Thirst: A Memory Of Being Really, Really Thirsty

Aug 9, 2018

When have you been thirsty? Really thirsty? We’re talking cotton-dry mouth, weak in the knees, with visions of bubbling streams and fountains dancing in your head?

I’ve only been so parched once in my life. The experience keeps me forever grateful for the tasteless and colorless yet vibrant, life-sustaining wonder that is water.

I was a teenager joining my uncle and cousins for the capstone event to our summer of trails. We were hiking King’s Peak, the tallest mountain in Utah that reaches 13,528 feet above sea level. I had packed hiking essentials, including bottled water, enough--I thought--for the day of switchbacks and elevation gain.

Perhaps two-thirds of the way into our ascent, however, my canteen already felt too light and I was withering. We stopped to rest along a smooth, rocky outcrop. My young cousin looked at me.

“I’m thirsty,” he said.

“Mm-hmm,” I responded.

His eager eyes shifted to my canteen hanging on the side of my backpack. My eyes stayed locked on him.

“Can I …,” his voice trailed off. Inside, I heaved a sigh and felt a grumble deep in my gut. Just as quickly, I chided myself for being selfish--he’s just a freckle-faced kid who wants a sip of water! Rationing the rest should see me through the end. “Besides,” I reasoned. “It’s only a sip and my uncle has an emergency water purifier.”

I unscrewed the top and handed him my canteen. I still remember the way he lifted the container and threw his head back, holding the rim just above his lips. Then, he guzzled. I felt my temperature rise with each swallow and watched as small rivulets of water escaped the corners of his mouth, trickling down his cheeks. Finally, he stood and handed me the canteen with water dripping from his chin. It was nearly empty.

We continued on our hike, reaching the summit. However, upon the return, I suddenly found myself alone--with an empty canteen. Somehow I had broken off from the group, but I continued on what I thought was the correct trail. Three hours later, with scratches from mountain scrub oak, I finally stumbled across the trailhead, re-joining my family.

I think I was so dehydrated and embarrassed, my brain struggled to catch up. Instead of demanding a drink, I slumped into the back of the mini-van and stared out the window as we drove home. Water beckoned to me from the passing scenery, teasing me as it spouted from sprinklers and rambled along the ditch. I imagined crawling into the gas station to drink right from the bathroom faucet. I needed water! Not syrupy soda or juice, just pure, fresh hydrogen and oxygen molecules combined in just the right way.

I recall that thirsty day on King’s Peak with gratitude. In fact, my kids and I have a tradition of listing things we’re thankful for when we leave our driveway. This morning, I said, “I’m grateful for clean water--right at our fingertips.”

“You said that yesterday!” they moaned.

That’s right. Yesterday and every day.

This is Jenn Ashton for Bread and Butter.