Just Out of Reach
The “Saturday Night Bath” was a fixture of life growing up on my grandfather’s farm. We didn’t have showers; we had one long bathtub—on my grandparents’ side of the house. No problem, we kids were often in and out of Grandpa and Grandma’s space. But there was a problem with bath time: we had to heat the water for the tub on the stove. Once I was old enough, I made many a trek from our kitchen to that bathtub—on opposite ends of the house—carrying a large enamel pot of boiling hot water. The pot held two to three gallons. But when I had poured it into that long tub and added enough cold water to bathe comfortably, it amounted to about two inches of water. Rinsing, therefore, was of dubious quality.
Though we had a well, my grandfather, owner and master of the farm, feared that we would run out of water. Therefore, he adamantly resisted putting in a hot water heater (what a glorious idea!) because that would likely result in us using more water. (No doubt—three or four inches of bath water, maybe?)
I lived in that house until I was seventeen, when my grandfather sold the farm and our family moved into town. That amounts to quite a few Saturday night bath treks.
A housing developer bought the farm, and it was turned into a community of a hundred or so houses. When the developers were drilling for water, they discovered an artesian well running under our farm.
We would never have run out of water.
To Grandpa’s credit, he could not have known about that “confined aquifer.” The water was trapped in layers of rock below the earth’s surface and could only be discovered and accessed by the drillers.
Though that bit of a nuisance every Saturday night didn’t hurt me—I continue to marvel that none of us ever stumbled and dropped that huge pot, causing major scalding—it would have been an unnecessary chore. Likewise, my mother and grandmother had to heat huge cauldrons of water every time they did the laundry—which for a household of eight people was considerable. (No HP washers for them, no detergents that washed in cold water!)
The term “drilling down” has become an often-used piece of advice for anyone studying any area of knowledge. Not to be satisfied with what appears on superficial reading or research, which may seem either readily graspable or too obtuse as to be worth the trouble, we are encouraged to go deeper: What’s behind this thought or idea? Where does it come from? What are its implications? Scientists, doctors, learners of all sorts must “drill down” to discover more than what may, at first glance, seem to satisfy. Not drilling down to that confined—and hidden— “aquifer” will, in fact, leave us poorer in intellect, in understanding, in imagination, and quite possibly, in very practical ways.
Several years ago, my son gifted me with a book called Heaven and Earth, Unseen by the Naked Eye. The first section of the book is entitled “Beneath the Surface,” in which, by the aid of powerful electron microscopes, such diversity as crystals, viruses, cells, leaf strata, and the human hair are magnified to show their truly amazing depth and complexity. To us, they are simply everyday, normal things—oak leaves, or snowflakes on our coats, or that strand of hair on my shoulder which I quickly brush away. Do we begin to comprehend these marvels?
Another section, “Just Out of Reach,” examines spider silk, fingerprints, the inner ear, a drop of milk, and dozens of such familiar commonplaces—but rendered unfamiliar and fantastic by the microscope to our incredulous eyes.
My son challenged me to write a poem for every one of the five sections, comprising 370 pages. I loved the challenge; I wrote the poems.
Here is what resulted from the section “Just Out of Reach”:
Whirled, twirled, spiraled, funneled,
tunneled, bracketed, faceted
in a shell
in a leaf
in a lung
in the eye of a dragonfly—
Why this Rorschach blot
of a brain?
These veins in simple
thinner than thought,
this milkdrop crown?
Senses drown in Vielfalt i ––
in kaleidoscope of crystalled granite,
in the plowed field of my fingerprint—
hint of trope
of designed, Designer
refiner and refractor of
Eye has not seen
(except by ultraviolet)
nor has the mind imagined
(no, not even)
what God has prepared—–
More than this? ii
It is staggering but comforting to discover the knowledge that our God has “drilled down” into our very own beings: He sees beneath my surface, whether I’ve tried to hide it from Him, or whether I sometimes think He does not see nor care. His Word assures me: “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” iii He sees in my inner self what I don’t see—or perhaps, don’t choose to see. And if I need to see it, in His mercy, He helps me.
I now live in a house with hot running water and a shower. But I love my bathtub and delight in filling it full (with bubbles!). If Grandpa were alive today, I think I’d say to him, “It’s really okay, all that toting of hot water. You gave me a metaphor: ‘There could be a lot more that I could discover just beneath the surface.’”
More of what God created me to be.
I need to keep drilling down.
i Sumptuous variety
ii Vivian Hyatt, 2008
iii The Letter to the Hebrews: 4:13