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OPINION: Reflections on WaterFest

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by Margaret Blanchard, Montpelier

Now that our WaterFest is over, I’d like (as the only person who participated in every event except the bike ride) to share some reflections. Between the opening, where I celebrated with friends the fluid gifts of our eco-artist friend Jackie Brookner, and the closing which featured the talents of screenwriter Amanda Joyce and other friends, I felt like I was floating down the North Branch on a flimsy, self-inflated rubber raft launched at the Nature Center: watching a stream of bike riders crossing a bridge above me; meeting world-traveling water warriors at key crossroads; joining a group of nature lovers to discover, guided by a naturalist, plants and animals which keep the riverbank healthy; listening to community leaders trying to protect our drinking water or describing an historic action which saved a local spring.

At one point somebody challenged me, “Who are you?” But mostly, whenever I ran aground on some muddy bank, given how low the river is, I’d encounter some generous person who helped me get floating again. I listened to water music and poetry pour out of the Unitarian Church and hopped out to view water images at the library. I discovered the Chinese symbol for water resembles the Winooski, with its four branches converging near Montpelier. And when I finally arrived at the confluence of the North Branch and the Winooski, I was greeted by three distinct communities of water lovers — dancers, singers, and druids — all celebrating that magical spot together, before and after we performed a much-needed cleanup of the river bank.

As a flatlander who grew up on the Arizona desert, I know how miraculous and precious water is. When I discovered the abundance of water in Vermont with all its forms, I understood why water protector, Maude Bigelow, described it as “blue gold.” I worried that Vermonters tended to take our water for granted. But through the WaterFest I appreciated how our individual sources of water: Berlin Pond, the North Branch, the Winooski River and the East Montpelier Springs have their dedicated and skilled guardians. This discovery was reassuring. At the same time, I observed very little convergence of these movements. Each has its own separate leaders, members and events. As climate change threatens drought even in Vermont this year and as global needs for water propel corporations to buy up water sources so they can sell the commons, my fervent recommendation is that these varied groups hold a confluence at least once a year to strategize together and combine forces to hold off the increasing threats of both pollution and privatization.

Helping to organize this WaterFest was just a drop in the bucket. Each of our actions is like a stone thrown, its circles expanding across a pond. If we dropped our stones together, our growing circles converging with one another might have a wider influence, a deeper resonance. I’d like to see all our water protectors connect with each other, and with water protectors around the world, from Standing Rock Reservation in this country to the Brahmaputra River in China and India. I’d like to see our water warriors connect with 350 and other environmental groups, with the proposed Net Zero plans for downtown Montpelier (especially along the riverbanks), as well as with science educators, city council and governmental bodies. I’d like to see the folks who organized the opposition to privatization of the East Montpelier springs write a book sharing with future water saviors their strategies and tactics for protecting that water source. I would like to see our water musicians, artists, poets, dancers and ritual creators gather together every fall in the circle where our rivers meet to celebrate this life giving element.

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Special thanks to participants, especially Dot Helling for skillful connecting; Nat, Carla and Marichel for The Bridge’s water issue; librarians Rachel Senechal and Jackie Sullivan for generous help; friends Kate, Sowbel, Alice, Alana, Jim and Case for ongoing support.