It is difficult for me to believe that people pay good money to buy water to drink and not complain at all. Eventually, I suppose, we will have to buy air to breathe. Yesterday, I watched with awe as a man emerged from a store bearing three big plastic bags jammed with plastic bottles of water. I asked him how much bought water costs these days. He said that with gas down to nearly $3.00 a gallon, the water costs about the same. I guess I should go to town more often so I can learn what progress is all about.

I still drink my well water and prefer it to bought water, but neither my children nor grandchildren agree. They don’t like my water’s whiff of sulfur which gives it character to my taste, the way a bit of Scotch does to a martini. Plus this kind of water is very good for the bowels. I often think of the seminary in Minnesota where I went to school once upon a time. It had previously been a health spa where wealthy people came to “take the water.” There were actually two kinds of water there. The sulfur water tasted and smelled like rotten eggs but was thought to be good for whatever ails you. From other springs issued what we called “iron water,” so hard that when poured, it sounded like you were emptying a log chain out of the bucket.

It has been my lot in life to become a sort of connoisseur of farm waters, having quenched myself with the effluence of countless creeks, springs, rivers, cisterns and wells across the countryside. What I have learned is that water is not simply H2O, I don’t care what the chemists say. Drinking what looked like the purest of liquids from a crick in southern Indiana had the same effect on me as drinking sulfur water, only faster. Out of my grandfather’s well flowed what we called “lime water.” It coated the inside of a glass with a milky film only dustier. The more you drank, the thirstier you got and the only way to avoid dehydration was to mix some cistern water into it.

Cistern water carried its own dark shadows. As it ran off the roof, it sometimes carried the essence of bird poop with it. The discerning tongue might also have noticed a piquancy of metal roofing lingering in the taste. In the cistern, water would age but unlike whiskey, that didn’t help. We used to put lime in it to keep it from getting stagnant, which made the drinker remember grandfather’s well.

The well on the farm where I grew up was the perfect blend of all the mineral ingredients water should have along with hydrogen and oxygen and was surely as pure as any plastic-bottled, melted iceberg water from the farthest polar regions. This was true of many wells in our neck of the woods. But in more recent years, we are all supposed to have the water checked periodically for pesticide contamination. Pure well water may become in the future as rare as gold. As progress fracks for more oil and more natural gas, disrupting groundwater sources, so I hear, the price of bottled water could go even higher while the price of gas goes down. And it shall be called wonderful, as the old hymn says.

But perhaps things could be worse. My grandfather, the other one, not the one with lime water, often drank what he called “tile water.” This clear, cool liquid resulted when rainwater sank into the earth and was carried away in field drainage tile systems. Where the underground pipes dumped into a creek, this naturally-filtered and flavored water was clear and unpolluted in the good old days before herbicides and insecticides. The fact that sometimes there were specks of rust floating in it did not bother grandfather in the least. He told me that was how he got his supplemental iron. But he quit drinking tile water when he noticed one day that some of those rust specks wiggled.