TAKING THE WATERS

Congress Spring

 Spring at Congress Park

In Saratoga Springs, New York, at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains, water rules.  Or it did in the beginning.  It was a place of medicine waters to the Mohawks and other Iroquois nations of Kayaderossera, “the land of crooked waters.”  Native Americans bathed in and drank the spring water there for a variety of ailments.

William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, traded fairly with the Indians and won their respect and even friendship.  So it was only natural that when Johnson fell desperately ill in 1771, his Mohawk friends took him to High Rock Spring for healing.  Johnson was so weak that he had to be carried on a litter for miles to reach the sacred springs, making him the first white person to visit what is now known as Saratoga Springs.

After four days of sipping the mineral-infused water, the superintendent felt worlds better.  As he reported to his friend, Philip Schuyler, “I have just returned from a visit to a most amazing spring, which almost effected my cure, and I have sent for Dr. Stringer, of New York, to come up and analyze it.”   The secret having been leaked, a trickle of visitors led to a torrent.  Bottlers got busy selling the stuff while resorts sprang up for those wishing to “take the waters,” as it was said.

When I visited High Rock, where the spring used to be, there was nothing left but the stone mound formed by the minerals gushing up all those years ago.  What had been preserved by the First Nations people for at least 300 years was exploited to death in less than a century.  But no worries.  I see that Disney World in Florida built a Saratoga Springs Resort with a High Rock Spring Pool next to their arcade of video games.  “Experience the magic that flows through the community–from the Victorian architecture to the gurgling springs” for $400 a night.  Somehow it’s not the same.

A MicMac elder from Canada, Albert Ward, told me in 2004 that we are getting so out of balance that he believes the planet will tilt, probably by the year 2017.   When we take the waters of Mother Earth, we drain the underground reserves, contributing to these imbalances, he said.  Where water and healing once ruled, other forces have taken over.  The race track in Saratoga is now the biggest attraction.  Place your bets.

I walked to Congress Park in downtown Saratoga Springs, passing a sculpture by Daniel Chester called Spirit of Life, a winged woman twice my size.  In one hand she holds a pine branch and in the other a bowl of abundance, hinting to me of both balance and hope.  Continuing my search for the springs, I stopped at a white-domed pavilion.  Under the dome was Columbian Spring, which Gideon Putnam, the primary founder of the city, ran dry in short order.  I cupped my hand under the faucet there and drank from the chlorinated city reserves, running not from the natural springs but piped in from a more distant Loughberry Lake.   Sometimes, as the song goes, we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone.

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