Water, water, every where.
Nor any drop to drink.
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Rime Of The Ancient Mariner
A warm breeze rustled the turning leaves as Little Elk Creek rippled it’s way towards the Gauley River. Over pebble and over stone it winds its way from the top of the mountain. A historical marker sign on the Nicholas County and Fayette County border says this is the path that Pocahontas traveled to reach John Rolfe in Virginia. In my imagination I see her treading softly along the creek bank in my yard on her way to meet her lover. In her bundle is a small birch bark container. She steps down into ditch near one of the deeper pools and dips her cup into the water to enjoy a moment of harmony in nature and have a drink. Hollywood has done a fantastic job of creating in our minds the image of a pristine forest where people have no fear of things like cryptosporidium and brain eating amoebas. Unfortunately it wasn’t always possible to find a clean source of water.
The Native Americans knew full well that a person could get sick from drinking wild water. The records indicate that they had a large number of botanical treatments to heal people who became sick from waterborne illnesses. We also have records of some of the ways that they would have purified water. When a fire was practical they boiled it. If they were at base camp then it’s likely that a clay pot would be used. But that would awkward to transport on the trail and so a pan made from birch bark would fit the bill. As long as the bark container is full of water it will not burn.
Most people today drink water that has been chemically treated and filtered. The use of sand to filter water goes back to ancient times and some people still use this method today. Adding a little charcoal to a couple of layers of the sand will also help to filter water.
Some trees like Sycamore are natural water filters. The method of collecting fresh water from a tree is the same for collecting sap for maple syrup. Simply tap the tree and as long as the sap is flowing you can fill a bucket. But not all trees would be suitable because the sap just isn’t pleasantly flavored. Tree of heaven for example is absolutely terrible smelling. Maple, Sycamore and birch would be my choices.
Drinking water from a vine is one that we see on T.V. and movies. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this too. I’m only comfortable with drinking from grape vines. To best of my knowledge all of the other woody vines in West Virginia are toxic. But don’t cut the root end of the. Find the roots and trace the vine up the tree until you find where it comes back down the tree. Cut off the tip and place a thumb on the end. Shake the vine a few times and when you take your thumb off of the end water will flow out.
Rain is a great resource for fresh water. I remember my grandfather Dempsey drinking rainwater that collected in a woiden barrel.
There’s also wells an cisterns and ice in winter.
I focused on the sources of wild water and really only touched on the purifying processes. Filtering and boiling is always a good idea and the simplest way to to make wild water potable.
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