Canocanayestatetlo: The Garden of Eden, Fountains of Youth, memory of water and other sundry apocryphal tales


Does water have memory?

Does she remember me? Does she remember you? I like to think she does.

It has been a wonderful and soulful return to the Great Lady, the San Marcos river headwaters known as Spring Lake and the Sacred Springs of San Marcos, Texas. 

The summer has progressed apace. I’ve enjoyed the time with my kids and also working part-time as an Environmental Interpreter at Spring Lake. The relative quietude of the early mornings, when I come in to open boats, is portentous. The moments stretch into eternity as we toil in the early, turgid humidity and heat, working to clean the glass, remove the cobwebs and prepare the boats for the many tours they embark upon day after day. The always interesting banter with customers and fellow Interpreters entertains and informs as we wait for the first boat of the day and share space in-between half hour to forty-five minute tours up and down her waters.

Does she see us? Does she remember when you first visited? When we first swam in some highly localized fractal of her voluminous and shimmering, infinitely malleable and creative expanse?

Two years ago, in the late-summer of 2015 when I last drove glass-bottom boats, Obama was still POTUS. San Marcos was still the fastest growing city of its size in the USA and I was one of a number of Senior Staff who had been around a while, witnessing the transition of the landscape from the post-theme park era of Aquarena Center to the dynamic and industrious Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, research and data-driven, education, conservation and preservation-minded, sworn protectors of the natural environment in all of its wonder and beauty. 

The people still come in droves. Even though there are no longer mermaids and swimming pigs to draw them. Citizens of the world, from many countries and cultures, trudging down our rock trails from the Visitor’s Center (VC) with their tickets in hand. Young, bright-eyed couples from the regional universities, families of all combinations. Grandparents and kids, uncles and cousins, groups of friends and tours of Senior Centers and the gangly youth, enjoying the many summer camps here in Central Texas and beyond, keep us busy all season long. Thousands upon thousands of people fully intent upon this lake, Spring Lake, which has hosted humanity for at least 13,500 years of continuous pilgrimage and habitation. 

They’ve come to pay homage to a location that people have held to be important for many thousands of years. A location that has been, is and always will be, sacred. A spiritual center, an energetic node of potent and expansive power. 

It is said that this region of Texas was a hotspot of arrowhead and tool production for hundreds if not thousands of years, during the numerous eras of Native American habitation of the San Marcos Springs, including the PaleoIndian, the Early, Middle and Late Archaic as well as the Historic periods. Some anthrologists and historians believe that tribes used to converge upon the springs from all points of the compass to find and form the mineral (chert/flint) required to make the weapons and tools they needed in order to navigate their lives and environments. The Jumano, Cibolo, Cantona, and Casquesa peoples inhabited this region as part of the Coahuiltecan cultural complex and converged upon the Sacred Springs for trading events. The Tonkawa and the Karankawa were also present. The Caddo Confederacies of East Texas and some North and West Texas tribes were also known to visit the region and participate in trade as well.

The Sacred Springs of Central Texas, while also including Barton Springs of Austin, Comal Springs of New Braunfels and San Antonio Pool, are punctuated effectively by the wonders of our San Marcos Springs, which are known never to have stopped flowing throughout all of human history upon, within and beneath this continuously inhabited, lived landscape of stark and mysterious beauty, home to creatures and aquatic plant life that exist here and only here. 

The Texas Blind Salamander that lives beneath us in the Edwards Aquifer, rising to the waters of the surface upon the irresistible currents of our highly mineralized, Artesian springs. The San Marcos Salamander, hidden beneath the limestone outcroppings of the lake and the first few hundred feet of the San Marcos River. The Fountain Darter that crawls about on the springs themselves and Texas Wild Rice that grows only within the waters of this particular series of springs and nowhere else in the entire world. Other endangered and threatened species live here as well, testament to the unique and extraordinary conditions that these waters, her waters, meet, her quality nigh unsurpassed by any waters in the natural state, anywhere else.

These springs are where the Umbilical to the Underworld is located, where the Coahuiltecan complex of ethnically interrelated tribes that inhabited central and southern Texas believed the First Peoples, existing in spirit-form, lived in the Underworld until, one portentous day, they followed a Sacred Deer – itself chasing a fleeting sun – that escaped through a fault in the earth’s surface to the world above. They were carried through that fracture, born aloft upon the wings of a sacred bird – perhaps the Neo-Tropic Cormorant, the spirit animal and guardian of her waters – to take on human form and become the first inhabitants of the outer earth. A 4,000 year-old tradition, older than Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism. A living tradition, continually practiced by the descendants of the First Peoples just as this landscape has been continually inhabited since people first arrived. 

A Garden of Eden, most certainly. But, also a mythological location for other reasons as well. The river was discovered on or around Saint Mark’s Day (The Feast of Saint Mark, April 25th or 26th, 1689)  by early Spanish explorers, possibly led by Alonso de León. He called it the San Marcos in commemoration. Saint Mark was the patron saint of youth and there were fountains, jetting out of the water when the Spanish first arrived. The temptation to designate them as the Fountains of Youth might have been far too great to resist. I know I can’t resist calling them that today.

It has seemed to me as if the Great Lady has welcomed me back with open arms. As I walk down the trail toward the lake in the mornings, inhaling the moist, heavy air and listening to the cicada and birds singing and calling, watching the dragonflies flit above the lake as the bass leap from her waters to threaten or catch them, it feels as if I am seen, known and welcomed, a part of the new lived environment of San Marcos that was missed and remembered. 

If water truly has memory, then she must remember me. 

And every visitor, every inhabitant of this landscape and all landscapes around the world where people have lived their lives in all of our multitudinous and complicated glory. Surrounded by water, being water, comprised of moving, living, skin-encapsulated salt water, mobilized within a biological, self-contained confluence of earth, fire and air. The tragedies of egoic debasement and human conflict and the beauties of our compassion and love are all celebrated by the memory of water, by the greatest lady of them all, the Earth Mother herself. Her memory spans the planet’s existence and perhaps even further back than that as the waters above and below exemplified the primordial brew of biospheric coalescence, bearing witness to the earliest incarnations of life itself as it evolved upon this rocky outpost of bipedal consciousness evolution. 

As an ancient landscape that has born witness to the passage of eons, including the Age within which the “Dinosaur Riviera” existed, this region used to be a shallow inland sea known as the Niobraran Sea during the late Cretaceous and early Paleogene. The skies above were cruised by aerial reptiles like ichtyornis, nyctosaurus and pteranodons.The seaway below was warm and tropical, the region inhabited by types of gigantic, aquatic reptiles like plesiosaurs and mosasaurs that grew up to 18 meters long. Squalicorax and Xiphactinus also plied this sea, some of many different species now extinct and a part of water’s eternal memory. Mollusks and ammonites, belemnites, coccolithophores and radiolarians inhabited the lower regions of the food web, rounding out the Circle of Life for that evolutionary period of this planet’s existence. 

Today, during what is potentially the height of the Anthropocene era of human impact upon the entire planetary biosphere, the early inhabitants of the earth are little more than a curious collective dream. Their very existence is supported by fossil evidence and the genetic structures of chickens and crocodiles, yet still subject to debate and doubt regarding their ultimate reality by those inured in modernity and the Judeo-Christian propensity to regard the earth and its creatures as their dominion, to control and drive to extinction at will and for as little and trivial a reason as personal and/or collective pleasure. 

But water remembers. Our waters – Canocanoyestatetlo (Warm Waters), according to the Cantona, Yakona (Rising Waters) according to the Tonkawa, and the San Marcos River, according to the early Spanish explorers, the first European and African settlers and the modern diverse, Western inhabitants of this landscape that has been all things to all creatures since time immemorial – certainly remember. 

If water truly has memory then all waters, everywhere, are interconnected. They share a quantum Oneness that transcends time and space; that channels consciousness in a manner that interconnects mineralogy and biology, the human, plant and animal kingdoms. Water in all of her forms is everywhere, in and around everything at some point or another, seeing, experiencing, tenderly knowing, gently or sometimes harshly forming experience as time and space collude in the transcendent evolutionary process of consciousness itself. 

She must remember. For Water is Life. She knows me. And you too, no matter where you are in the world. For you are water as I am and we are, together with fire, earth and air, One. 

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