The Necessity Of Water

Send to Kindle

“Happy is he who is awakened by the cool song of the stream, by a real voice of living nature. Each new day for him has the quality of birth.”
Gaston Bachelard

The South Fork Rivanna River

The South Fork Rivanna River

I’ve always been drawn to the water. Living on Long Island as a kid I was at the beach almost every day during the summer months. My last home there was located on a high tide inlet where, despite my difficult teen years, the presence of the water helped with my constant anxiety. We had a small skimmer with an outboard motor, behind which I learned to waterski. We gathered clams, oysters, and mussels that thrived in the sand, or the rocks along the shore. My youngest brother, Reid, a born naturalist, constantly wore a life preserver before he could swim. He caught tiny crabs and any other creatures he found in tide pools. We filled a glass tank with salt water from the sound and populated it with starfish, barnacles, clams, snails, small fish, and a host of other creatures we caught in our own watery back yard.

When I moved to Vermont after I graduated from high school, I missed the salt air, but there were plenty of lakes, ponds, and streams to jump into. And later here in Virginia I would spend ten years living on the banks of the South Fork Rivanna River. My mother spent most of her last seven years living there with Bill and me. Watching the daily movements and moods of the river, the birds, beavers, and otters kept me from totally losing my mind as I tried to help make Mom’s life as painless as possible. I know it also helped her and Bill as well.

Getting out on the water in my kayak was always a blessing. Alone in the sunshine, I often just drifted along, taking deep breathes. Some mornings found me totally overwhelmed not knowing how to manage my own life while taking care of Mom. I’d simply sit in my tiny yellow boat, head bowed to my lap, crying. Back on land, I felt peaceful, and knew the steps I had to take in order to make things somewhat easier, at least for the moment.


Last week I heard a fascinating interview with Wallace J. Nichols, author of Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On , or Underwater Can Make You Happier. He proves what I’ve always intuitively known about water, but always thought it was just me … that the activity of our brain actually changes when we are close to or on water. Just listening to waves crash to shore can be a cure-all.

I was reminded of the week I recently spent on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Bill and I stayed in a rental home directly on the sound where I watched a great blue heron fishing each morning. We saw magnificent sunsets in the evening and twice a day, I took my dogs, Sam and Max for an ocean side beach walk, where they explored and rolled in all of the luscious, smelly things that had washed up on the shore. There were no deadlines, no phone calls, no have-to-do-now-things to keep me from just letting go. Without any effort, I slipped into a completely relaxed mode. I took naps. I ate seafood. I read books, and sat on the shore watching the water. I wanted to stay there forever.

It had been several years since our last vacation by the sea and I’d been feeling a pressing need to get to the water where I knew I’d be able to let go and untangle my thoughts and feelings about what was happening in my life. When I returned home, I was a completely new person, full of energy and ready to jump back into life.

Now reading Nichols’ book, I know that being on the water is a basic necessity for everyone, even if it’s only for one day or an hour. Just as our bodies need to rest, we absolutely must allow our brains to switch channels and rest. Nichols shows that soaking in a tub, or swimming in a pool can do the same thing for the brain as the ocean.

We spent 9 months adrift and growing in our mothers’ watery wombs. Without it we wouldn’t be alive. If we don’t continuously hydrate our bodies, we die. Taking time  to be near or in the water is the natural thing to do. Without that we’ll certainly have a much more difficult life.


I finished up this visual journal piece while I was at the beach and later posted it in my first newsletter. I had painted the pages before I left for the Outer Banks, not knowing that they were illustrating my overwhelming  need to be near the water.

How does water fit into your life?

My next free newsletter will be sent out on November 1st.  To have it automatically delivered to your inbox sign up at the top of the page on the right hand side. Simply enter your first name and email address which always remain private, then click go.  


  1. Joan, this fits right in with my love of the ocean, my happy place. Only I never really explored why I find such peace near the water as you spell out so clearly here. One of my favorite memories of our family cottage on Keuka Lake is of waking up to sounds of the water lapping against the shore. It makes sense since our bodies are composed of mostly water that we would crave its presence. Lovely reflection and beautiful collage. Thank you for sharing.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Kathy, I think the water speaks to every one. The ocean is also my happy place. Once Bill’s knee is fixed and he’s walking better we’re thinking of going back to the Outer Banks for some recoop time.

  2. Joan — Your visual journal piece is beautifully serene; fully supporting the information you shared in this post.

    A recent trip to San Diego had me walking along my favorite stretch of beach in Encinitas (the locals call it Swami’s), just beneath the cliffs of the Meditation Gardens at the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple. Therapeutic, medicinal, cleansing — these are the verbal descriptors that first come to mind when I think of it. Ahhhhhh, is the emotional descriptor.

  3. Joan Rough says:

    Oh, yes, Laurie, I feel it too. Putting the beach together with the Temple … heaven!!

  4. It was relaxing just to read this post. From your descriptions, I could almost hear rippling sounds in the background. I am a Leo, not a Pisces or Aquarius. Still, I love running water as long as it’s not a plumbing problem – ha!

    How does water fit into my life? Well, we live 12 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, so I yearn to get to the shore line for beach walks.

    Something puzzling happened this weekend: We took two grand-kids to a corn maze on a farm. I had bottles and bottles of water for all of us + apples and pretzels. Jenna didn’t drink any, and Ian had only a small bottle even though we were out in the sun for 2 and 1/2 hours. Maybe they were re-creating the story of the woman at the well in the Bible who drank living water and was never thirsty again. Seriously, though, I wonder why they weren’t thirsty after so long walking and playing in the sun.

    Thanks for such an informative post and for your visual gift at the end. Brava! And for the reminder to write “water” in my gratitude book today.

    • Joan Rough says:

      You are so lucky to live so close to the ocean. I hope you get out there often to walk. there’s no telling about why your grandkids weren’t thirsty on that walk. But I’m beginning to realize the big difference between youth and us older folk. Do we get thirstier as we age? I don’t know. It’s just a guess! Thanks for your visit.

  5. Hi Joan, I love the article and not to be persnickety but mussels off of Long Island not muscles?
    Anyway it is cheering article and I needed that today. BIg bodies of water including Lake Champlain and Hudson River are very wonderful.


    • Joan Rough says:

      Thanks, Peg for catching that. I will change it this evening. Also thanks for your visit here and hope you’ll return!

  6. Hi Joan, your words soothed me as well and made me want to jump into my hot tub or head to the ocean! But I am far from home right now visiting my Dad. Even a shower can have the same “cooling” effect and it always feels like a safe place to release any tears I have been holding in as I let them merge with the rest of the cleansing flow.

    At home, we live above a creek in the redwoods and it is always comforting and cool when we gather on our deck and entertain there. Better yet is to wade in and wander up the creek where we find crawdads, ducks and other water creatures.

    As you can see, I share your love of water as most of us do! Thanks for putting this essential human need for bodies of water and watery things into words. Very lovely!

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thanks so much, Martha, for your visit and kind words. I doubt there are many who would disagree with the way that water helps us through life. It is always soothing for me.

  7. I know the hunger about which you speak. The draw, the pull, the yearning, the necessity for the sustenance that water provides. The east coast ocean from Maine to Florida has provided a touch stone throughout my life, each visit a highlight in my memory. There have been times when the pain cut so deep, and the salty sea so far away, that I discovered the gift of a swim in my bathtub. I resisted at first, but as time went on the healing power became a draw I could not longer forsake. I’d like to read the article you mentioned. I always love when someone discovers something I’ve always sensed to be true. Thank you for this.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Dorothy, You are so welcome. I heard the interview on a Sunday afternoon on NPR, but I bought myself a copy of the book and it’s a fascinating read and filled with much more information. A swim in my bathtub also helps me heal and a walk in a gentle spring rain is magical.