Stars and Streams

by The Rev. Dr. John Leech

The Rev. Dr. John Leech
The Rev. Dr. John Leech

Look up and find the north star and know where you are. Watch the moon rise or set and know when you cannot see it, still, it is there, a silent companion, unjudging, always present. When the sun rises and you face its rays you are literally reoriented. Understandable, then, that people always have drawn upon the changes and constancies in the skies for a sense of where and who they are.

More involved is the understanding behind equinox. Every year predictably feature writers remind us that the days grow shorter as nights grow longer, and vice versa. They tell us that traditional feast days of many cultures coincide with the changes of the seasons, and with the long and short of days and nights. In between the longest and shortest are the equinoxes, the times when day and night are roughly equal, equidistant between the polar opposites of midwinter night and midsummer day. These are also occasions for observance of the heavens’ changes, and of our own.

We see around us the seasons progress (or it seems, recede) around the solar revolution of the planet. We see the changes in plants and animals, weather, and cloud. And we see in ourselves our reactions, some subtle, some not. “Are you ready for some football?” is not the least profound of our responses to changes in the year. Shopping for clothes and shoes, a box of pencils or an eraser or a backpack, or at last a new tablet, marks the beginning of a new school year. 

As seasons run, we find new paths to old places as rains carve new channels in the washes and enjoy old paths that take us someplace new. It all seems very benign, innocuous, … unless the day comes when a storm or sunstroke overwhelms us. Our desert is not benign, it is neutral. It is indifferent. What we do in it, for ourselves or others, is up to us. It will be hot or cold, brutally severe or calmingly luxurious, depending on our situation. If we find again that people are in need or want or distress because of the extremities of our weather, the fault, dear friends, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.

Think about it – If you were to travel down the streams of the Sonoran Desert northwards into what has become Arizona territory, you would encounter along the riparian corridors varied landforms of mountain and plain. Farther north you would ascend an escarpment or even a staircase of river beds to reach the higher mountains of the middle to the north of the state. Beyond that, you would reach a higher desert, mesa country, and a great canyon bearing waters from many streams toward the Gulf of California. Toward – but mostly not into – that sea, because of agricultural, industrial, and residential diversions. 

Paria River in lower Paria Canyon
Paria River in lower Paria Canyon

Irrigation is nothing new to Arizona. Some canals are centuries old; slices of them are seen in museum displays. Cultivation supplemented hunting and gathering as long as four millennia ago at places like the base of the dark mountain where Tucson sprang to life. 

But now water set aside from the flow of the rivers is draining through porous sandstone in the reservoirs, evaporating from the surface of canals, pouring blithely on the ground from busted pipes and open faucets. We cannot long sustain this prodigal squandering of what would be abundance if it were justly shared. 

Our challenge now is to find that water justice: sharing our rights with other beings and with the land itself. Will we greed-head ourselves into extinction and take the blossoms with us? Or live together, past this equinox and into a new era, serene and equitable, with beauty and justice for all?

The Rev. Dr. John Leech is Priest Associate at the Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew in Tucson and is a member of the diocesan Creation Care Council.