In “Sacred Springs, Part 1,” I described my first visit to Barton Springs, the most famous limestone springs in Austin, and explored the role that Barton and other major Edwards Aquifer springs play in indigenous spirituality. But there are many other artesian springs along Austin-area limestone creeks, including a small, unnamed spring just a mile from my home, near the headwaters of Walnut Creek in Northwest Austin. Last summer I spent time there grounded and centered, with senses wide open.
The spring fed two pools beside the then dry bed of Walnut Creek. Black and blue springwater dancer damselflies hunted around the upper pool. In the lower pool swam small fish and a pair of ribbon snakes, for whom I now call the place Snake Springs. A bluejay sounded alarm, screeching at me from a tree branch that arched over the creek bed. So much wildlife concentrated in one small spot, relative to the empty trail that led there. The spring water was life, when it hadn’t rained in nearly two months and temperatures regularly climbed above 100 degrees.
This area’s limestone creeks and springs are where to go, when you want to listen to the way water talks to stone in this particular place. There are no words to conjure this experience in the mind; the only thing for it is to move the body there and listen.
The creeks are the land’s circulatory system, branching out among the hills, scratching their way through the chalky bedrock, draining to the River all that flows: rain and runoff alike. Parched in summer and winter, swollen in spring and fall.
The springs, where groundwater finds its way to the land’s surface, are mystery revealed: tangible, cold, and refreshing. A source of relief from the Hill Country sun’s relentless fire and the source of life unseen elsewhere. Places where many of the human stories of this place were determined, where Native Americans and European colonialists collided.
Cultivating right relationship with creeks and springs is central in my place-based practice. The creeks and springs need from me appreciation, careful use, and a light tread on the surrounding land. I offer stacked stones, trash pick up, and occasional songs to these local gods that flow. I avoid using pesticides and chemical fertilizers and try to plan landscaping around my home such that water soaks into the soil, instead of running off into the nearest creek. I wash my car at the car wash and make sure any leaks are repaired promptly. In local elections I vote for political candidates who support strong watershed protection. Healthy creeks and springs are cool and clear, with strong populations of greenbloods and redbloods, and without trash, debris, or excessive algae. So may it be.
What relationship do you have with the waters where you live? What gifts do you exchange?
A version of this article was first published on Anna’s blog, Shrine for Small Gods.
Anna Walther lives in Austin, Texas, where she practices place-based paganism, by honoring ancestors, observing the movements of the sun and the moon, collecting local stories, visiting trees, creeks and springs, and learning about the plants, animals, and minerals with which she shares her home. Anna is a student nurse, and she attends First Unitarian Universalist Church with her husband and children.