and boats and cruises; I don't mean water skiing or river rafting, wind or body surfing; I don't mean island hopping; I don't mean fishing. I mean just go somewhere where there's water, a little water, say a modest creek or a pond it doesn't matter and sit and look at it.

Alone. No use going with someone who's going to talk, point something out you have to look at, or tell you what time it is. Go and stand or sit alone by the water. Whatever time it is, it is, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Don't tell yourself that you'll stay only half an hour. Don't tell yourself to do anything but listen. Listening, really listening, to water sounds isn't easy; it requires a complete cessation of thought. Your mind must allow itself to empty, to calm down, to become like an empty white bowl that receives whatever is dropped into it.

You hear birds, but soon you learn to listen beyond them, to cancel out airplane and auto noises, to begin to tune in the water sounds. If you're by a quiet pond where the water isn't active, not rippling along or washing ashore, you must stay longer, listen harder.

Gloop, gloop that's the ducks, the black ones. But notice how the smaller brown ones make no sound at all when they duck their heads under. They all quack, of course, when they see you, and cruise over in a little V-shaped flotilla, but if you don't feed them, they weave back to the silent center again.

Blip, blip did you hear that? There must be a very small frog near this edge, but you won't see him. In fact, as you turn your head to look, he stops his sound.

Zizz, zizz a tan insect inspecting those reeds on the shadowed bank. When he veers out into the sun he becomes all but transparent. There are smaller, rounder bugs on those reeds too. Even they must be making a noise if you could hear it.

Oolp, oolp there, you have finally quieted your brain enough to hear it. It's the sound of the pond itself, barely discernible, the most minute movement of water about the reed stems.

You look into the water's brown depths, but like the frightened frog, it refuses to show its inner self. It's a mirror, holding only the silver sky. It floats a curled feather on its surface to divert your attention. "Just a pond," it says. "I am nothing but a pond. Look for nothing further."

You don't believe it. But it reflects thoughts back into yourself. "Just a person. I am nothing but a person. I have less meaning than this pond."

I find that rather comforting. To end with things undone, hopes unrealized, doubts unresolved, ambitions undercut well, that is what we mortals do; it is our nature. The pond goes on, giving life to more plants, birds, insects, animals, algae and watchers like us than we could count in a lifetime.

It must be a proud business, being a pond.

Editor's note: Miv Schaaf, who wrote for the Los Angeles Times for 15 years and the Journal since 1993, died Aug. 6.
She left us with four columns to run after her death, requesting that this be her final column.





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