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The sight of a woodland lake at sunset or the soft blanket of snow over a peaceful country village can move even the most callous of us to pause and reflect on the joys of nature. After a period of quiet reflection we would then move on refreshed. A naturalist, a scientist or the most demanding of us all, a small inquisitive child, might pause just a little longer, however, to ask were does the water in the lake and the snow come from and were will it go. It is not enough for some of us to see. We must observe and know.
This same need to know caused an Italian physicist of the 1800's named Amedeo Avagadro to develop a theory called Avagadro's number. Simply put he determined the actual number of molecules in a gram of any given pure substance. The number of molecules is so large that it is best understood as 6.023 with twenty three zeros after it. This number in and of itself means little to anyone until you apply it to a known substance like a glass of water.
Water is one of those natural resources that is constantly reused. Rain flows into the river, the river flows into an ocean, the ocean constantly evaporates into clouds that once again become rain. We clean and purify this water in treatment plants so that we have water on demand for us to drink.
When we apply Avagadros’ number to this same glass of water that we drink we realize that this water is composed of so many molecules that have broken apart and reformed that components of the water could have come from anywhere in the world. Take this concept a bit further and the water could have come from anywhere in time.
Imagination is at it finest a limitless avenue of thought. The water in the glass you hold could have been the stuff dinosaurs were made of in the depths of time. It could have been the waves that washed the shores of Galilee when Christ walked the earth. Sand mixed with this water may have made the bricks that built the Pyramid of Cheops and the Washington Monument. Water from this glass could have been used with a grinding wheel to sharpen the swords of the Romans who conquered the world. Mixed with natural inks and dyes this water painted the masterpieces of the Chinese dynasties and the art of the local kindergarten class.
The floods of monsooning India and the honeymoon vistas of Niagara Falls show the awful power in this glass of water. Hurricane driven thunderstorms and waterspouts destroying all in their paths calm down to the stream you fished as a boy. The softly glistening morning dew that frames the spider web contrasts with the frozen wastes that Perry crossed on his way to the Pole.
Water was blended with wood pulp to make the newspaper we are reading and the first bible printed on the Gutenberg press. Humans are about 92% water and 8% a composite of minerals and trace elements. This glass of water may have been used to make Abraham Lincoln, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Queen Elizabeth I. We may be looking at Einstein, Madame Curie, and Picasso.
This water in our bodies is constantly recycled as we use about 6 quarts of it in our food and drink each day. Sweat, excrement, moist breath, and tears all contain some of that precious moisture. As possessive as we might think of our water it has been all these things to thousands of generations before and to come.
This glass of water is a reminder of how transient and fragile is our existence. We are here for 70 years and then we move on but water is here to stay. Flowing, cooling, refreshing, changeable, formed and static like ice or as shapeless as steam it is as immortal as we are mortal.
Knowing these things is it right that we take upon ourselves the wanton destruction of the most precious of resources? One gallon of gasoline spilled from an old gas tank or lawn mower can spoil one million gallons of ground water. Emissions from our power plants have increased the acid content of some of our lakes one thousand times over what they should be effectively killing all life within them. Dams siphon off our rivers to water green lawns where there were once deserts. The water we have may not go away but we can make sure that no other generations will get the use of it if we continue on the path we have now chosen.
What can we do? Well how about staring with disposing of our petroleum products like gas and oil properly. Take care to read the labels on lawn fertilizers and pesticides carefully. Think before we pour toxic cleaners down the drain. Use common sense about our environment. If you wonder if what you are doing is polluting it probably is.
So now it is up to us. Would you rather look at the reflection of the sun on a lake at sunset or would you rather look at a rainbow sheen of oil on a puddle. Each has a certain kind of beauty but which would you prefer. Think about while you drink that glass of water.