43: Water

Ruskin gives gifts, if you are willing to accept them. One of the most precious is the gift of helping you to a much truer appreciation of nature than you have ever had. (I know whereof I speak.)

As you’ve heard me say before, I had plans for a different post than this. But, once again, I chanced to read something in the last couple of days which so astonished me that I had to share it. I had read it before, perhaps three times. But this time I really let it work its magic. Maybe this is because I live beside a lake and, for that reason, could see some of the images he uses right in front of me. But finally I don’t think so, because the images he uses can  easily be generated by our memories and embellished by our imagination. And when memory and embellishment work together, like your first sight of fireworks lighting up the dark sky on (on this side of the Atlantic) the Fourth of July, you see something wonderful you never have seen before and the gift is delivered (and the next one eagerly anticipated). So, with that by way of introduction, here’s another of his marvelous descriptions, one which wants to help us see what a marvelous and essential thing water is.

But before you read it (slowly), I need to say one thing more. That Ruskin was a stone genius should be obvious by now. Nevertheless, he worked extremely hard on all that he published, drafting, revising, and revising again, until just the effect he wanted to convey had come into being on his manuscript page. This paragraph is a lovely illustration of that process. The images he has chosen flow from one to another, each one elevating our sight and understanding to a higher level than the one prior, taking your breath away as they pass by. And then comes the last, incomparable, unexpected sentence, the sentence you simply just didn’t anticipate, the one that makes everything just right and, as it does so, links us to the world in a new way. The sort of sentence which makes him….well…Ruskin!

Of all inorganic substances, acting in their own proper nature, and without assistance or combination, water is the most wonderful. If we think of it as the source of all the changefulness and beauty which we have seen in clouds; then as the instrument by which the earth we have contemplated was modelled into symmetry, and its crags chiselled into grace; then as, in the form of snow, it robes the mountains it has made with that transcendent light which we could not have conceived if we had not seen; then as it exists in the foam of the torrent, in the iris which spans it, in the morning mist which rises from it, in the deep crystalline pools which mirror its hanging shore, in the broad lake and glancing river; finally, in that which is to all human minds the best emblem of unwearied unconquerable power, the wild, various, fantastic, tameless unity of the sea; what shall we compare to this mighty, this universal element, for glory and for beauty? or how shall we follow its eternal changefulness of feeling? It is like trying to paint a soul.

Until next time!

Be well out there!



P.S. There have been a number of posts about Ruskin’s view of Nature over the course of these two score and more postings. If you want to see the others easily, glance to the right hand side of this page; there you’ll see a box labeled “Categories.” Click on that and a drop-down list will then give you the option of clicking on the category named “Nature.” Click on that and all the “Nature” postings will come up on your screen, last to first. You can then scroll through them as you like. 🙂

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2 Responses to 43: Water

  1. David Barrie says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Thank you, Jim, for this and all your other blog posts

  2. Milt Wilson says:

    Ruskin, of course, saw water in his beautiful descriptive phrases according to his knowledge of the substance and as influenced by his thinking and reasoning process. Ah, but have the same basic education PLUS one of current science and you can now add many descriptions of this remarkable chemical compound. According to its molecular weight of only 18 it should boil at least a hundred degrees below where it actually does. It settled on plus 100 degrees Celsius because it decided that “associating” with four other water molecules was a nice friendly thing to do, and that this new size allowed it to remain liquid at much higher temperatures than the single molecule would permit. There would be no nearby lakes or great roaring oceans if Mother Nature truly obeyed the boiling point vs. molecular weight statistics. Few solids have a lower density than its liquid form, but water does, and so that lake or highball ice is on top, not the bottom, and all sorts of wonderful events occur because of this. Pressure on that solid ice will create a film of liquid water, permitting skating on that surface. That simple H two O is the “universal solvent,” forming useful solutions with thousands of materials. With nothing dissolved in it, it is one of the best electrical insulators that exists. The ocean water is now dissolving carbon dioxide in it, making it more acidic, and thus threatening the world’s vital coral beds. Put a whole lot of pressure on your normal clear liquid and you can form new varieties of water, one of which has a solid form (ice) that melts above the usual boiling point of 100 degrees. Put a 100-lb block of ice out in the August sun and half of it will still be there an hour later, what with the “heat of fusion” being higher than any other usual substance. Enjoy rainbows? Thank the nice optical refractive properties of water droplets. Think snowflakes are beautiful (and, yes, FEW are ever exactly the same)? Nature did an amazing job of designing the crystal structure mechanism of liquid water phase-changing to solid when the droplet has been suspended in the atmosphere. Yes, Mr. Ruskin, water has always been a wonderful, thought-provoking, material — but because science had not yet completed a thorough investigation of this compound while you were alive, you were not able to know enough about its properties to realize that water is probably the ultimate thought-provoker of all times. Just ask any poet — or chemist!

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