Herman Melville: How to find water!

The handy, if not especially dandy, U.S. Drought Monitor–provided by the wonderful water wonks at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln–graphically drives home the dire drought situation in California and elsewhere in the U.S. (Click on the map image atop our right-hand menu.) What looks to be about 35 percent of the Golden State is experiencing severe drought conditions while the rest is dealing with moderate dryness.

A rather large swath of territory that abuts northern Nevada is in extreme drought. An alarmingly large portion of what  is approximately south-central Texas finds itself in extreme to exceptional dry conditions. (These categorizations, extreme and moderate, etc., are not impressionistic; they’re precisely defined descriptive terms of a specific drought index. For a rousing read on drought indices, go to this page, also provided by NDMC.)

melvilleetext01moby11Before turning in desperation to the American Society of Dowsers, the  parched inhabitants of these areas might simply consult Moby-Dick. According to the narrator–whom you may call Ishmael–water-divining is no big deal! Anyone can do it!

In the first chapter, as Ishmael marvels eloquently–if at too great length–at the mystical attraction of humans to the sea and water generally, he asserts:

There is magic in it.  Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries–stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region.  Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor.  Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.

The likelihood that we are all water magnets aside, Waterblogged.info suggests that what’s generally wanting these days is a sense of mystery and humility about water and our relationship to it. For a contemporary reader, Melville’s writing can feel absurdly overblown, but there’s simple beauty in the above and what follows:

Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land?  Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy?  Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning.  And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned.  But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans.  It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.

If you aren’t yet desperate for water and just think its  high time that you read about everyone’s favorite white whale and obsessed sea captain, you can download a pdf version of Moby-Dick at eNotes.com, or better, from Manybooks.net, which offers a variety of electronic reader formats. Free and legal, by the way. Until some entrepreneur finds some way to make it not free and legal.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: